Last week, BRW published a list of Australia’s 50 highest-earning sportspeople for 2014. Only two women featured.
Women therefore make up just 4% of the wealthiest Australians playing sport across the world.
The two women listed are world surfing champion Stephanie Gilmore and golfing star Karrie Webb. Gilmore came in at number 39, earning $1.75 million in 2014. Webb only just snuck into the list at number 50, earning $1.28 million.
There are, however, two women who missed the top 50 list by a fine margin – tennis star Samantha Stosur, who earned $1.27 million, and surfer Sally Fitzgibbon, who earned $1.25 million.
But the fact remains that among the world’s wealthiest 38 sportspeople, there is not a single woman.
The sportsman who took out the top spot, basketball star Andrew Bogut, earned $16.2 million last year, meaning the gap between our richest male sportsperson and richest female sportsperson is a little over $14 million.
BRW’s list is compiled off financial remuneration for winning competitions, but is also largely made up of sponsorship funds.
So why are there so many women missing from the list, and why is there such a wide discrepancy in earnings between the men and the women who did make it to the top 50?
The lack of sponsorship opportunities for women may be a significant part of the problem. A recent study of women in sport found female athletes are consistently underleveraged by sponsors the world over.
The research shows female participation in and engagement with sport is steadily rising, but the number of female athletes getting sponsored remains stagnant. The data suggests sponsors are not keeping up with the reality that women are more engaged with sport than ever, and represent a large untapped resource for the sports market.
One sport in which female athletes are receiving sponsorship funds is women’s surfing. Surfer and list-maker Stephanie Gilmore has sizeable sponsorship deals with Quiksilver, Sanitarium, Ford and Cole Clark Guitars. Surfer Sally Fitzgibbon, who just missed out on making the list, is sponsored by Red Bull, Samsung and Range Rover.
While the world of surfing sponsorships may be better at keeping pace with the success of female athletes than other sports, Gilmore still earns considerably less than the male surfers on the list. Surfer Mick Fanning, at number 19, earned $2.7 million last year. At number 30, Julian Wilson earned $2 million.
The lack of women in the top paying echelons of sport is persistent. In the United States in 2007, there was not a single woman on the list of the 50 highest-earning sportspeople in the country. In an international list of the 20 top earners in 2007, only one woman made the list.
Only seven women have ever earned more than $20 million from success in sports.
This vast difference in earnings between male and female sportspeople is not limited to sponsorship decisions, however. Female athletes also receive considerably lower salaries than their male peers. In 2009, for a player in the women’s national basketball association the maximum salary was $99,5000. For a male player, the maximum salary was over $13 million – 130 times higher.
In fact, the woman earning the highest salary that year still earned almost 5 times less than the lowest-earning male player.
With entrenched gender pay gaps, a dearth of sponsorship opportunities for women and a resultant lack of visible female role models, how can we hope for things to improve for women in sport?