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Gender Pay-Gap in Sports

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

* Written by Shinjinee Namhata


The world is championing gender equality, but the debate of equal pay in sports still continues. According to the 2018 Forbes list of top 100 highest-paid athletes [1], not a single woman athlete holds a position.

It can be noticed that the Gender pay gap in women’s professional sports is much higher than in other professions. When comparing the salaries of men and women competing in the same sport, the difference is significant. Where men are earning millions of dollars, women are struggling to make a living. Taking the example of Football as a professional sport, in the year 2019 the highest-earning male player was Lionel Messi with an income of $ 127 million, whereas Alex Morgan with an income of $ 5.8 was the highest-paid female player. The gender pay gap continues to affect all-female professional athletes in almost all sports. As per data, in basketball, the maximum salary for Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) players is $111,500. 67. Meanwhile, the minimum salary for a National Basketball Association (NBA) male player is $525,093.6 [2]. Similar incidents of pay gaps can be noticed in India as well. One of the most notable incidents in this aspect is the Asia Cup 2018 Final. Mithali Raj, being the player of the match received prize money of US $ 250; whereas Liton Das who not even came as the man of the match got US $5000 [3] after winning the match. This glaring inequality between women and men cricketers is infuriating.

This huge pay gap in sports can be due to various reasons. It may be due to less revenue and media coverage, due to society’s perception of woman’s professional sport, lack of sponsorship and so on. In spite of the presence of various equal pay legislation, this problem still continues. Several efforts are being taken in overcoming this wage gap. One of the cases in this aspect is United States Women’s National Soccer Team v. United States Soccer Federation. In this case, 5 players filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination (EEOC) in 2016. In 2019, they received the right to sue letter from the EEOC. Later, all 28 members of the National Team file a suit based on a claim of wage discrimination under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The matter before the jury is still awaited.

International Prospect

The Equal Pay Act of 1963 prohibits pay discrimination based on sex and states that men and women must be paid equally for substantially equal work performed in the same establishment [4]. Under the EPA, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie violation that clearly validates that the plaintiff was paid less than an employee of the opposite sex for equal work and responsibilities but, there are four defences the employer can assert as excusable reasons under the EPA. These defences include- the pay scale is based on a seniority system, merit system, a system that measures quality or quantity of production, or the pay is based on any factor other than sex [5]. The employer can also argue that the jobs are not of equal rank. In the case of sports, these defences give the employer/club subsequent scope for escaping liability. The Equal Pay Act does not take into account that women are not given an equal opportunity to make profits for their organizations. This is a crucial reason why the EPA does not decrease gender discrimination in athletics. The law fails to recognize the vast discrimination in all facets of the sports industry that leads to decreased revenue generation for female sports.

Equal pay irrespective of gender still remains a very sensitive issue. Legally, several questions remain unanswered. In this context, one most relevant aspect is whether workers can directly invoke Article 157 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)? According to the European Court of Justice, this is one of the founding principles of the EU. Article 157 TFEU implies that each EU Member State must ensure the application of the principle of equal pay for men and women for equal work [6] or work that is of equal value. The Court through its decisions has clarified that female employees can directly invoke Article 157 TFEU before national courts and demand equal pay for equal work or work of equal value. This is undoubtedly a major improvement. Another most important legislation speaking about equality is The Equality Act 2010. The provisions of the Equality Act 2010 aim to harmonise discrimination law and strengthen the law to support progress on equality [7]. In spite of having several legislations, the issue of the Gender Pay Gap in sports still continues to be a major issue.

Indian Prospect

In India, on the other hand, there are lots of existing policies related to equal pay in sports, notable being National Sports Policy, Khelo India Scheme, National Sports Development Fund 1988 [8]; but none of these mentioned policies specifically talks about the issue. The lack of governmental regulation has increased the pay gap between men’s and women’s sporting salaries. The discrepancies are robust and surprising. For example, in 2017, BCCI hiked the salaries of women cricketers to Rs 15 lakh per year for Grade A players and Rs 10 lakh per year for Grade B players. Despite the increase, however, Grade A male cricketers are paid Rs 2 crore every year, and Grade B players receive Rs 1 crore [9]. Due to a lack of financial security, a lot of talented women players are losing interest and forfeiting the game.


No doubt wages depend on the amount of revenue generated from a particular sport. But this should in no way affect the spirit of the sportswomen. Does the world even take its sportswomen seriously? Attention must be given to the need for equal pay to bring about parity between the genders. There is also an immediate need for legislation specifically dealing with the issue of wage discrimination in sports. Also, there is an increasing need for female representation in the sports governing bodies. Only then, more females will come forward in sports activities. Greater financial support should be given for women’s professional sports and greater initiatives should be taken to grow woman’s participation in sports.

*The author is a law scholar of IFIM Law School, Bengaluru.

(The image used here is for representational purposes only)


[1] Kurt Badenhausen, ‘Full List: World’s Highest-Paid Athletes 2018’ (Forbes,13 June 2018) accessed 14 August 2021.

[2] Brigitte Yuille, ‘Top WNBA Salaries: How do they stack up?’ (Investopedia, 5 Jan 2021) accessed 14 August 2021.

[3] Ria Das, ‘The Gender Pay Gap in Sport: Why we must talk about it’ (shethepeople-The women’s channel, 11 July 2019) accessed 14 August 2021.

[4] The Equal Pay Act 1963.

[5] Carrie Perras, ‘Moving Towards Equal Pay for Professional Female Athletes: What We can Learn from Equal Pay Legislation in Iceland’ INDIANA INT’L & COMP. LAW REVIEW accessed 14 August 2021.

[6] Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union, Article 157.

[7] The Equality Act 2010.

[8] Hamzah Hussaini, ‘Equal Pay for Equal work: Labour, Sports and Constitutional Perspective’ SSRN accessed 14 August 2021.

[9] Karunya Keshav, Sidhanta Patnaik & Snehal Pradhan, ‘Indian cricket: Why a movement towards equal pay for men and women is important’ (, 21 May 2021) accessed 14 August 2021.


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