The Gender Gap in Sport

Although observed in most professional spheres, the gender gap in sports is extremely pronounced - a glaring disparity in the number of wins and revenues generated, and remuneration received in the same sport by men and women, are some ways in which this gap manifests. The Indian women’s cricket team made their debut as recently as the 1970s, whereas the men’s team has been playing since 1932. As of March 2018, the Indian men’s cricket team’s players’ wages range from seven crores to one crore, with Grade A+ players (Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, etc.) receiving seven crores, and Grade C players (Suresh Raina, Karun Nair, etc.) receiving one crore. On the other hand, the women’s team’s wages range from fifty lakh for Grade A players (Mithila Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, etc.) and ten lakh for Grade C players (Mansi Joshi, Anuja Patil, etc.). Figures below from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Annual Report (2016) indicate that this disparity also exists in average prize winnings. Men’s teams that win tournaments earn nearly five times that of female winning teams.


The idea that women can perform as well as men, maybe even better is not entirely utopian - in July 2019, Australian cricketer Ellyse Perry became the only cricketer, male or female, to score 1000 T20I runs and take 100 T20 wickets. Shahid Afridi (1416 runs and 98 wickets) had previously been the closest to reaching the milestone, while Shakib al Hasan (1471 and 88) is best placed to join Perry in coming years.

The gender gap in sports, also colloquially known as the muscle gap owing to biological differences between the two genders in consideration here, is seeping into and becoming the reason behind inconsistencies in investments made and importance given to women in sports. Owing to their biological make-up, women’s bodies tend to store a greater amount of fat relative to men and contributes to the so-called muscle gap. Women who are professional marathon runners store as much as 8% body fat, whereas men’s bodies store 4%. Aside from these biological factors, even if one argues that women are paid less solely because the revenues that they generate are also less, working conditions and societal attitudes towards women and men in sports differ greatly. 

Among the several reasons for the existence of a gender gap in sports, lack of access to opportunities manifests itself in various ways: it was not until the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London that every country’s delegation included a female competitor. The women’s marathon was not included in the Olympics until 1984. In many sports like hammer throw and pole vault, women started competing much later than their male counterparts did.

One comparison worth examining is Australia’s Big Bash League (BBL), which runs a Twenty20 cricket competition for both men (MBBL) and women (WBBL). Figures for the 2017-18 seasons indicated some similarities in television ratings trends for both, but large gaps as the tournaments progress, culminating in nearly a five-fold difference in the finals. This perhaps manifests itself in the resulting average pay for men and women, where the salary cap for male players stands at AUD 1.7m, which is more than half of the total salaries for women in the BBL (around AUD 3m)!


The gender gap in sports also materializes in the form of a pay gap, although it is commonly argued that women athletes are paid lesser because the revenues that they generate are far lower than those generated by men. The world stood witness to Groupama Stadium chanted “equal pay” in June 2019 after the USA (women’s) football team won the final in July 2019. The same team, earlier this year, filed a lawsuit against U.S Soccer for higher pay and better working conditions. What may be called a glaring pay gap between the men’s and women’s team could stem from differences in budgetary allowances for men and women. FIFA set aside US$30 million in total prize money for this year’s women’s tournament, while the men’s totaled US$400 million in 2018. In addition, FIFA gives the men’s teams US$48 million in preparation costs and distributes another US$209 million to the clubs that release players for the tournament. The women get US$11.5 million for preparation costs and US$8.4 million in club compensation.

Women are underrepresented not just in physical sports - a study conducted by the University of Padova, Italy, showed that females aware of the gender of their opponents performed poorer compared to when they were unaware of this. . 

The gender gap in athletic performance, as shown in records from Olympic competition, has remained stable since 1983. The mean difference has been about 10% between men and women for all events. Studies show that in sports such as running, a woman who is fit and well-trained can outperform a man who is not. Statistical analyses of world-record performances postulated that women would soon outrun men (eg, in long-distance events) because the rate of improvement in female world records (WRs) was steeper than that of their male counterparts. However, this did not take into account the sociological and cultural factors such as barriers faced by women in taking up sports professionally, and decreased access to opportunities in this field.
Underrepresentation of women in sport-governing bodies and other technical positions remains prevalent and a contributing factor behind poor working conditions, a pay gap, and the importance given to female athletes. Increasing female participation in sports represents increased autonomy and exercising one’s control over their bodies. This article just scratches the surface of a much bigger problem - a pronounced gender gap in most professional fields. Increased representation of women in sports specifically will help tap into undiscovered potential, and set new world records. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Mannheim in Germany showed that having female role models instills confidence in women and increases their likeliness to compete - thus a greater number of women in sports will also encourage future female athletes.

Anchal Khandelwal