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Gender Equality in Sports: Is it Possible and How Do We Get There?

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Ok, don’t get me wrong, we’ve surely progressed as a society from the time when seeing women in sports was utterly shocking and of course, I dare say “inappropriate”. We were confined in neatly tied homes w ith the sole “responsibility” to be house and child takers.

Now, fast track to the 21st century. I would like to believe that we have drastically shifted from confinement to liberation. But have we really? Or, now are we confined by a different more glossy society?

The truth is, while in the 21st century, the concept of gender equality has evolved to become a significant topic of discussion worldwide referring to equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for all, irrespective of gender, achieving gender equality in sports still remains a challenge. Despite considerable strides in the past decade, instances of gender discrimination in sports persist, and the fight for gender equity continues.

Caster semenya

I still remember the feeling of complete sadness l felt watching the Caster Semenya saga unfold. This was perhaps one of the most heartbreaking incidents that we witnessed. It highlighted the gender discrimination that is still rampant in sports. Caster Semenya, an Olympic champion, was forced to undergo gender testing to prove her identity as a woman and have her medals recognized. Witnessing this miscarriage of power was utterly unpleasant. This incident showed us how far we still had to go in achieving true gender equality in sports.

Now, fast forward to 2023. Have we progressed?

The State of Gender Equality in Sports

Gender equality
Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Yes, we have. But it’s not enough.

There have been several significant advances in the past decade. We see this in the multitude of opportunities women now have to participate in professional sports. The number of female athletes and fans rising steadily, especially in one major sport (with a huge number of fanatic followers, such as me): soccer or as we call it, football. We can attest to the great strides we’ve made. We even have a new network of our own! Isn’t that amazing? The Women Sports Network is dedicated to providing resources and opportunities for female athletes. to better advance their athletic careers. It also fosters strong sisterhood and a sense of camaraderie between female athletes, empowering them and letting them know that they are being heard. This is a step in the right direction.

Plus, there is also a steadily increasing number of female coaches and referees in the sport, which is another milestone we’ve achieved towards gender equality. According to, IOC News on gender equality the number of female coaches accredited at the Summer and Winter Games rose from 10% in the last decade to 13% for Tokyo 2020. Despite this progress, it’s very slow. Hence, to accelerate the process, in 2020 the IOC established a Women Coach Working Group to increase the number of women coaches and alleviate the shortage.

And, initiatives such as the Women’s Sports Foundation and the International Olympic Committee’s Gender Equality Action Plan have helped to create a level playing field for female athletes.

But, more is needed. If there’s still even 1 woman facing discrimination and sexism in many areas of her athletic career, from coaching opportunities, to pay gaps, and lack of leadership positions, we can’t just sit back. We need to get fired up! Because that’s a clear indication that progress has a long way to go.

The Shocking Gender Pay Gap in Sports

Gender pay gap
PiggyBank via Unsplash

An apparent manifestation of this is the significant pay gap between male and female athletes. In almost all popular sports especially the elite ones, male athletes earn considerably more than their female counterparts. This discrepancy is particularly noticeable in traditionally male-dominated sports like rugby, cricket, and football. A stark example of this is the Black ferns. Despite them winning 5 of the past six World Cups and surely dominating the international rugby playing field they still remain, under-funded, under-payed, and under-recognized. Shockingly, Stuff revealed a 73% pay gap between the Black Ferns (the women’s team) and the All Blacks (the men’s team). To make this worse, while the All Blacks are awarded bonuses equivalent to women’s salaries for World Cup victories ( in 2015 they were awarded NZ$134,000 for their victory) the All Ferns never received a dime. Soper says.“Men’s sports are funded based on potential, women’s sports are funded based on results” And l couldn’t agree more. 

But enough is enough.

We should be celebrating women athletes’ victories and recognizing their amazing skills with equal pay and support. By rallying behind them, only then can see real change happening. Take, for example, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, which has consistently outperformed the men’s team, yet received significantly less compensation, fought for years to be heard. Recently, 28 members of the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT), including some of its most prominent players like Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Megan Rapinoe filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) for equal pay and friendly working conditions. While in 2021, the case reached a settlement of $24M the attention it gained became the top of discussion about gender equality, not only in sports but also in the broader context of workplace and societal inequalities. Can you see the difference that just speaking up against injustice has?

Lack of Funding for Female Athletes

Women sports
Vince Fleming via Unsplash

Now, let’s move on to funding for female athletes. Another area where we see a gross miscarriage of power. Just 0.4% of all sports sponsorships are accounts of women. This obvious difference creates a further barrier for female athletes to access financial resources, making it difficult for them to reach their full potential. One, I must say “disturbing” contributor to this is stereotyping between male and female athletes. While male athletes are evaluated based on popularity, fame, and ability. female athletes are evaluated based on their looks rather than athletic ability and achievement in sports. For example, l think we can all agree that athletic clothing for females covers way less skin than their male athlete’s counterparts. This makes further pursuing a career in sports a burden and less rewarding as well for female athletes.

