Equal pay in sport: an achievable goal or an impossible dream?

10 October, 2017
by: Cripps Pemberton Greenish

Why do women not receive equal pay compared to men in all walks of life? Elite sport seems decades behind the ‘normal’ working world when it comes to equal pay.

An argument often made against equal pay in elite sport is that male  athletes should receive greater pay because men’s sport is more popular, brings in more advertising, ticket sales, TV deals, and in some sports the men’s matches/events are far longer.

However, although I accept it may not be the strongest parallel, as shown in the recent case concerning Asda, in the ‘normal’ working environment it has been established that despite different genders and different roles, women are entitled to equal pay.


Back in 2016 five senior female US international footballers filed a claim against their national federation for wage discrimination.

At the time it was reported that they earnt 60% less than their male equivalents, this was despite the rather interesting statistic that the US women’s team generated $20 million more revenue than the US men’s team that year.

This appears a genuine challenge to the argument that the male game is more popular in the US and generates greater revenue!

Earlier this year as part of on-going collective bargaining negotiations it was agreed the US women’s compensation and benefits package would receive a substantial increase, although still not to the level of their male counterparts.


In Norway even greater steps towards equality have been taken. In a claimed first, Norway’s male and female players shall receive the same pay for representing their country.

It is understood that the Norwegian men’s team agreed to take a pay-cut as part of a new pay structure to accommodate equal pay to for the women’s and men’s teams.

Before the change in pay structure, despite being more successful in their respective international competitions the women’s team received less than half that of the men.

This is definitely a positive step towards equal pay in elite sport.

Long Way To Go For Equal Pay

However, it is misleading to think there is anything but a long way to go before equal pay across the sexes in elite sport. There are multiple examples of where inequality remains.

For example, in tennis despite all four grand slams offering the same prize money, not all tournaments do so and the sport’s male stars continue to earn more prize money and receive greater endorsements.

Also, the wages paid by professional football clubs (rather than by national governing bodies, as in the Norway example above) to male players and the value of personal endorsement contracts dwarf those of the female professionals.

The plight of the Notts County Ladies’ team highlights the disparity in fortunes and arguably shows the practical difficulties of ensuring equal pay for professional sportswomen.

Two days before the start of the 2017 season the team folded when it was projected that the costs in running the team for the season would be around £500,000 when the anticipated income revenue from ticket sales and sponsorship would only be around £28,000.