One of the most controversial topics that sports face is gender inequality. There is not just inequality with regards to participation and opportunity but also when it comes to the salary. That comes mainly in professional sports, wherein in almost all cases, men make more money than women.
An American woman earns 81% of what an average American man earns. And this stark disparity has hardly budged for more than a decade: the pay gap between men and women has sat at 80%-83% since 2004. There are many reasons why that is. A popular argument is that women’s sports do not nearly bring in the revenue that men’s sports do.
The gap varies by industry; the legal profession has the worst discrepancy at 64%, while arts, entertainment, and sports come in well above average at 94%. While this is heartening for advocates of equal pay, there is still progress that needs to be made, especially when it comes to professional sports.
How to reduce the gap in the female athletic world
For gender equal pay to work, pure meritocracy needs to be revoked, and arguments need to come from a sociological/ideological point of view. Furthermore, women should celebrate the female competition as their own version of the sport that is similar yet also different from the men’s.
Connect to the broader sociological discourse by taking in arguments from an ideological or social point of view and thereby showcasing the societal value of more ‘gender diversity in sport.
Revoke pure meritocracy by taking away platforms to be directly compared to men; that is, by creating their own Women’s Tennis Association where they could create their own female competitions/tournaments, their own logo, image, and rules of the game. As such, they could design the female competition as deliberately being different from men’s sport. They have different rules on the court and off the court.
Market women’s tennis as the same sport but a different category. Women play differently (e.g., by hitting more from the baseline). Rather than trying to adapt more to the men’s game (e.g., hitting serve-and-volleys), they celebrate and market the game as being unique. Women’s tennis thus managed to build their own version of the sport, which alleviated the pressures of repeated direct comparisons to the men’s competition.
Establish and support ‘female role models or the ‘heroes’ of the sport that become the face of women’s tennis and continue to push for more gender equality. Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and many others are very well positioned to maintain the fight for equality.
Leading the way
Women’s perseverance and determination to demand equal rights have resulted in positive changes. The fight against the gender pay gap in sports is another fight against structural inequality, and many inspiring voices have taken charge of challenging the gender-based economic divide in sports.
The FIFA World Cup win of the United States Women’s National Team in 2019 was a landmark victory in paving the path to equality. The women’s team filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation, accusing them of gender discrimination. Another instance of exemplary courage was demonstrated by the Norwegian Soccer player Ada Hegerberg in 2019 when she decided not to play in the Women’s World Cup to protest against the gender pay gap.
Dipika Pallikal, the Indian squash player, questioned the unequal rewards for men and women and refused to play in the squash nationals in 2015. While these are recent instances of dissent, some of the revolutionary efforts go back to Billie Jean King, who led the movement for equal pay for male and female players in tennis tournaments, starting in 1973.