Gender inequality in football is more entrenched than in politics, business, medicine and space exploration, according to a salary survey that compared the employment status and pay of thousands of male and female footballers worldwide.
Among a number of stark findings was that the combined pay of those playing in the top seven women's football leagues equals that of a single male footballer, the Brazilian forward Neymar, who plays for the French club Paris St-Germain.
Neymar will earn €36.7 million from PSG for the 2017-18 season purely for his playing contract, without taking into account millions more he receives in commercial deals.
His salary is almost exactly the same as 1,693 female players in France, Germany, England, the US, Sweden, Australia and Mexico combined, according to the Sporting Intelligence annual salary survey.
There are green shoots of change in attempts to address the gender pay gap. The Norway Football Association forged an agreement earlier this year between its male and female internationals to bring about parity.
The men gave away 550,000 kroner (€56,700) for commercial activities to their female counterparts. The players’ union boss Joachim Walltin said: “Norway is a country where equal standing is very important for us, so I think it is good for the country and for the sport.”
The Norway captain and Chelsea midfielder, Maren Mjelde, explained what the increased pot – which has doubled the money on offer for the women’s team – means.
“I would say you only really have one club in Norway that can offer a fully professional environment,” she said. “Other teams don’t pay as much. So it’s hard for Norwegian footballers to be able to fully concentrate on their football because they have to wake up early in the morning to train, go to school or work, and then in the afternoon it’s football again.”
In Britain, Lewes FC announced a similar initiative and now pays its women’s team the same as its men’s team, as well as dedicating similar resources to both. But these are relatively isolated cases, with the chasm in remuneration for male and female elite athletes widening every year.
Lyon lead the way
Some women do make a good living from sport but it is nothing compared to the riches on offer for men who make it to the top of their profession. Lyon, the best paid women's sports team in the world, which includes the England footballer Lucy Bronze, pays an average salary of €162,000 to its players.
Ireland’s Niamh Fahey also plies her trade in D1 Feminine for Bordeaux, with the league’s average salary around the €40,000 mark.
In England, the English players in the FA Women’s Super League receive an average of £26,752 (€30,000) a year while the men in the Premier League are paid an average of £2.64m (€2.9m), or 99 times that figure.
The gender pay gap is often explained away by those who argue that men's sport is so much more commercially successful than women's sport. But Ruth Holdaway, chief executive of the charity Women In Sport, claims that is not the whole story.
“Women’s sport has huge commercial value,” said Holdaway. “You only have to look at the women’s cricket world cup this summer where the final, which England won, was a sell-out at Lord’s. It is about brands being able to recognise how they can harness the power of women’s sport. There is a huge demand from an audience but it is about tapping into that market and making it work for both sides.”
Holdaway wants to see more sports governing bodies following the example of the Norway FA.
“We’d love to see more governing bodies valuing their female athletes the same as their male athletes,” she said. “It’s not just about equal pay; it’s about the message that sends out about how much women are valued. In tennis, the commitment to equal pay at Wimbledon is a good example of a sporting body realising that while the men’s and women’s game are different the players put in the same amount of effort and are all playing at the height of their abilities.”
The gender disparity applies to employment status, too. In England, the FA – which banned women’s football for five decades until 1971 – only relatively recently introduced a professional league.
While there are 137,021 male professional footballers in the world there are only 1,287 female professionals. This represents just 0.93 per cent and compares unfavourably with even the most traditionally male-dominated industries.
The research, conducted as part of the annual global sports salaries survey, suggested football is perhaps the most unequal profession in the world. In politics, for example, 32% of MPs in the UK are women; in medicine 11% of surgeons in the UK are women.
Space exploration is more accepting of women, with the latest figures from Nasa stating that 59 women, including cosmonauts, astronauts and payload specialists, had flown in space, amounting to 11% of the total.
The survey also looked at other sports and leagues around the world, revealing similar disparities. In the US, male basketball players in the top league, the NBA, earn around 100 times their counterparts in the WNBA. On average, NBA players earn £5.498m a year, while WNBA players earn £57,490.