According to a study by Nottingham Trent University, 2/3 of elite female athletes are concerned about the long-term financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in sports. What is being termed a "gender play gap" is a great concern to female athletes, sponsors and researchers - particularly given the increasingly positive state of women's sport before the pandemic.
Before lockdown, the England women's football team Lionesses won the SheBelieves Cup 3-0 against Japan in Florida and female darts champion Fallon Sherrock made it to the third round of the World Darts Championship. Now, the Lionesses have not played a game in nearly a year, although they have upcoming matches against Northern Ireland and Canada scheduled.
Whilst there seems to be opportunities on the horizon in football at least, other female athletes are faring even worse - Boxer Natasha Jonas said in a Sky News interview - "financially, it is tough worrying about when your next fight is going to be, especially when the board called all boxing off until late February. You know, there are no fights on the horizon. I am not contracted to anyone. It is financially a worry."
A closer look at the Nottingham Trent study reveals more data points: 80% of elite female athletes "noted the growth of women's sport was hindered by inequalities between men's and women's sport" and 66% had concerns about the "long-term financial implications of coronavirus. However, the most notable statistic is that 91% of the survey respondents believed that "pay [was] unequal between the sexes."
Dr. Ali Bowes' study last year on women's access to equipment and facilities during the pandemic suggested that a "prioritisation of men's sport [existed], and women athletes felt forgotten about during the initial lockdown." This latest study builds on that. Dr. Bowes commented the following in a Sky News interview:
"Concern about the long-term financial impact on sport...[were] often aligned with concerns about both the quantity and quality of media coverage. Disparities were exaggerated when men's sport was able to restart much earlier, and since then, more consistently. The pandemic has really opened up conversations about gender inequality in sport. It emphasised the difficulties many elite sportswomen face, and in calling those out - from issues around competition cancellations, 'elite' football academies, testing, funding and TV coverage - it provides a possibility for stakeholders to reconsider their approach to women's sport. I think the future could look bright, but there is a need for broader cultural changes regarding women's and girls' involvement in sport, including normalising women's sport as simply 'sport'."
Now, as vaccine rollouts should provide an opportunity to return to a greater normality, the sporting world will need to face these inequalities or risk losing the crucial progress of recent years.