The origins of the pay disparity between female and male athletes stem from the outdated belief that men are stronger than women. At the start of competitive sports, women were restricted by society from participating, giving men an early advantage when generating a generational fanbase.
Although women have been integrated into competitive sports for many years now, the governing sector of the sports industry continues to be heavily male-dominated. As of July 2020, just 39 out of the 104 active members in the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, are women, making the IOC 38% women.
The idea that men are stronger than women can be seen in the gameplay of many sports such as boxing, where men fight for 12 rounds and each round is three minutes. In women’s boxing, women fight for 10 rounds and each round is two minutes long. In tennis, men play up to five sets per match while women play up to three, despite professional female tennis players speaking out about being able to play for five sets.
Pay disparity is often justified with the statement that men’s sports brings in higher viewership and therefore greater revenue. The NCAA revealed that in 2019, the men’s basketball March Madness tournament sold 690,000 tickets while the women’s tournament sold 275,000. The total net income the men’s tournament generated in 2019 was around $865 million, while the women’s tournament lost $2.8 million.
The WNBA was established in 1996, 50 years after the NBA was founded in 1946. The NBA was given a huge advantage in generating a fanbase, explaining how the NBA has been able to have greater success than the WNBA.
In May 2022, the United States Soccer Federation announced equal compensation would be given to the men and women’s players of U.S. national teams, marking a milestone for women athletes. Through the help of fans, the battle for equal pay ended.
Frustrated fans spoke out about the unfair pay between male and female soccer players, despite the success the U.S. women’s team has had compared to the men’s. Since 1991, the American women have won four World Cup trophies while the men have not even made it to a semifinal since 1930.
Unfortunately, the progress made in soccer is not the case for sports such as basketball and tennis, where the pay gap remains immensely high.
According to 2021-2022 data provided by Basketball Reference, WNBA players earn an average of $130,000 a year, while a male NBA player earns an average of $5.3 million a year. Many women have to play overseas during the offseason in order to make more money.
“I’d rather be able to be financially stable here and not have to go play six months overseas in the offseason,” said WNBA athlete Tasha Cloud.
WNBA star Brittney Griner’s overseas play brought her to Russia, where she was detained.
Although two years ago, the WNBA raised the average pay to $130,000 and guaranteed a full salary for maternity leave, the pay gap remains at a difference of millions of dollars compared to NBA players.
Similar to basketball, the pay gap in professional tennis is very wide. Only two of the top 10 highest-paid players in the world are women. Naomi Osaka is the world’s highest-paid female athlete and earned $57.3 million in 2021, while Roger Federer earned a total of $84 million.
There is hope for progress in women’s tennis as players such as Osaka, Serena Williams and Venus Williams are consistently speaking out and advocating for equal pay.
“(Women) have to be seen the same, it takes time. … I like that people are starting to recognize that women do deserve equal pay,” Serena Williams said.