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Gender (In)equality in Sports!

By Panayiotis Constantinou

Gender (in)equality has become an increasingly discussed topic in the 21st century.

It started as a reaction of many females that felt trampled, but eventually grew to become one of the largest social and political movements society has witnessed. This increase in zest for the topic has resulted in it affecting several aspects of life, including – in a controversial manner – sports.

Undeniably, the past few decades witnessed an ‘explosion’ of monetary investment and public support in sports. It is evident, however, that this ‘explosion’ occurred in an unequal manner, be it in terms of race or gender. Whilst racism does occur in sports – notably with referees and athletes of color by supporters – there is little inequality deriving from racism in comparison to inequality deriving from gender stereotypes.

"When girls like football, I think it’s ok. But I think that the level of women’s football is too low to take it seriously."

- Andrey Arshavin (former Arsenal FC)

This quote by the former Russian national and Arsenal player is merely an example of sexism occurring in sports, but it does not depict inequality as such; it simply provides an understanding of how disregarded females are, even by fellow sportspersons. This perception was not exclusive to Arshavin but was, and probably still is, widespread.

Inequality in soccer, however, does exist; and it can be exemplified through the tremendous pay gap between the highest paid male soccer player and the highest paid female soccer player, with Cristiano Ronaldo earning US$34.71 million per year and Carli Lloyd earning US$518,000 per year. The fact that the highest paid male soccer player’s salary equals 67 times the highest paid female soccer player’s salary conveys inequality between genders in the field of sports.

Whilst the flagship argument that female soccer is uninteresting, due to males being more biologically capable of competing, which results in less television viewings for female soccer and, therefore, less support/investment, it can be argued that it is the decreased support/investment that has led to these pay gaps.

To epitomize this, ESPN – one of the most famous cable sports channels – has a coverage of 5.7% for female sports and even that is – at times – relating more to the athlete’s sexuality rather than their athletic accomplishments. Therefore, it can be argued that female sports are not marketed in the same way as male sports, from which the lack of support and investment stems.

“It’s not enough to shatter the glass ceiling. You have to clear the glass.”

- Julie Kedzie (former UFC)

UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is regarded as one of the most ‘equal’ sports when discussing gender (in)equality. Indeed, UFC has been successful in marketing female athletes, such as Ronda Rousey or Molly McCann, eventually making them successful athletes as well as celebrities. The above quote, however, made by former female UFC fighter Julie Kedzie, contradicts this as she tries to imply that, just because women are in the UFC, it does not mean that they are treated equally. The UFC likes to self-praise that it is not like other sports, due to female athletes being able to make as much as males. Although this can be exemplified through Ronda Rousey’s achievements, there is no other evidence to support this.

The UFC has merely understood the power of promoting female athletes in order to expand their market and boost profits. This does not absolve them from the sexism that has characterized the promotion over the years; but it does show that the UFC is willing to give women a platform and promote a message of female empowerment that has had an increasingly high demand. So, in comparison with other sports, female fighters have higher levels of exposure, given that only 4% of all global sports media coverage features female athletes.

To conclude, gender inequality in sports varies from sport to sport, but it is evident that it is still largely an issue affecting promotion, investment and support. Whilst there have been improvements in the industry regarding the topic of inequality, even ‘equal’ sports, such as the UFC, still need to keep this momentum going, if they are to reach an end goal of complete gender equality in sports.

Further information on this important topic may be obtained from APC Sports Ltd, Nicosia, Cyprus, by logging onto ‘www.apc-sport.com’



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The editors of  the Journal Sports Law & Taxation are Professor Ian Blackshaw and Dr Rijkele Betten, with specialist contributions from the world's leading practitioners and academics in the sports law and taxation fields.

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