The State Of Play For Women In Sport In 2023

Share this post

As the Women’s World Cup captivates audiences worldwide, it serves as a reminder of the remarkable progress women in sports have made. But it also reminds us of the challenges that persist for women in sports. 

Did you know that only 1 in 5 football grounds in Australia have female change rooms? Plus, just 22% of registered football players are female. 

From juggling work outside of sports to the pay gap between male and female athletes, it’s time we take a long hard look at the state of play for women in sports. 

But it’s not all bad news: there are incredible organisations and initiatives striving for meaningful change for female athletes, too,

The balancing act of juggling other jobs and motherhood

For many women who are professional athletes, pursuing their athletic dreams doesn’t always pay the bills. They often need to take on additional jobs to support themselves financially. 

It was only back in 2020 that it was revealed that many of The Matilda’s and W-League Aussie soccer players have to take on second jobs (like working at Pizza Hut) just to make ends meet.

This juggling act becomes even more demanding for women when motherhood enters the picture. Pregnancy and childbirth can disrupt training schedules and require significant time and energy.

As Aussie jockey Christine Puls says, “It’s a really hard decision for people in sport to stop and decide to have a child. It can be an automatic end to your career.”

But we’re starting to see incredible examples of high-profile female athletes excelling in their career while building a family. In 2017, former professional tennis player Serena Williams won the Australian Open while two month’s pregnant with her daughter. 

Less than a year after giving birth, Williams was back on the court playing in a Wimbledon final. “I went from a C-section to a second pulmonary embolism to a Grand Slam final. I played while breastfeeding. I played through postpartum depression,” reveals Williams. 

There are countless other examples of women balancing motherhood and a professional sporting career. Five-time US Olympic track and field athlete Allyson Felix won two gold medals at the World Championships in Doha in 2019 just 10 months after giving birth. 

Closer to home, former Matilda’s caption Melissa Barber has shown that it is possible to play professional football and raise a family. In fact, Melissa has competed in three world cups while raising her daughter. 

While the challenges can be immense, we’re continuing to see powerful examples of how women in sport in Australia and beyond can navigating the juggle of parenthood and professional sport.

The gender pay gap persists

Despite the strides made towards gender equality, wage disparities between female athletes and their male counterparts continue. 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, female athletes in Australia are paid on average $20,000 less than male athletes, with a gender pay gap of 31.5% for full-time employees in the “Sports and Physical Recreation Activities” workforce. And the gap is even bigger at the top levels of sport, too. 

It comes as no surprise to many that women athletes, despite achieving similar levels of success and dedicating the same amount of time and effort to their craft, often earn significantly less than their male counterparts.

New stats from CNN reveal that female athletes competing in the 2023 Women’s World cup will earn just 25 cents for every dollar earned by men (on average) at their last World Cup in 2022. 

But there are positive signs of change, too. In 2023, the Matildas became the first women football team globally to guarantee the same pay as their male counterparts

This disparity not only affects their current earnings but also has long-term consequences for their financial well-being and future opportunities. It’s also turning younger women and girls away from pursuing a career as a professional athlete.

Addressing the gender pay gap is not only a matter of fairness but also a necessary step towards creating a more inclusive and equitable sporting landscape.

Misconceptions about viewership levels

A common argument that pops up time and time again when it comes to sponsorship for female athletes and sporting clubs is that women’s sports aren’t worth the sponsorship investment because they’re not as popular as men’s sports.

It’s time we bust that myth. Studies have shown that 84% of sports fans have an interest in women’s sports, 51% of whom are male.

New research has found that viewership of women’s sports in Australia has grown a whopping 18% since 2022 alone. In fact, the 2023 Women’s World Cup has been the best attended in history, with ticket sales breaking a new record of more than 1.5 million tickets sold.

It’s time to acknowledge that women’s sports are thriving, and it’s high time for sponsorships to match the huge popularity of women’s sports. 

How to spark change for female athletes 

Australian culture is deeply intertwined with sports, yet many of us don’t see ourselves represented on the field, making it challenging to imagine filling those shoes. 

Grassroots sporting programs tailored to the next generation of female athletes can create opportunities for girls to discover their passion for sports, build confidence, and unlock their full potential. 

Cricket Australia is pioneering a grassroots program to make cricket the first-choice sport for girls aged 9-12 while also boosting the number of female coaches and creating female-friendly clubs to encourage women and girls to participate. 

VicHealth and Football Victoria have also launched a similar grassroots program called Soccer Mums, helping to get mums out onto the field. The goal is to mums and their daughters to train together and give young women real-world role models that inspire them to get involved in the sport from a young age. 

Plus, there are a number of pioneering organisations and initiatives helping to level the playing field for women in sports. Football Australia’s Legacy ‘23 initiative has mapped out a clear plan to work towards football becoming the first community sport to reach gender parity in participation. 

The Female Athlete Project (hosted by Olympic Gold Medalist Chloe Dalton) is aiming to redress the gendered imbalance in media coverage of women’s sports through their weekly podcast series, interviewing female world champions and athletes at the top of their game.

Plus, Hockey Australia is setting a great example by equally investing in its athletes. This means both the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras receive equal investment, regardless of their gender, to ensure pay parity for athletes. 

By addressing the unique challenges women athletes face, increasing the visibility of female athletes and investing in grassroots initiatives, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable landscape for women in sports in Australia. 

Subscribe to our mailing list and get the freshest stories from Stella

"*" indicates required fields

Recent articles

Hello there, you are currently on our Australian website. Click here to head over to our UK Website.

Get a quick quote...

ln less than one minute!