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The Gender Pay-gap
  Mar 23, 2015 Posted by Admin  

By Vagisha Gunasekara

Where is the Audience?

Last week we eagerly watched the knock-out round quarter-finals of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the biggest event in 4 years for cricket fans all over the world. A few of my friends have formed a whatsapp group especially for the cricket World Cup and though I was not watching the Australia vs. Pakistan match on Friday in person with them, I received a ball-to-ball commentary of the match with other comments from the peanut gallery, which were equally interesting. When I scrolled up later in the day to get a summary of the match, I ran into comments like “Shane Watson saved Australia’s ass”, I wondered whether we ever pay this much attention to women’s cricket in our countries. How many of us have ever watched Ellyse Perry, who is currently one of the finest cricketers in the world, intimidate batters with her fast-medium bowling action? How about the all-rounder skills of Jhulan Goswami of India, the bowling of Sana Mir of Pakistan, and Shashikala Siriwardena of Sri Lanka? Related to the reality that we pay less attention to women’s cricket is our abysmal knowledge of the pay-gap among male and female cricketers in the world.

The Gender Pay-gap in Cricket and other Sports

In 2013, Cricket Australia restructured their contracting system that resulted in a sharp increase for female international and state players. Top-ranking female athletes are paid a maximum of $52,000 (more than double the figure prior to restructuring); a minimum of $25,000 and a retainer of $5,000. The daily tour pay was also hiked from $100 to $250 (Lip Magazine 2013)[i]. Although Australia might not top the ‘favourites list’ of many a cricket fan, CA’s move to address the structural issue of the gender pay-gap in cricket is commendable. It should come as no surprise that female cricketers are paid less than male counterparts in a world in which ‘equal pay for equal work’ is still a slow-moving work-in-progress (not to mention an uphill battle). In 2014, when Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) met to discuss player contract payments, they emerged with the following: for the T20 2014 tournament in Bangladesh, the male cricket team received a participating fee of USD 500,000; a further payment of USD 250,000 when Sri Lanka reached the final; an additional USD 250,000 when the team won the final. For the women’s T20 tournament in Bangladesh, our players qualified for prize money only if they reached the semi-final (USD 50,000), the final (USD 25,000) or won the T20 world cup (USD 25,000) (Sri Lanka Cricket 2014)[ii]. These figures drive home the reality that female cricketers (and women in sports in general) have to balance a full-time workload (that includes both paid and unpaid reproductive work such as childrearing and attending to housework) with training and playing commitments. There are reports of instances when they are given ultimatums by their employers to choose their job over their passion – cricket. For example, Shashikala Siriwardena, the Captain of the Sri Lanka women’s cricket team was once asked by her then employer – Slimline – to choose either cricket or her job as a human resource assistant (BBC 2008)[iii].  

This reality is not limited to cricket. In 2014, the BBC carried out a study of prize money in sport and found that there is glaring inequity in awards for men and women. Men receive more prize money than women in 30% of sports, with football showing the greatest disparity. Athletics, marathons, tennis, figure skating and shooting are among the sports that paid equal prize money. Table 1 present some highlights of the gender-gap in prize money for some of our favourite sports (BBC 2014)[iv]:



Prize money in Sterling Pounds (Men)

Prize money in Sterling Pounds (Women)


World Twenty 20




World Cup

2.5 million



World Cup

22 million



Champions League

8.3 million



FA Cup

1.8 million



The Open



Chicken or Egg?

The most common hypothesis for fledgling plight of women’s sport is the following:

Most argue that there is a very small audience for most women’s sports which in turn diminishes related industry interest and subsequently, investments. In 2012, the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) reported that only 5% media coverage was for women’s sport; a study revealed that women’s sport receives just 0.5% of all commercial sponsorship, while only one in five board members of national governing bodies are women[v]. But, is there little coverage of women’s professional sports because they are unpopular or are they unpopular because there is little coverage? For instance, the Sri Lankan media (both private and public) did not build the momentum leading up to the women’s T20 World Cup; there were very few advertisements, and there certainly was no “සිංහයෝ අපේ” theme song for our women. Studies have shown that most sports fans are passive consumers[vi]. Therefore, interest in women’s sports would increase if given greater billing. Familiarity and interest in European football has increased since ESPN pushed the World Cup heavily and obtained rights to La Liga and the Premier League. Would it have an effect if ESPN India, SLRC or CSN made the same marketing push for women’s cricket and other sports? Media has the potential and the capacity to creep into our psyche and help us dismantle attitudes that perpetuate patriarchy. However, sadly, media is a male-dominated arena with a considerable number of sexists who at least subconsciously feel the only place for women in the sports media is the Swimsuit Issue. Now there are a few women reporting sporting events, particularly in the India media; but we need more women, feminist women and men, writing columns, editing, hosting and producing shows.

This is not only about the media. It is about the way in which we think about sport and gender. When we watch the Williams sisters tear up the court, or Michelle Wie rocket a golf ball 348 yards, or champion swimmer Diana Nyad prepare for her historic swim from Cuba to Florida (at age 62!), we are in awe of their talent as athletes. Not women athletes. This kind of recognition that some athletes command from sports fans and the opportunities they have were unthinkable 30-40 years ago before some countries passed laws that removed barriers for women to enter and succeed in sporting careers. For example Title IX (1972) in United States guarantees gender equality in everything from the scheduling of games to the provision of locker rooms to the compensation of coaches and tutors. Such structural changes have worked in favour of women in sport.  As equally important are the pioneers who embodied the promise of legislation like Title IX (United States) by fighting for their place in sports history. For example, when Tennis star Billie Jean King ‘creamed’ the former champion Bobby Riggs on a Houston, Texas, Tennis court, in what was called “The Battle of the Sexes”, she dispelled the outrageous claim that “any half-decent male player could defeat even the best female players” (Riggs 1973)[vii]. King’s victory was seismic, putting to rest, once and for all, the myth of male supremacy in sports, while reminding young girls across the United States (and other countries) that not biology, but skill and talent, were destiny.

Pay inequity in sports is inherently tied to policies, practices and attitudes that are rooted in biological determinism that forms the basis of patriarchy. While the struggle to dismantle patriarchal power structures remains a battle of feminist women and men, there may be a few things we can immediately do to become part of the solution that addresses pay inequity in sports. The next time when you hear about a women’s sporting event, go and watch them play; encourage TV stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports; encourage young women in your lives to play sports in school and continue to play even after they leave school; offer to coach a girl’s sports team; and most importantly, if you are or know of a female athlete that is being discriminated against, speak up for her rights.

[iii] http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/cricket/womens_cricket/7695410.stm

[vi] Crawford, G. 2004. Consuming Sport, Fans and Culture. London: Routledge; Redhead, S. 1997. Post-fandom and the Millennial Blues. London: Routledge; Taylor, I. 1992. Football and its Fans. Leicester: Leicester University Press.


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