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Marco Floreale – Head of the Sport Law Division at Wollens looks at the continuing controversial topic of the status of women in sport in relation to their male counterparts.   

The rise in the popularity of women’s sport is finally showing signs of closing the gap on men both in terms of parity of pay and sponsorship opportunities. However, there is still a huge chasm in sports where women are a long way from the rewards and recognition received by men. Many sportswomen are household names for their performances in their chosen sport. Some women are heralded as sporting icons. Pay and sponsorship deals have increased. But the women are still a long way behind their male counterparts.

This article considers why men and women are still not financially rewarded equally from tournaments, sponsorships, and endorsements. The full article which can be found here discusses the opportunities given to both genders and explains why the situation is changing. Additionally, it will highlight the positive and sustainable future ahead.”

The pay gap 

The gender pay gap, which is not just limited to sport, is one of the most globally recognised disparities between men and women. It is particularly stark in the world of sport where there are huge prizes, salaries, and bonuses for men. Because of the mindbendingly large amounts of money, these differences are more apparent than in the world of sport. Many female athletes not only earn significantly less, but in many circumstances, they need a second job in order to make a living. Unless the athlete is at the very top of a well-publicised and heavily marketed sport, professional sport rarely pays sportswomen enough to enable them to focus solely on their performance. This impacts on their availability to train and participate in competitions. Many professional sportswomen use their annual leave whilst in full time work to attend competitions. In many cases, the lack of a sustainable salary or other benefits can lead to the athlete having to give up their dreams and leave the sport they love.

The question is: Are we doing enough, both on and off the field of play, to close this gap? What more can we do to achieve a “level playing field”?

Viewing habits

Not surprisingly, as recently as 2018, a survey found that when it comes to viewing, there is strong favouritism towards male sports. The most watched women’s sports were tennis, swimming and athletics. The rationale behind this is that these sports are considered to be more unisex than say football or rugby, traditionally seen as “men’s sports”. The real reason though that the men’s sport still attracts greater viewing figures is not because of personal choice, but due to the lack of TV coverage in women’s sport. Women’s sport remains less visible than men’s sport on TV. If you want to watch live sport on TV, you are most likely to see men’s sport being covered. Take cycling as an example. The men’s stages of the Tour de France are covered from start to finish. The women’s stages – which are usually shorter in distance anyway – may provide coverage only for the last half. It is also universally accepted that viewers prefer to watch men, or maybe more men watch sport on TV!

The Lionesses, women’s football and why it is growing popular every day

Football is probably the most common and sought after currency in the sporting world, as everyone has probably played it at some stage or knows someone that has. A lot of people in the sporting world want to be involved in it and in many countries, it is their number one sport. It is, therefore, not surprising it is also the most popular sport played amongst girls and women. FIFA reports that over 30 million girls and women play football. The USA, Germany, Canada and Sweden have the largest numbers
of registered female players again according to FIFA. UEFA, in 2010, launched its women’s football development programme with the aim of driving future growth and sustainability in the women’s game. They funded it, and offered knowledge-sharing schemes, practical courses and advisory programmes in key areas, including on and off-field development, coaching and refereeing.

This had a big impact and, after thirteen years, the development of the game in Europe has steadily grown. Attendances are up, TV coverage has become more mainstream on prime and free-to-air channels. As an example, the Lionesses saw a
meteoric rise in their popularity with their recent victory in 2022 when they were crowned European champions. But this is where the impact of the growth of the women’s game versus the commerciality was clearly visible. People wanted to show their support by wearing replica kits – something that is taken for granted in mens sport!

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The popularity and growth in women’s sport is on the rise and rise. At last, it looks like it is here to stay and be an increasing part of the mainstream sporting fixtures in our calendars. However, change is still needed. Investment is required at all levels, the model of the men’s sporting world needs to be embraced, adopted and changed where, as need be, to reflect the standing that women in sport have and the place they rightly take in society, in our classrooms, on our TV sets, in our social media platforms, and so on!   Read the full article here