Discrimination Against Women In Sports

Discrimination Against Women In Sports

January 25, 2022

Discrimination Against Women in Sports: Yes, It’s Still Happening

When Congress passed Title IX in 1972 mandating equal American women’s collegiate sports, high school and collegiate participation in American women skyrocketed by almost tenfold over four decades with progress in professional and Olympic sports too. 

Yet here we are. Congress passed the Equal Pay Act almost sixty years ago. Title IX has been around for nearly fifty years. There’s still a gender discrepancy in pay and opportunities. 

What’s going on? 

Some point to physical differences. But when you see how differently the industry represents and invests in women who work equally hard, gender discrimination in sports looks more complicated.

How are Females Discriminated Against in Sporting Activities?

Gender discrimination in sports happens at every level. Women and girls get fewer athletic opportunities, scholarships, and funds. College women’s coaches earn less than men. 

The gap widens when women’s sports receive dramatically less coverage, sponsorships, and marketing. Women have less say in athletic organization governing bodies’ boards and in coaching.

It’s a cyclical, systemic problem. Imbalances throughout the industry perpetuate gender inequality in sports.

What the Numbers Tell 

How wide is the sports gender gap, anyway? The numbers make a case for systemic discrimination of female athletes. 

Women’s Power and Leadership Positions in Sports

Reports show half of publicly funded national governing bodies’ boards were under 25% female. Women held 18% of qualified coaching positions and 9% of senior coaching positions.

Women comprised 30% of Olympic governing bodies and 16.6% of National Olympic Committees, and international Sports Federations were 18% female.

Women’s Sports Investment and Representation

Women’s underrepresentation in sports leadership translates to less investment, including funding, marketing, promotion, and media coverage. 

In one report, 0.4% of sports sponsorship funds went to women.

What’s more, women athletes get 4% of media sports coverage despite being 40% of athletes. Another study revealed local networks and SportsCenter allocated less than 2% of broadcasting to women’s sports. 

Olympic Games primetime coverage of American women’s basketball’s fifth consecutive gold medal in 2012 lasted less than thirty seconds. Compare that to a half-hour covering U.S. men’s basketball’s second consecutive gold.

This seems outrageous from a marketing/ratings perspective, considering 84% of sports fans express interest in women’s sports.

Yet, similar patterns affect college athletics, where institutions spend 24% of athletic budgets on women

Colleges allocate a third of scholarship budgets and 16% of recruiting budgets to women. College women’s team coaches earn 63 cents on the dollar.

Consequences for Female Athletes

Inequalities impact female athletes, from pros and Olympians to college, and young girls starting out.

Although most sports offer equal prize money to men and women, pay often differs by millions in 17% of sports. There was only one woman on the 2020 Forbes list of 50 highest-paid athletes, Naomi Osaka.

Annually, women get $179 million dollars less in athletic scholarships than men, while girls get 1 million fewer sports opportunities than boys.

Top Reasons Why Women Are Discriminated Against

Many people don’t see these inconsistencies as a problem, giving this explanation for prevalent gender discrimination in sports:

The Stereotypical Reason

‘On average, men surpass women in raw physical abilities, making men’s sports more entertaining and profitable.’

Sexual dimorphism in humans is real. And accepting biological reality is a far cry from embracing harmful, outdated attitudes towards women. It doesn’t mean they’re weak, fragile, or should only be mothers and homemakers.

Men’s genetic advantages include hormones, metabolism, lower body fat, larger hearts, aerobic capacity, muscle mass, distribution, and muscle fiber structure.

Men tend to run faster, jump better, and have more grip strength. The average woman has 33% less lower body strength and 40% less upper body strength. 

The fastest woman, Florence Griffith Joyner’s 100-meter dash record wouldn’t have qualified for the men’s 2016 Olympic race. Overall, the average performance difference between men’s and women’s Olympic events remains a solid 10%.

That’s why we differentiate sports by sex. But here’s where things derail for biological reasoning for gender discrimination against female athletes.

The Real, Underlying Reasons are Systemic

So men and women athletes who make equal effort diverge by roughly 10% in running and jumping, and women are 60-70% as strong. Then why does the pay, funding, media coverage, promotion, and sponsorship gap exceed the physical disparity enormously? What do physical traits have to do with the lack of women in leadership?

It doesn’t add up.

The true root of discrimination of female athletes is disproportionately low numbers of women with power and influence behind the scenes.

When few women have a seat at the table, women athletes at every level often get less money, less promotion, less airtime, less hype, less attention from fans, and ultimately less revenue. 

With sports being so commercialized, corporate sponsorships compound the problem. We end up with the highest-paid male soccer player making $88 million while the highest-paid female player earns $2.8 million.

Gender on Boards AU: Gender Balance in Global Sport Report


What the Law Says About Gender Discrimination in Sports

Title IX dictates equal opportunities for participation in women and equal contributions to men’s and women’s college programs.

The Equal Pay Act mandates men and women must be paid equally working under identical conditions for the same employer doing the same job with equal effort, skill, and responsibility. This prevents unfair competition and employee wage suppression.

Examples of Female Discrimination in Sports

Consider these claims and examples of female discrimination in sports.

