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The gender pay gap in sports and why subsidies are not necessarily a bad thing

The gender pay gap is prevalent in all areas of public life, including sports. Even though a large number of sports do as tennis and athletics and reward men and women equal prize money, many female athletes are still not earning as much as their male counterparts.

Football is retaining the biggest pay gap. Norway’s Football Association recently decided to correct the financial discrepancy on the national teams, in part by redistributing a share of the men’s side marketing deal.

On Forbes’ annual list of «The World’s 100 Highest- Paid Athletes», there is only one woman. Tennis legend Serena Williams’ total earnings of salaries and bonuses put her total income at $27 million, making her the 51st best paid athlete this year. Tennis set the precedent in equal pay when the US Open distributed the same amount of prize money for men and women in 1973.

There is however still disgruntlement within the tennis community regarding women’s right to equal prize money. Novak Djokovic stated last year that men should earn more because statistics show their matches attract a wider audience. While the men’s matches may often sell out faster, tennis has attracted large audiences for women players for decades. Interesting rivalries and impressive feats seemingly transcend gender in this sport.

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Over the past few years, women’s football has also become increasingly popular amongst the media and the general public. Despite this positive trend, we cannot expect the UEFA Champions League prize money for the top women team to equal the men’s prize anytime soon. The difference is massive. Real Madrid received £13,5 million for winning the Champions League this summer. Lyon were paid £219,920.

The Norwegian FA recently announced that both men and women teams will receive equal pay for playing international football. Upon a request from the FA, the men’s side unanimously agreed to cut £57,000 from their marketing deal, and donate this cut to their female counterparts.

The FA decided to invest a further £276,000 into the women’s side, almost doubling their salary for international matches. In 2018 the national sides will therefore operate under equal financial conditions of around £570,000 each. 

This decision was reached following the disappointing performance from the women’s side during this summer’s European Championships. After three straight losses, Lyon star Ada Hegerberg, BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year 2017 and UEFA Best Women’s Player in Europe 2016, announced that she would take a break from the international scene. She described the overall standard as wanting. 

Wolfsburg player Caroline Graham Hansen, who is currently playing international football, also criticised the FA for not doing enough for women, especially in terms of financial support. 

Times journalist Matthew Syed also had his say on the matter. He argued that asking the men’s side to cut into their marketing deal is the wrong approach to solving the pay gap, as they are more productive in economic terms through TV viewers and sponsorship deals. 

Syed compared workplace gender quotas to equal pay in sports, saying people should be paid according to merit and not promoted or subsidised based on gender. He called subsidising a menace: «They signal the virtue of those who propose them, but do not help those they purport to assist».

How government-imposed gender quota for board rooms in Norway may lead to unconscious bias as to whether a woman is promoted based on professional merit, while an interesting debate, is completely beside the point in this instance.

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The Norway women’s national team deserve equal pay. With a lot less resources, they have been performing better than the men’s team internationally, qualifying and advancing in the major tournaments. Simply because they cannot compete with the men in terms of popularity does not translate to them being unworthy of better financial circumstances. 

Essentially this is an investment in the future of women’s football in Norway. Several international female footballers have to work normal jobs while playing professionally in order to make ends meet.

This increase in salary means it will be easier for young talents to pursue their football dreams and established players may also choose to prolong their careers. It is not a huge amount of money but it will make a big difference, especially for those who are playing in the Norwegian league. 

Featured image: wikimedia commons

Ingrid Sund
Ingrid has always loved writing and exploring different angles of a story and is now able to combine this with her passion for sports. She is a graduate of the University of St Andrews, where she studied International Relations. Her general interest in politics has led to a special interest in the politics and legal regulations of the sporting industry. While she finds all sports fascinating, her favourites are tennis, cycling and football. Ingrid is Norwegian and grew up a keen follower of winter sports, and will also cover these for the Sports Gazette.
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