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Track and field getting closer to pay equity

Gender equity across all sports still has a long way to go, but track and field is making progress

On April 4, Muffet McGraw pointed out a glaring issue in the sporting world, which is that there is a clear disparity between the numbers of male and female coaches and leaders. But is there the same glaring difference between the salaries of men and women in track and field?

RELATED: Sydney McLaughlin estimated to become one of the highest paid runners in the world

In September 2018, Let’s Run did an extensive interview with some of the world’s top track and field agents. They predicted that American 400m hurdler Sydney McLaughlin would become one of the best-paid athletes in the sport, and not just among women. Let’s Run said, “Five of the six responses we received estimated McLaughlin would receive at least $1.5 million for her 2019 base salary.” That’s more than Galen Rupp, Eliud Kipchoge or Noah Lyles were estimated to make.


RELATED: Sydney McLaughlin signs with New Balance

Though McLaughlin is obviously an outlier in absolute terms, is it possible that women are earning roughly equal if not more than men in the sport of track and field? Industry standard is that prize money at races is the same for male and female winners, and based on Let’s Run’s report, it would seem that the overall-earnings gap is closing.

Ray Flynn is President and CEO of Flynn Sports Management. His company represents big Canadian names like Justyn Knight and Kate Van Buskirk. Flynn said via email that, “Unfortunately they [the contracts] are confidential but many of the top end contracts in the industry may be just as high [on the women’s side] as on the men’s side.”

Kris Mychasiw was in the sport of track and field for 14 years. He’s been everything from a race director to the Elite Athlete Coordinator for Athletics Canada to an agent. He says that what an athlete makes comes down to marketability. “People who are signing those bigger deals have a following digitally–the social media component is huge for brands.” Mychasiw says that his first significant deal was in 2006, and it was a female runner. “In running, if you have the right mix of a marketable athlete and someone who’s also performing well, the dollars will fall to that runner regardless of gender. The top contacts in the industry, in my experience, are fairly similar.”

Running is also ahead of the curve with prize money. The New York Times published a story on Saturday that discussed the pay discrepancy in professional golf. Karen Crouse wrote, “When Georgia Hall won the Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham last August, she earned $490,000. A month earlier, Francesco Molinari collected $1.89 million for his victory at the men’s British Open at Carnoustie.” In road racing and track and field, the industry standard is that men and women earn the same prize money at races.

Merhawi Keflezighi is an agent and the founder of Hawi Management, a sports representation company that represents the likes of Alexi Pappas and his brother Meb Keflezighi. “Prize money is the information that is publicly available and in Canada, the States and Europe to my knowledge there’s no discrepancy there. Then we talk about salaries and endorsements and what goes on behind the scenes. For the most part, the way track and field works is if you’re marketable, whether you’re male or female, you will get paid a similar amount.”

An important point that Keflezighi makes is that pregnancy makes a difference in men’s and women’s earning potential. “It depends on the company, whether they will support their athlete through pregnancy. I think it’s improving, but there were times in history when pregnancy suggested that an athlete wasn’t as focused. In the past there might have been more ramifications.” Currently, Keflezighi suggests that companies can see pregnancy as making runners more relatable, and therefore marketable, but from a purely numbers standpoint, a woman is missing out on appearance fees at races for anywhere from one to three years when she starts a family. 

As McGraw suggested over the weekend, there is still some distance to go for men and women to achieve equal representation and treatment in both sport and the broader culture, but track and field is at least moving in a positive direction.