top of page

Better learn something useful: on the visibility and pay of women in elite sport.

What names come to mind when I ask you about the greatest sports legends of our time? For me it would be Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi, Timo Boll and Michael Schuhmacher. In my childhood, these athletes were constantly present, whether in the media, at home or on the playground. 

What I didn't notice? It was almost exclusively male athletes who were in the spotlight. Top female athletes, on the other hand, were barely present, and even today I have to think hard to come up with a handful. This unbalanced representation of successful female and male athletes not only had an impact on my self-image as a woman in sports - but also on female competitive sports in general. One of the many consequences of the invisibility of female elite sports is the pay gap between female and male athletes.

Am I worth less just because I am a woman? Devaluing images of women in sports.

I play table tennis as a competitive sport in the women's third national league and last season I plucked up the courage to ask the club manager about pay. Beforehand, I asked around to find out how much other players earn to get an idea. I asked two of my male table tennis friends who play in the men's 3rd league. I found out that they get around €3,000 for a season. However, the negotiation meeting with the club manager didn't go as expected. After I explained my request to him, he was shocked that I would even dare to ask for money. After I made the comparison to the men's salaries, he argued that the men played better than the women. He based this on supposedly natural differences, i.e. the physical requirements that women, in his opinion, did not have in equal measure. I left the conversation with €0 and complete bewilderment at the derogatory image of women in sports. 

The extent of the gender pay gap in elite sport is off the charts

There are salary differences between women and men in every sector in Germany, including sports. And in every type of sport. The more professional it becomes, the greater the differences. The 2017 Global Sports Salaries Survey shed light on the issue of unequal pay in professional sports. The report includes a comprehensive data analysis of the salaries of the 12 highest paid men's and women's sports leagues in the world, surveying 7265 male athletes from 6 sports and 2461 female athletes from 6 sports. What are the results? Combined, the men earn $20.4 billion, giving an individual athlete an average of $2.8 million per year. For women, the total is $68.6 million, which averages out to $27855 per year. This means that men in elite team sports earn more than 100 times as much as their female counterparts (Sportingintelligence, 2017).

The gender pay gap is justified differently than in other industries

These significant salary differences between men and women in sport are absurdly high compared to the German average of 6% (adjusted gender pay gap, statistic), and a look at the ratio at which female athletes are represented in the media offers possible explanations. For example, the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota found in its research on "Media Coverage and Female Athletes" that around 40% of all sports participants are female, but female athletes only receive a 4% share in sports media (Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, no date). This invisibility of women's sports means that most of the media attention is on male athletes and not on women, which leads to lower ratings for women's sports compared to ratings for men's sports. As viewing figures account for a large proportion of the income and turnover of clubs, this comparison is often cited as a reason for the difference in pay between women and men.

However, the lower pay means that female athletes have fewer financial resources for adequate training opportunities and potentially have to work second jobs. This in turn leads to poorer results and lower viewing figures. So the vicious cycle starts all over again. 

Biological differences are often used to justify the fact that women can perform far below the level of men. However, the reasons for these differences often lie much more in the unequal training opportunities and resources available to female athletes. By denying them financial resources, they are deprived of the opportunity to reach their full potential. 

What to do about gender inequality in sport? 

But what can be done about this imbalance? In Germany, for example, we are already tackling the issue in soccer. However, Silke Raml, who sits on the UEFA Commission for Women's Football on behalf of the DFB, does not see a direct adjustment of salaries as the right solution. "In my opinion, we would be ill-advised in Germany if we were to drive the DFB in front of us and demand equal pay for female footballers," says Raml. 

Instead, she believes that the first step should be to increase the visibility of female athletes and improve the general structure (Becker, no date). 

One positive result was the 2022 European Women's Football Championship, where the German national football team played itself into the limelight and received increased media attention. Chancellor Scholz describes the impression of the European Championship as follows: "We experienced a great deal of enthusiasm for the football that the women played at the European Championship. You can see that something has been set in motion. Many spectators are coming to the games - more than was the case a long time ago." This trend is essential to promote equal pay and to change the image of women in sport in the long term, so that names like Malaika Mihambo, Katie Ledecky and Liu Shiwen will also be known in the future. 


This text was written in the seminar „Diversity und Sozialkompetenz“ ("Diversity and Social Competence") at the Hasso Plattner Institute, which is led by Rea Eldem, founder and CEO of IN-VISIBLE. The author is a student on the IT Systems Engineering course and would prefer not to have her name published. In addition to her studies, she thinks a lot about what a future in sports could look like and what would have to change in order for her to have the financial security to pursue her passion.


Becker, K. (no date). phoenix von ARD und ZDF. Accessed on 22. 03 2023 from 

dfb. (21. 02 2023). dfb. Accessed on 22. 03 2023 from bewegung-geraten-248678/ 

sportingintelligence. (2017). The gender (in)equality issue. Global sports salary survey 2017, 10. 

Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. (kein Datum). University of minnesota. Accessed on 22. 03 2023 from


bottom of page