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Building Momentum: The evolution of women’s wages In Australian Professional Team Sports

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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

This feature piece examines the evolution women’s wages in Australian professional team sports over the past two decades with the aim of illustrating the progress it has made and the ground it still has to cover. Specifically, it looks at:

  • The labour market – the recent history of women’s role in professional sport

  • Netball

  • Basketball

  • Soccer

  • Cricket

  • AFLW (Aussie Rules Football)

  • Rugby Union

  • Rugby League

  • Hockey

  • Summary and conclusions


August and September 2017 will be remembered as watershed moments in the history of women’s sport in Australia. Both cricket, after a 33 day lockout imposed by Cricket Australia and soccer’s W-League finalised collective bargaining agreements that increased payments to players. There was also an alteration to an agreement in the Australian Football League Women (AFLW) which increased payments for 2018 by over twenty per cent.1

On Saturday 16 September, the Australian women’s national soccer team, the Matildas, took on Brazil in Penrith before 15,098 spectators. On the same day Greater Western Sydney played the West Coast Eagles in an Australian Football League (AFL) semi final at Spotless Stadium before 14,865 spectators; and Australia’s national men’s rugby union team, the Wallabies, played Argentina in Canberra before 14,229 spectators (A rugby league final at ANZ stadium between Parramatta and North Queensland drew 42,187 spectators). Three days later, 16,289 spectators turned up for a night game to see the Matildas play Brazil again.2 On 28 September 2017, Cricket Australia put out a press release that the first One Day International in the Ashes Series between the Australian women’s team and England, at Brisbane’s Allan Border Field, had been sold out.3

Traditionally shunned by the media, broadcasters and sponsors, if not especially administrators, the last two years constitute a fundamental turning point for payments to players in women’s sport. Depending on the sport, and whether or not it has an international dimension, the trajectory of income has been one of moving from below the adult national minimum wage, past adult average wages through, for some, to incomes of over $100,000. The best remunerated players are international cricketers, soccer (The Matildas) and netballers, followed by rugby sevens, basketballers, state based cricketers, W-League (soccer), field hockey and AFLW. Rugby fifteens and rugby league are laggards being amateurs; though the situation in rugby league will change in 2018.

The object of this paper is to provide information on the dramatic changes that have occurred in wages in women’s team sports. The extent of information available varies between the respective codes. In some cases it mainly relies on media reports and websites; in others, documents and collective bargaining agreements.

Players who are involved in the Olympics or Commonwealth Games, such as basketball, soccer, netball, rugby sevens and hockey can obtain income under the Australian Institute of Sport’s (AIS) Winning Edge programme. The scheme has two key elements. First, payments are mean tested in that funds are only available for players who earn less than $90,000 in after tax income from other sources. Subject to the second element, "full" funding is provided for players earning less than $60,000, with reductions being progressively made up to earnings of $90,000. Second, payments are dependent on performance. AIS income is tax free.4


The Labour Market

In 2001, Karen Christensen, Allen Guttmann and Gertrud Pfister published a three volume International Encyclopedia of Women and Sports.5 In over 1,400 pages it provided extensive information on the long term involvement of women in 150 different sporting competitions. The history of women and sport has been one of battling against male notions that women were too fragile, lacked ability and the competitive edge to compete in pursuits that were regarded as being the province of men. Various sports across the globe have examples of ad hoc games organised by women, emulating the deeds of male family members. Such "exhibitions" were sometimes used to raise funds for charity purposes. Brunette Lenkic and Rob Hess document countless examples of this across the length and breadth of Australia in The Hidden History Of Women’s Australian Rules Football.6

Focusing on Australia, women formed more regular teams and developed their own competitions. While they may have had contacts with and/or been affiliated to men’s "governing" bodies, with netball being a notable exception, it has only been in recent years that traditional male sports have been prepared to devote resources to the women’s game and, with lags of variable length, pay and increase payments to players. The Olympic and Commonwealth games, other international competitions, tennis and golf have demonstrated for more than a century that women can provide highly competitive and entertaining top level sport.

