Are women paid what they are worth in sport? In this year of women’s sports, the answer is a resounding no, with few exceptions. But the gap has narrowed considerably over the past five years.
Alex Morgan is one of the high-profile members of the very successful US soccer team, which fought a drawn-out and sometimes ugly battle with their federation. Far more successful than their male counterparts – they are the most successful team at the FIFA World Cup in history – they were paid less and given less support.
Finally last year they won their battle, and Morgan described it as not only a win for her and her teammates, but also one for “women in general”. The fight they had was important, and not only for them. Because if one of the best teams in women’s sport, any sport, couldn’t close the pay gap, what chance did anyone else have.
To put the problem in real global terms, the Forbes List of the world’s 50 richest athletes, which is based on their 2022 earnings has one woman on it. And Serena Williams is not even really playing any more. Moreover, she was at number 49, and just US$300 000 of her US$45,3 million bank came from prize money.
That’s where it starts, with prize money. Naomi Osaka was the highest woman in the last two lists, but is not playing at the moment. The only other two women ever to make the top 50 were tennis players as well – Maria Sharapova and Li Na. Where are the high profile Olympic athletes like snowboarder Eileen Gu, gymnast Simone Biles or hurdler Sydney McLaughlin. I use American examples specifically – that’s where the money in sport is, as well as soccer of course. (For those about to argue, like Osaka who represents Japan, Gu represents China but is essentially American)
Though the study was not about sport only, to illustrate the scale of the challenge, a recent PwC study claimed that women in the UK face a 100-year wait for the gender pay gap to be closed if progress on salaries continues to crawl along at the current rate. This is particularly true of more traditional Olympic sports such as athletics, swimming, and skiing.
And then compare these NET Worth’s, to the single year earnings on the Forbes list above.
There is light at the end of the tunnel. In tennis, all four Grand Slams have paid the same reward to their male and female champions since 2007, while the report also highlighted efforts that have been taken in cricket to narrow the divide.
But even that’s not the whole story. In tennis, the Grand Slams are equal, but none of the other tournaments are. Some of the worst culprits are the FIFA World Cup, golf, and the Tour de France.
The Tour de France Femme winner gets around R5million, while the men’s winner this year will pocket exactly double that. At the FIFA World Cups, the gap is wider. Last year, the group stage losers got US9$-million dollars, split between the team members, from total prize money account of $440 million. The women who lose in the group stage later this month will split $690 thousand, from a pool on US$110 million. It’s a big improvement, but not as big as the increase in interest in women’s soccer, worldwide.
In golf, the silly money involved in LIV golf is well documented. So, let’s rather look at the traditional tournaments. Jon Rahm took home US$3.4million from the US Masters, part of the US$15 million or so he’s won this year. The most prestigious event on the women’s calendar is the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, won last month by Ruoning Yin of China, who received cheque for US$1.5 million.
Cricket is making efforts and strides – especially with the interest that was shown in the Womens IPL, and the success of Australia’s Women’s Big Bash and the recent World Cup. South Africa lags badly, but partly because Cricket South Africa’s recent woes mean the federation as a whole struggle with getting sponsors, so they are forced to fund most tournaments themselves, both men and women.
There is one major international success story as far as equal rights in sport is concerned triathlon. The Professional Triathletes Organisation, an athlete-founded entity that was launched in 2014, sees men and women compete for equal prize money, including during The Collins Cup, the flagship event on the calendar, which offers a purse of US$1.5 million. Male and female athletes also receive equal bonuses and the same amount of airtime, while PTO professionals are entitled to up to 15 months of maternity leave, during which time their world ranking is protected.
At home, this year the Comrades Marathon stood up to be counted. There was equal money for places and records in all categories in this year’s race.
On a management level, CSA has a woman as both CEO and CFO. But the provinces have only one female leader – Anne Vilas at central Gauteng. SARU has 4 women on its EXCO, and as does SAFA, including its CEO. SASCOC’s Board is dominated by women, including both vice-presidents.
But that’s all the good news. South Africa’s women who excel are simply no given the financial reward they earned, not even close.