Similar to this shameful stereotype female players receive, women’s sports leagues are underfunded and lack the same level of exposure as their male equivalents. This means that female athletes rarely have the same access to resources and training facilities as their male counterparts, making it even harder for them to reach the top of their sport.

This imbalance in pay and sponsorship opportunities is a major obstacle for female athletes, as it perpetuates the idea that their sports are not worth investing in. Now, a collective effort from all stakeholders – including governing bodies, sponsors, media outlets, and fans is needed so that female athletes can compete on an equal footing with their male counterparts. Only then can we see true gender equality in sports.

The Media Coverage Disparity

Sports media coverage
Norbert Braun via Unsplash

Another area where there’s a bit of a chicken-or-egg construct is female athlete media coverage. While. publishers blame advertisers for not putting more money into women’s sports content, advertisers on the other hand say that publishers aren’t producing enough content to advertise against. As such women’s sports receive only a fraction of the media coverage that men’s sports do. And this disparity impacts the sport’s ability to attract and maintain commercial sponsorships, significantly affecting the sustainability of female athletes, sports, and competitions.

And, we’ve also seen a shift in the way that sports are marketed and advertised. Brands are now targeting their campaigns toward female audiences, recognizing their value as potential customers and consumers. This is helping to create an environment where women feel more accepted and appreciated.

Cases That We Are On The Right Track

Ice hockey
Oleksandr P via Pexels

Despite these challenges, progress is being made toward achieving gender equality in sports. In recent years, several female athletes and teams have taken a stand against gender discrimination, demanding equal pay and treatment.

The U.S. Women’s National Ice Hockey Team, prior to their historic gold medal win at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, fought for equal pay and treatment to that of the men’s team. Their victory sent a powerful message that women’s sports deserve equal recognition and compensation.

In another landmark case, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team sued U.S. Soccer on the basis of gender discrimination. They reached a settlement of $24,000,000, plus bonuses matching those of the men’s team in February 2022.

Plus, the current changes in attitudes and policies are clear signs of positive change in the fight for gender equality in sports. Tennis has led the charge, with female winners of international tournaments now receiving the same prize money as their male counterparts. The Football Association of Wales also reached an agreement guaranteeing equal pay for future international matches for the national men’s and women’s football teams.

And, to top this off, slight improvements have been noted in the media coverage and commercial investment in women’s sports. The WNBA saw a significant 22% increase in TV ratings from 2021 to 2022, indicating a growing interest in women’s sports.

Sponsorship deals and activation around women’s sports are also on the rise. Across 15 professional women’s leagues, 3,500 brands bought 5,650 sponsorships or media deals. This surge in sponsorship deals indicates a shifting perception of women’s sports, from being seen as ’cause-related’ donations to viable areas for economic investment. We are definitely on the right track. And social media can help to accelerate this.

Can Social Media Be a Catalyst for Change?

Social media
cottonbro studio via Pexels

Social media has emerged as a powerful tool for promoting women’s sports, creating an exciting revolution! Platforms such as ESPN Social media’s impact can not be pushed aside. In 2022, the number of WNBA-focused social posts has doubled, resulting in a 20% increase in impressions and a staggering 90% jump in total video views in comparison to the previous year. This incredible growth indicates the significant role that social media can play in enhancing the visibility and popularity of women’s sports. So, grab your phone and follow their page. With each like, share, and comment, we are one step closer to creating a future where female athletes receive the recognition and support they truly deserve.

So, What Is The Way Forward Now?

Exciting times surely lie ahead for gender equality in sports! Achieving this much-needed balance requires collective action from all angles. Broadcasters and reporters hold the power to make a real difference by highlighting and promoting women’s sports. By putting a spotlight on these phenomenal athletes and their accomplishments, they can inspire a whole new generation of fans.

And let’s not forget about businesses – more of them should start stepping up and investing in female sports teams and athletes through commercial partnerships and sponsorships. This kind of support can go miles into elevating women’s sports to new heights.

But it doesn’t stop there – governing bodies also need to take decisive action too. Addressing the pay gaps that exist in sports is essential for creating a fair playing field for everyone irrespective of colour gender and ethnicity.

And then comes you. Yes, you. As the audience, you have a crucial role to play as well. The popularity of any sport is essentially determined by its market demand. So, if you along with countless other women and girls become passionate about watching women’s sports, the market for these events will inevitably grow. And with that growth comes increased investment, coverage, and opportunities for female athletes to shine on the big stage. So, next time there’s a female athletic game going on gab a ticket for yourself, your young one, and your female besties.

Together, we can create a future where gender equality thrives in the world of sports!

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