International Women’s Day 2023: what is the difference in pay for men and women’s sports in the UK?

WSL stars earn on average 100 times less than their Premier League counterparts

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As described by the organisers, International women’s day is a time to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women across the globe. However, it also represents a day to refocus on the issues which are still in desperate need of developing such as reproductive rights, violence and abuse against women and the gender pay gap.

There is no denying that, as a sweeping generalisation, the gender pay gap is improving. But, there is still much work to be done in the world of sport and there’s no better time like the present than to start delving into the disparity that is so brazen across all of the UK’s biggest sports.

Football has been reported to be the fastest growing participation sport for girls and women across the UK - an achievement that is undoubtedly due to the phenomenal success of our Lionesses in the past six years, since their semi-final presence at the 2018 Euros championship and culminating in their glory last summer.

The total prize money at the Euros 2022 for all participating nations accumulated to €16m (£13.5m) which is double the amount that was on offer at the previous tournament in 2017. The average attendance was also well over double. In 2017, the average for each match was just over 7,000 while last summer it was over 18,500.

England captain Leah Williams earns in a year what Harry Kane earns in a weekEngland captain Leah Williams earns in a year what Harry Kane earns in a week
England captain Leah Williams earns in a year what Harry Kane earns in a week

For their efforts, the Lionesses were then awarded €660,000 (£558k) each after they lifted the trophy which, according to a BBC report shortly after the final day, is almost 12 times the average annual salary for a Women’s Super League player - that, of course, is an issue in itself.

However, the most blinding issue with all these figures is that the cumulative £1.3m total the women received is nearly £4m lower than the reported payday their male counterparts would have received had they won the same tournament the year before.

In the 2021/22 season, it was reported that Lioness heroine Leah Williamson will have earned £200,000/year. Of course, this is an incredibly payday for most of us, but put into the perspective of our counterparts, she is earning in a year what Harry Kane is earning in a week (and as certain fans are quick to point out, he hasn’t won a trophy yet - Williamson has won two in the past 12 months).

Additionally, Kane isn’t even the highest paid footballer. Cristiano Ronaldo is reported to be on about double Kane’s salary for his efforts out in Saudi Arabia.

Now it is obviously very easy to look at the figures and criticise the outcome, but there are obvious reasons why the disparity is still so huge.

The main source of income for football clubs is ticket sales, broadcast rights and commercial deals such as sponsorship.

So far, the Premier League matches average an attendance of just under 40,000 per game, meanwhile the WSL only boasts 6,000 (which in context of previous years is a phenomenal achievement). Additionally, tickets tend to cost in the region of £65 for a Premier League match while standing tickets can be purchased for just £9 in the WSL.

In a similar vein, the Premier League attracts an estimated £10bn from a range of broadcasters, including overseas earnings, but the WSL is part way through a UK TV deal worth £8m.

It’s therefore inconceivable that, at the moment, women will be able to be paid the same as their male counterparts, but the figures are (however slowly it might feel) beginning to change and greater recognition is being given to our female sports stars.

Of course, it is not just football where this exponential gap exists. Cricket is another where the gender pay gap is still immense and in the world of Rugby, England’s Red Roses were only given professional contracts in 2019, with the top tier salary band amounting to £31,000. The average salary of a Premiership fly-half player is £175,679.

England’s Heather Knight celebrates winning World Cup in 2017England’s Heather Knight celebrates winning World Cup in 2017
England’s Heather Knight celebrates winning World Cup in 2017

This year will see a payment freeze in The Hundred cricket tournament and for men, the maximum they will receive is £125,000. For women, participating in the same competition at the same time, in the same grounds, and with the same TV rights, the maximum they will get from their franchises is £31,250.

The list of sports with gender pay imbalances could go on and on. Tennis appears to be the only source of light relief. WTA stars, on average, earn around 34.32% less than their male counterparts according to a study by, but this is the smallest gender pay gap in sports.

So while International Women’s Day offers a cause for celebration, and there is much cause for triumph in regards to women in sport over the past 12 months, it also reminds us that there is still an astonishing amount of work to do in order for our female athletes to be rewarded in anywhere near the same category as their male counterparts.