Sarah Shephard interviewed a number of media representatives to ascertain what they saw as being necessary for women’s sport to become more interesting for them, and by implication sponsors. One answer was that it was up to the women themselves; they needed to ‘create their own stories. It has to be a story worth telling’. Another respondent said ‘Stars make sport… [they must be] at the top of their field… and [be] dominant figures in their sport and attract attention accordingly’.7 This paper demonstrates how Australian women have been successful in fulfilling such requirements.

Australia has been a powerhouse in world netball. Since 1963, the Diamonds, as the national team is known, have competed in 23 international competitions, winning 16, second in the other 7.8 The Opals, the women’s national basketball team, have finished in the top five in World Cups, being champions in 2006; and in their last six appearances at the Olympics finished second three times, third twice and fifth once.9 The national cricket team have won six of eleven World Cups, with two second places; and have won three of five Twenty20 World Cups and one second place.10

The Matildas have qualified for every FIFA World Cup since 1995; with a best ever finish of sixth in 2007. They have qualified for three Olympic Games, the best performance fifth in 2004 and have participated in five Asian Women’s Cups since 2006, being champions in 2010 and runners up twice. In 2017, they attracted world wide attention when they won the 2017 Tournament of Nations in the United States, defeating the world champions the USA for the first time. This increased their FIFA world rankings to 6 out of 186 nations.11

Australia is second to New Zealand in rugby sevens. In five tournaments Australia has finished first once, second twice and third once.12 It won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil which has spurred the creation of a national sevens university based competition.13 From the late 1980s to 2000, Australia was the dominant team in women’s hockey. The Hockeyroos, as the team is known, won gold medals at the Seoul (1988), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) Olympic Games and the Champions Trophy five times in a row between 1991 and 1999. Since then its performance has slipped to fifth or sixth in world rankings.14 In summary, netball, cricket and rugby sevens constitute examples of world best practice, closely followed by the Opals and the Matildas, who are on the rise and the Hockeyroos who have fallen backwards in recent years.

The best basketball, cricket and soccer players play in overseas leagues/competitions either full time or in the off season of Australian competitions.15 Hockey leagues in India and the Netherlands have in the past provided employment opportunities for a handful of players.16 Playing overseas provides players with the ability to become full time professionals, earn higher levels of income and increase their fitness and technical skills. It might not be unreasonable to hypothesise that the opportunities provided by playing overseas helps to explain the long term success of cricketers, the Opals, and more recently the Matildas.

A number of players play in more than one code within Australia. Up until recently, income from playing in individual leagues has been so low that playing in more than one code improves the prospects of earning a "living wage" and/or reduces the necessity of having to find "mainstream" employment and enhances fitness and skills. In April 2016, Brittany Carter provided a report on 30 multi-code players.17 Ellyse Perry, for example, has represented Australia in both cricket and soccer. She was forced out of the Matildas because of dual commitments. Cricket was offering higher pay than soccer at both the international and club level.18 She was unable to play the codes off against each other.

This situation has changed with the creation of the AFLW. The AFL has been worried that there may not be enough talented players to sustain interest in its new venture.19 AFLW clubs have sought to attract talented athletes from other codes. Of the 219 players of the eight teams listed in the AFL Record 2017 Season 70, or 32 per cent, had backgrounds in other codes (a small number in multiple codes). The largest cohorts were soccer and basketball 12 each, netball 9, running/athletics 7 (3 javelin), cricket 6, rugby 4, other football codes 3, and tennis 2.20 AFLW clubs are also chasing hockey players.21 Of the 48 draftees for the 2018 season, ten have backgrounds in other sports; 3 each in basketball and soccer, 2 in netball, 1 in cricket and Cora Staunton, a legendary Gaelic footballer,22 who in the tradition of Irish male players,23 has found her way into Australian rules football.

