Athlete work = modern slavery?

In connection with the common opinion about the slave labor conditions of athletes, I decided to put everything in correct order in my head and present my opinion to you, our dear readers, a series of articles that will help you understand the difficult situation of athletes, their social, labor, and legal insecurity. Many indiscriminately and categorically accuse athletes of a prosperous lifestyle that they do not deserve, but do it in vain, and here's why:

  • athletes who receive indecently large amounts are less than 2% of the total;
  • the athlete’s age is very short (on average, a professional career lasts 10-12 years, and in exceptional cases about 20 years);
  • salaries vary greatly depending on the sport, professional level, gender of athletes.

Needless to say, female sports labor activity is even more limited in time, provided that the athlete has not decided to join the ranks of "child free". I want to note that I have never vehemently defended the rights of women, but now I want to start by discussing precisely the situation of the weaker sex in modern sports, which clearly does not spare them and certainly does not play a “giveaway” with them.


The modern history of sports can date back to the end of the 19th century, when the basic concepts of sports were developed in which women did not have a place. Masculinity as a basic value, physiological and biological superiority as the indisputable basis of all competitions.

This process has stratified sport, putting men at the center and women at the periphery of the "athleticism cult." There seemed to be a “natural” symbiosis between sport and masculinity, while for women something more than light exercise was strongly condemned as “unnatural” for the female body and contrary to the ideals of femininity.

The 20th century witnessed a constant struggle for the participation of women in many Olympic sports that were previously out of reach because of the violation of the rights of the beautiful half of humanity. Reflecting the broader limitations of patriarchal society, women are often not allowed to participate in many sports or cannot participate in certain activities within them. This was especially true for endurance or strength competitions that none of the women - as a consequence of their "biological origin" - should have possessed. Women were, however, extremely important for the Olympic teams. In the end, the medals of the women athletes were the same weight as the medals of the male athletes.

The obligation of women to prove their gender

By the 1960s, women's performance at the Games had become a hot topic. This is due to suspicions regarding the use of androgenic anabolic steroids (AAS), a class of drugs that can be used to “masculinize” the sports body, both male and female, with suggestions about improving athletic performance. This led to the following results:

  • Alarms of sports regulatory authorities, caused by fear of a change in perception of “femininity” in sports;
  • Introduction of the mechanism of sex testing (1966) before the advent of drug testing (1968);
  • Separation of men and women into different competition programs in order to avoid joint stages of the competition based on the idea of the biological superiority of men over women.

For a long time, women had to prove their gender identity to participate in sports. There were incidents, as in the case of Caster Semenya, a South African athlete who won 800 meters at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009 and was accused of an unfair advantage, as it was believed that she was unfairly participating in competitions among women due to the high level of testosterone in her blood. When men are more talented than others, this is an expression of the beauty of the sport. But when women supplant others, suspicions of acceptability and arguments in favor of a level playing field are often raised. This time, the media representatives played so much that they accused the athlete of sex reassignment, based only on gossip and high testosterone in her blood. Studies have shown that an increased level of testosterone in the female body can be caused not only by taking illegal drugs, but also due to:

  • hereditary changes;
  • changes in the body that occur during the life cycle;
  • changes that are the result of endocrine and somatic diseases in women.

Recent scientific evidence suggests that discrimination against athletes by gender using only testosterone levels is fundamentally wrong. Women with higher than “normal” testosterone levels who are otherwise healthy do not need to undergo medical (and sometimes surgical) treatment just to compete in the women's sports category. Otherwise, the rationale for requiring athletes to lower their natural high levels of testosterone in order to reverse any perceived performance advantage would also mean that athletes with growth greater than “normal” need to undergo a growth reduction operation to ensure that they negate any growth advantage for athletic performance.

Women's Sports Income Level

Differences in the level of wages between men and women can be traced in almost all areas of work. But in sports, these discrepancies are especially striking. You can also find examples of differences in pay and within sports disciplines. There are huge wage gaps between specific sports between men and women, from tennis, where prize payouts are comparable to men, to basketball, where players are in completely different financial conditions. All 10 of the highest paid athletes in 2020 are tennis players and this is definitely not a coincidence. In general, athletes from individual sports earn more than colleagues from team sports. Despite the numerous victories and titles of women's national sports teams in football and hockey in the USA, as well as in other less popular sports, their colleagues in the workshop among men (despite the lack of grandiose sports results on the world stage) can boast salaries exceeding women's tens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of times.

There is a completely rational explanation for this: the gap in income from television broadcasts between male and female sports leagues is enormous. The WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) generates about $ 25 million a year from its television deal with ESPN; NBA television revenue from ESPN and TNT is 100 times more.Recently, there has been an increase in interest in watching women's team sports, which can help athletes increase their income in the near future (read the article about the new WNBA realities:

Maternity and maternity capital

Sports organizations, as a rule, are lagging behind in the development of reliable family-oriented policies, which does not allow them to keep up with the temporary attitude to the rights of athletes and potentially exposes them to legal risks due to non-compliance with at least the minimum level of regulatory requirements.

Recently, a number of athletes have expressed a desire for more support during maternity leave. They require that they be treated more fairly in connection with the difficulties associated with maternity leave:

  • Problems with returning to sports after maternity leave;
  • Insufficient amount of maternity payments or their absence;
  • Loss of most payments on advertising contracts;
  • A serious drop in ratings (in individual sports).

Today, many sports employers have begun to improve childcare policies to increase employee loyalty. I really hope that soon we will see completely different reviews from the athletes or a multiple increase in the number of happy sports mothers.


Based on the foregoing, we can conclude that while the conditions for professional sports for women do not meet the regulatory requirements, the requirements of the time and humane attitude. Today, sport is a business, and business is very cruel, do not forget about it!