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Study: Soccer has biggest athlete gender prize money gap

Cricket makes biggest progress towards gender parity.

8 March 2021 Ed Dixon

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  • Overwhelming majority of elite level sports now offer equal winning prize money, BBC study finds
  • Soccer, golf and basketball have biggest gaps in prize money
  • USWNT won US$4m at 2019 Fifa World Cup, compared to France men's 2018 takings of US$38m

The majority of sports now offer equal winning prize money at the top level, but the biggest gaps between male and female athletes are in soccer, golf and basketball, a BBC Sport study has found.

Of the 48 sports surveyed, 37 offered prize money – of which only three did not offer parity at any of its major championships or events.

It is the third time BBC Sport has carried out its global study, with the previous editions coming in 2014 and 2017.

The 2021 study focuses on the prize money awarded to competition winners and does not include wages, bonuses or sponsorship.

Since the 2017 edition, sports including hockey, cliff diving, surfing and wrestling have achieved parity in at least one major competition. However, BBC Sport noted that cricket has taken ‘the biggest strides’ to narrow the gap.

The Hundred, the UK tournament set for its inaugural season this summer, will offer equal prize money in the men's and women's competitions. This follows on from the men's and women's Big Bash Leagues in Australia achieving parity in the 2017/18 campaign.

The 2020 Women's T20 World Cup saw champions Australia awarded a purse of US$1 million. According to reports, that is equal to what the winners of the men's tournament will win in 2021, although the International Cricket Council (ICC) has not yet confirmed the prize pot.

The total prize money for the 2022 Women's Cricket World Cup has been increased to US$3.5 million. In 2017, England women won US$660,000 from a total prize pot of US$2 million, compared to the US$4 million England men won in 2019 from a total pot of US$10 million.

In hockey, the inaugural Pro League in 2019 saw the men's and women's winning teams each receive US$250,000, while a women's Euro Hockey League was introduced for the 2019/20 season offering equal prize money to the men's league.

Wrestling's Ranking Series also made prize money equal in 2018, while the World Surf League (WSL) achieved parity in 2019. Cliff diving's World Series will offer equal prize money of €7,085 (US$8,409) to its male and female athletes from 2021.

In road cycling, the Tour of Britain and the Women's Tour races have had equal prize money since 2018. Stage winners receive €3,615 (US$4,290), while the overall champions get €14,460 (US$17,163).

That said, the study reveals that the majority of road races still do not pay equal prize money. This disparity was further highlighted at last month's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. In winning the men's race, Davide Ballerini took home €16,000 (US$18,991), while Anna van der Breggen, the women's champion and the Olympic and World road race gold medallist, won €930 (US$1,103).

This year's Rugby League World Cup has yet to confirm its prize money, but it will award prize money to the winning women's and wheelchair teams for the first time. Additionally, all teams will get equal participation fees.

Some sports, including rugby union and rowing, do not offer prize money to men or women in major competitions, so are not included in the study.

Despite the progress, BBC Sport highlights the stark difference in prize money handed out in soccer.

The 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup’s prize fund was more than nine times less than the male equivalent, despite its projected overall total audience reach of 1.12 billion being a third of Russia 2018.

The US women's national team (USWNT) won US$4 million, compared to France men's 2018 takings of US$38 million. The women's prize money was double that of the previous tournament in 2015, and Fifa, the sport’s international governing body, has said it will double it again for the 2023 edition.

In the Uefa Champions League, the prize money earned by the women's winners has been decreased from €250,000 (US$296,740 ) in 2019 to €150,000 (US$178,044) in 2020 and 2021. The men's prize fund has remained level at €19 million (US$22.5 million).

Uefa, European soccer’s governing body, told the BBC that prize money for earlier rounds in the competition has increased, so the winner receives more than in previous seasons.

In the FA Cup, the winning men's club in 2021 will earn UK£1.8 million (US$2.4 million), while the women's winners will get UK£25,000 (US$34.5 million).

Disparities also remain in golf. Though female golfers are among the highest earners in elite sport, they still earn considerably less than their male counterparts at majors.

At June's US Open, men will compete to win US$2.25 million, whereas the top prize for the US Women's Open that month stands at US$1 million. In 2014, the difference between these two figures was less, standing at US$900,000.

While figures for the 2021 tournaments have not yet been released, a spokeswoman for the R&A, which organises The Open and Women's British Open, said its “stated aim” is to close the prize money differential.

An encouraging sign, however, is the mixed tournament at the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland this summer. The US$2.35 million purse will be divided evenly as the men and women compete for two equal prize funds.

BBC Sport also looked at how Covid-19 will affect prize money. The study acknowledged that while the pandemic continues to have an impact on sport at all levels, the majority of sports surveyed said prize money would not be affected, though many said they did not know at this stage.

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