Gender on Boards AU: Gender Balance in Global Sport Report


U.S. Soccer

25.4 million people watched the 2015 Women’s World Cup final, the U.S.’s most-viewed soccer match. The USWNT win earned more money for U.S. Soccer than USMNT who made 11th place, but the American women’s team earned a fraction of the men’s pay. 

The USWNT sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, and president Carlos Cordeiro resigned. A judge dismissed the case in spring 2020, but the American women’s team is appealing.


The NBA’s player compensation is half of the league’s total revenue, but the WNBA gives female athletes 23%.

In negotiations, the league agreed to increase player salaries, add benefits like maternity leave, and increase WNBA marketing to drive growth.

2021 NCAA Tournament

The 2021 NCAA Tournament in San Antonio made headlines when, instead of an actual weight room, the Washington State women’s team was given a mostly empty ballroom containing yoga mats and one rack of dumbbells.

The men playing in Indianapolis had a fully decked outweight room to train in.

Eastern Washington University

EWU sports have had Title IX disputes about disparate facilities, scheduling, budgets, training, and safety resources. A former coach alleges retaliatory termination in response to reporting Title IX non-compliance.

Brown University

In a ‘90’s Supreme Court Case, Brown University was forced to settle with female athletes after shrinking teams and funding. They’ve since committed to balancing women’s athletic opportunities. 

FIFA Board

A court ruled election interference unfairly barred female soccer official Mariyam Mohamed from a leadership position on FIFA’s board. However, the same court has disappointingly declined to amend the discrimination.

How to Evaluate Whether Females are Discriminated in Sporting Activities?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a guide to identify sexual orientation and gender discrimination with parameters for discriminatory employment practices and policies and harassment. 

College athletes should know Title IX violations include unequal equipment/supplies, game/practice scheduling, travel/per diem allowances, tutoring, coaching, athletic facilities, medical facilities/services, housing/dining, publicity, support services, and recruitment.

What to Do When You Experience Gender Discrimination in a Sporting Event?

If experiencing discrimination as a female athlete, act quickly and document as much as you can.

Here are guides to help you understand employment terms and conditions, laws, your rights, actions to take, and what to expect:

  • Your options at work
    • HR reporting
    • Filing a grievance
    • Protest
    • Obtaining your personnel file
    • Lawsuit
    • Contacting the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 or going to https://www.eeoc.gov/how-file-charge-employment-discrimination
  • Your options in schools and universities
    • Legal counsel
    • Know the school’s policies
    • Report to a school official
    • Office of Civil Rights Complaint
    • Civil court

What We Can Do to Stop Discrimination Against Women?

Sports should empower the best versions of ourselves. Athletes and fans can work together for better money, representation, participation in women, and attitudes towards women.

Athletes can keep standing up, encouraging women and girls to be resilient. Young athletes embody the future of sports and depend on today’s women and leaders for better pay, investment, and leadership opportunities.

Women who dominate male-dominated sports benefit from exposure in proximity to men, demonstrating male and female fans want to see women play and succeed. So athletic institutions should know investing in women athletes will pay off. Once leaders accept female influence and nurture passion for women’s sports to bring everyone together, we’ll all win.

Support our advocacy at Goal Five.

FAQs About Discrimination Against Women in Sports

Why do people consider women's sports lesser than men's?

People say since women are built differently, women’s sports are less of a spectacle. This biological difference exists, but it doesn’t explain sports industry gender discrimination and attitudes towards women.

How are women underrepresented in sports?

Women are missing from many coaching positions, corporate sponsorships, athletic institutions’ boards, and most sports media coverage.

What sport has the most gender inequality?

Basketball, cricket, golf, and football have the biggest pay gaps.

Aquatics, Boxing, Canoeing, Cycling, Golf, Handball, Judo, Pentathlon, Rugby, Shooting, Table Tennis, and Weightlifting have ten percent or less female representation on their governing body.

Why are women's sports not as popular?

Some say women’s sports are less popular because of biological performance differences. But women athletes get less pay and promotion when achieving more. Due to female underrepresentation in leadership, organizations don’t invest in or promote women’s sports to fans the same, furthering ambivalent attitudes towards women’s sports.

What’s your opinion? Have you experienced or witnessed gender discrimination in sports?

Subscribe to our emails to join the conversation. 

We absolutely do not get promoted as our male counterparts do. When you put millions of dollars into marketing athletes and allowing fans to get to know a player, they develop a connection with someone. How is anyone going to get to know me or any of my colleagues if we aren’t marketed as much?” -Washington Mystics’ Elena Delle Donne

“I’m the highest-paid fighter not because Dana and Lorenzo wanted to do something nice for the ladies. They do it because I bring in the highest numbers.” -Ronda Rousey, UFC Hall of Famer

"I think payment needs to move away from gender. It needs to be about: 'How hard is this athlete—not female—working?'" -Alana Nichols, three-time paralympic winner

"The pay gap for winning a World Cup is extremely big: $36 million for men versus $2 million for women. It's a tough thing to swallow knowing that we sacrifice just as much, if not more." -Carli Lloyd, USWNT 

"We got $2 million for winning the World Cup and had to split it up amongst the group. Whereas the U.S. men's team got $8 million after losing in round 16… We're doing whatever we can to use our platforms… We want people to pay more attention. We want to put women's football on the map." -Ali Krieger, USWNT

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