This year, the England women's team won the Six Nations for the fourth consecutive time; the men's team haven't won it since 2003. "Women's rugby is one of the fastest-growing sports and the England team is doing amazingly well at the moment," says Julia Hutton, the team's spokeswoman. "Wales are improving and Scotland are getting better as well, so we have strong home nations sides. Next year will be really important because we're hosting the World Cup." Unlike the men who earn about pounds 200,000 a year in club salaries, up to pounds 12,000 for winning an international game and millions from endorsements, none of the female international players is paid to play.
Last month, the Football Association awarded central contracts to 17 members of the England women's football team so they can concentrate on full-time training. "This is brilliant for me," said the midfielder Rachel Williams, who had worked as a plasterer. It is an important step, but it's too early to get excited - the salaries are pounds 16,000, nothing compared with the millions earned by male players. The women's Premier League has lost some of its best players, such as Kelly Smith, to the US, where women's soccer is taken much more seriously. The Welsh and Scottish women's teams have never qualified for a World Cup, but England reached the quarter final in 2007.
Eight players from the England women's team have been given contracts as ambassadors for the Chance to shine programme, encouraging young cricketers. But these contracts only pay the women to coach in schools - not to play cricket. "It has made a massive impact on the game, it has given them the security of a job," says Clare Connor from the ECB. The top 20 women's players also get grants of between pounds 300 and pounds 800 a month, but these amounts are only a fraction of the pounds 250,000 playing fees international male cricketers earn.
Tennis is one sport where women are on a more equal footing, yet it has only been two years since the All England Club announced that women would receive the same amount in prize money at Wimbledon as male competitors. According to Forbes magazine, Roger Federer earned $35m (pounds 21m) from sponsorship deals in 2008; the second highest was Maria Sharapova (pictured) who earned $26m.
The Guardian (London, England) (June 27, 2009): p29.