Closing the Gap: Women’s Football and the Pursuit of Equal Pay

In the United Kingdom, the principle of equal pay for equal work has been enshrined in legislation for over five decades. However, the landscape of professional sports, including women’s football, continues to grapple with significant disparities in pay between men and women.

The Gender Pay Gap

Despite incremental progress, the disparity in compensation between male and female athletes remains glaringly apparent. This discrepancy surfaces not only in prize money but also in salaries offered by sports teams to their athletes and coaches. A prime example is the field of football. Male footballers earn staggering salaries, with the average annual income of a Premier League average player being in excess of £3,000,000.

In stark contrast, the average annual salary for players in the Women’s Super League, the UK’s top-tier women’s football league, hovers around £47,000. The highest-earning male footballers rake in over £173,000,000 a year, while their female counterparts earn approximately £417,000 per annum, revealing how earnings of the best female players is only 1% of their male counterparts. Similarly, in non-playing roles England Women’s Coach Serena Wiegman earns around £400,000 a year compared to Gareth Southgate’s £5,000,000 the England Men’s coaching position.

Equal Pay Laws and Sports

The foundation for equal pay is firmly established in UK law. The Equal Pay Act of 1970, bolstered by the Equality Act of 2010, mandates equal compensation for equal work, categorised as work of one or more of:

  • equal value,
  • equivalent-rated work, or
  • “like work.”

Sports organisations often contend that male and female athletes do not perform work of equal value, citing differences in revenue and viewership. While men’s sports tend to attract more attention, the discrepancy can also be attributed to the limited media coverage of women’s sports – just 4% despite women comprising 40% of participants. A circular argument crops up whereby more revenue is needed in women’s football to support increased, or equal pay, but that revenue will only come from increased coverage which will only ever be adjusted to meet demand.

The concept of “like work” becomes crucial in these discussions. This term encompasses roles performed by employees that are substantially similar. Assessing whether differences are relevant enough to warrant varying pay involves considering required skills and knowledge.

Exemptions to Equal Pay

Certain exemptions allow for legal pay disparities in segregated which, in part, explains how this disparity has become so entrenched. Other exceptions are available based on reasons other than gender, such as variations in qualifications, job requirements, or location-based cost of living. However, these exceptions must not be predicated on gender bias.

Navigating the intricacies of equal pay legislation is intricate and context-dependent. Legal advice is essential when structuring businesses and contracts with varying pay scales. The recent and on-going litigation against supermarket giants Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s is evidence of the importance of correctly assessing work done by workers and pay parity.

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