Football: Gender Pay Gap

By Amrit Johal, Sports Legal Consultant, London

According to Professor Ian Blackshaw, association football (soccer) is not only the world’s favourite sport but also its most lucrative one.

In Europe, according to the latest Deloitte Annual Football Finance Review, football is worth a staggering £21.9 billion.

But not all professional football players are benefitting financially from ‘the beautiful game’, especially when comparing the salaries of the women with those of their male counterparts.

For example, Harry Kane, the captain of the England Men’s National Team earns £200,000 per week playing for Tottenham Hotspur FC, whilst Steph Houghton, the captain of the England Women’s National Team and captain of the women’s team of Manchester City FC, earns £1,250 per week!

How can such a gender pay gap be justified in the twenty-first century?

The traditional argument advanced for this pay gap is that women’s football is not as popular as the men’s game and does not attract the same level of TV audiences, which can support such lucrative deals as those enjoyed by the English Premier League. Thus, the pool of money, which could sustain higher salaries being paid to women professional footballers, is not available.

Such an argument is not tenable, given that, in the last few years, women’s football has been increasing in popularity – and continues to do so – and also there is more TV coverage of it than previously.

There is now an English FA (Football Association) Women’s Super League (WSL), which dates from 2011 and the latest edition of the WSL kicked off on 8 September 2018. Top earners in the WSL earn less than the very lowest-paid players in the Premier League. In fact, some players in the Premier League earn more in one day than most WSL players earn in a year.

Since 1996, women’s football has been part of the Summer Olympics’ Programme – the men have been part of that Programme since 1900 – and, under the Olympic Charter, discrimination of any kind on any grounds of gender or otherwise is strictly prohibited.

Most sports tournaments now offer the same prize money for the women as for the men. Take the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, for example. In 2018, the men’s and women’s single champions each earned £2.25 million.

A further point: it has been the practice to award the captain of the England Men’s National Football Team an ‘OBE’ (Officer of the British Empire), whereas Steph Houghton has been awarded an ‘MBE’ (Member of the British Empire) – a lesser honour – for being the captain of the England Women’s National Football Team. Another form of gender discrimination?

Apart from the UK Equal Pay Act, in relation to which it may be said that the pressures and expectations on women footballers are the same as those on the men, there appears, therefore, to be a clear case, on sporting grounds, for, at least, reducing – if not, eliminating – the pay gap between female and male professional football players.

So, I say, bring it on!

Amrit Johal may be contacted by e-mail at ‘law@amritjohal.co.uk’