The Gender Pay Gap and Sports

As I’m working on this post, I’m still reminiscing on the terrific performance that the United States Women’s Soccer Team put together at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. In spite of the challenges that teams like France, England, and the Netherlands posed, not to mention critics of their celebrations and some of their opinions, the U.S. Women still pulled it off!

There came a certain point, however, when the reminiscing turned to a different topic: the gender pay gap in sports. At times, it felt like the U.S. Women were fighting for more than winning the tournament—they were fighting for respect, and to be paid equally as compared to the men.

And, while I support the fight for the U.S. Women to be paid equally to the U.S. Men,[1] this conversation about massive gender pay gaps need to expand beyond soccer and to all sports.[2] Here’s the thing: while the focus has been on the glaring gender pay gap between the U.S. Men and the U.S. Women in soccer, this pay gap extends to nearly every other sport, with the possible exception of tennis.[3]

In terms of where the blame lies for this gap, I think that there is plenty of blame to go around:

  1. Some blame should go to a lack of advertisement and coverage of most women’s sports, as compared to men’s. There was, I thought, a good amount of advertisement for the Women’s World Cup and for women’s tennis. But outside of those two sports, where is the visibility of women’s sports in terms of TV advertising and coverage? I know—often, it wasn’t and isn’t visible. The visibility is just not comparable to the men right now. That, of course, affects revenue, because visibility leads to sponsorship opportunities, which leads to revenue.
  2. Some blame should go to us, the consumers, for just not caring as much about women’s athletics as we do about men’s athletics. Prize money and other money earned by athletes (through contracts, endorsements, etc.) is extremely dependent on the amount of revenue a sport generates. And the amount of revenue a sport generates depends on factors like ticket sales, merchandise sales, concession sales at games, and television ratings (which in turn helps determine the amount of money sports generate from advertisements, the amount of money sports generate from television deals, etc.). We as consumers simply haven’t invested in women’s sports at the level we often have with the men. It is no wonder, then, that the women usually get paid less than the men.
  3. In the absence of #1 and #2 (and oftentimes, even with the presence of points #1 and #2), blame goes to governing bodies for maintaining systemic gender inequality. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team falls into this blame group. They get the coverage, and they get the revenue, yet they don’t get paid equally. This has actually happened in other women’s sports before—tennis, which seems to have taken great strides towards pay equality at least in its major tournaments, had a situation for decades where they got the exposure and the revenue, but not the equal pay.

No doubt, women have come a far way with sports in the last 25 years. Just in that time, there has been the establishment of a women’s basketball league, multiple iterations of a women’s soccer league, increased attention on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, and an increased exposure of women’s sports in general. However, we have a long way to go until we achieve true gender equality in pay, and true gender equality in sports in general. May we not stop the push for gender equality in sports. May we take follow the lead of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, who are four-time World Cup champions and advocates for gender equality.


[1] Honestly, I would even be supportive of the women being paid more than the men. The women have earned more revenue than the men, plus the women won the World Cup while the men didn’t even make their World Cup (losing to the likes of Trinidad and Tobago in the process).

[2] It should expand beyond sports, quite frankly. But for the purposes of this post, I am sticking to sports.

[3] Though if I’m wrong, please correct me.

I was at the parade celebrating the U.S. Women winning the World Cup. I therefore saw Megan Rapinoe and others celebrating, amid chants of “equal pay.”

Human Rights Violations at the World Cup: An Ugly Side to the Beautiful Game

I am a big fan of soccer/football, also known by some who love the sport as “the beautiful game.” It’s to the point that my own Twitter feed notes my support of a long-suffering team in the second tier of the English footballing system.

Given my fandom of soccer/football, what I am about to say breaks my heart: the World Cup, on every occasion in recent memory, is not just a soccer/footballing spectacle, but also a spectacle in human rights violations.

For example, various forms of slavery often have a presence at the World Cup. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is already gaining notoriety for using forced labor, even though that World Cup is four years away (if it even still happens in Qatar, which is no guarantee). Sadly, the problem is not limited to Qatar—in each of the three World Cups previous to 2018, issues with sex trafficking were widespread. World Cup hosts such as Germany (2006) and South Africa (2010) had major issues with this,[1] and a World Cup child trafficking bid was foiled just yesterday.

Furthermore, labor abuses are commonplace while these nations prepare for the World Cup. Much of the attention is on Russia right now since they’re hosting, and rightfully. As of the middle of 2017, it was reported that as many as 17 people have died in preparations for the World Cup as a result of labor abuses.[2] However, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar also deserves attention for all the people who died as a result of labor abuses while preparing for their World Cup.[3] Lamentably, labor abuses are frequently an issue while nations prepare for the World Cup.

And then there’s the mass displacement of people as a result of preparing for the World Cup. Jacob Zuma, who was the President of South Africa when his country hosted the World Cup in 2010, drew criticism because of the mass evictions of people in the run-up to the tournament. Brazil’s mass displacement of people while preparing for their World Cup in 2014 gained international press attention. Sadly, the World Cup often seems to displace people.

For all that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has drawn criticism for its human rights violations (and rightfully so), human rights violations sadly seem to exist at every World Cup, no matter where it is held. Qatar is bad with its human rights violations, but this doesn’t mean that we should hold the current World Cup hosts or the previous ones as beacons for justice in the midst of their preparing for their World Cups.

All of the injustice that is tied to these World Cups begs the following question: How do we respond? Some of us have responded or will respond by not watching the World Cup at all, in protest of these human rights abuses. Others of us will turn a blind eye and watch the World Cup, for one reason or another. But then there are people like me, people who are torn between a game they love and human rights violations they hate.

I personally haven’t been able to reconcile these two tensions, the tension between the soccer/football I love and the hatred of human rights violations that play out at every World Cup. However, I think a good start is to at least inform ourselves of the various human rights violations that happen at every World Cup. That’s the least we can do.


[1] A group of nuns who were backed by Pope Francis noted that “sexual exploitation rose 30 percent in connection with the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and 40 percent at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.” Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-soccer-world-trafficking/nuns-backed-by-pope-warn-of-human-trafficking-at-world-cup-idUSBREA4J0IS20140520

[2] https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/news/world-cup-2018-fifa-blamed-for-deaths-and-widespread-abuse-of-stadium-workers/

[3] http://fortune.com/2016/03/31/qatar-world-cup-workers/

Soccer Ball for World Cup Post
This is an image of “Telstar 18,” the official match ball of the 2018 World Cup. Source: Wikimedia Commons Contributors, “File:Rus-Arg 2017 (11).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the Free Media Repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rus-Arg_2017_(11).jpg&oldid=272527602 (accessed June 10, 2018).