In September 2016, Netball Australia and the Australian Netball Players’ Association (ANPA) released details of a new collective bargaining agreement. Both parties heralded it as providing an impressive response to offers made by the AFLW to players.24 Michael Lynch made a similar statement following the completion of a collective bargaining agreement for the W-League in September 2017.25 The AFLW will be expanded from eight teams in 2017 and 2018, to ten teams in 2019 and fourteen in 2020.26 The search for talented women athletes will maintain competitive tensions between codes and enhance player incomes.

Player associations operate in all of the codes covered by this paper. They have been, so far, of minimal use to rugby 15 and rugby league players. Netballers formed an association in 2002 (there was also an earlier attempt at the end of the 1990s) and basketballers in 2009 – Australian Women’s Basketball Players’ Association. The basketballers merged with the male Australian Basketball Players’ Association (ABPA) in 2015. The Australian Hockey Players’ Association (AHPA), which represents both male and female players, was formed in 2016. Its formation owes much to the activities of the Australian Athletes’ Alliance, a confederation of player associations formed in 2007.27 Cricketers, soccer, AFLW and rugby sevens players have become members of, what were previously, male organisations.

In joining forces with their male counterparts, females have avoided the establishment costs of getting organised, mounting legal campaigns and the problems of developing a bargaining relationship with their respective clubs and leagues. Male player associations have offices and communication infrastructures. The importance of this should not be underestimated. The history of male player associations, in Australia and overseas, has been one of spending many years, in some cases decades, struggling to establish themselves and obtain concessions for members.28 This is especially important for players on low levels of income trying to manage playing and training with education and/or secular employment and, in some cases, family responsibilities. In addition, they have access to welfare and other benefit programmes obtained by men.



In the late 1990s netballers formed a players’ association in response to attempts by the then named All Australia Netball Association to sign away their employment rights and entitlements for the privilege of playing netball. The ANPA was able to achieve some basic concessions for members. These mainly involved income to cover costs associated with playing and training, loss of income from secular employment, health insurance, meal allowances, $75 a game and $100 for finals and players owning their intellectual property rights. Star or national players were earning between $5,000 and $10,000 a year plus additional income from sponsors.29 Following this, the ANPL went into abeyance and reformed in 2002.

Beginning in 2008 Australia and New Zealand entered into a joint venture and formed a Trans-Tasman Netball League with five teams from each nation. It lasted until 2016 when the two nations parted ways. A new Australian competition of eight teams called Suncorp Super Netball commenced in 2017.

A deal was negotiated between the five Australian clubs and the ANPA for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Minimum payments were set at $10,303 for a seven month season from January to August. Teams had a salary floor of $262,000 for twelve players. Superannuation payments were paid by clubs on top of this and players were entitled to a $50 per diem meal allowance.30 Leading players also received income from third party payments and other work.31 In the absence of knowledge concerning the "softness" of the salary cap, players, at a minimum, had average incomes of approximately $24,000. This ‘calculation’ is below the Australian Fair Pay Commission’s (AFPC) decision, in July 2008, which increased the Australian adult full time minimum wage (the weekly wage multiplied by 52) for a fulltime worker to $28,277 a year.32 It was increased by a new regulatory body, Fair Work Australia, beginning in July 2010 to $29,639 (the weekly wage multiplied by 52).33 Players selected for the national team, the Diamonds, received a per diem of $200, plus superannuation payments.34 Ross Booth reported that established players received between $35,000 and $45,000 a year, with "stars" earning $75,000.35

In recent years, Netball Australia, like other women’s sports, has been able to attract interest from sponsors and broadcasters36 which enabled it to establish a stand alone eight team league. In this more favourable economic environment, and facing competition from the AFLW, Netball Australia and the ANPA negotiated a deal covering the 2017 and 2018 seasons. The minimum wage was more than doubled, increasing from $13,250 to $27,375. This can be compared to the 2017 minimum wage of $36,135 (weekly wage multiplied by 52).37

Squads of ten players were subject to a salary cap of $675,000, comprising $500,000 for retainers, $150,000 for other employment, education and ambassador roles and $25,000 for health insurance and technology allowances.38 This translates to an average income of $67,500. This can be compared to average annual earnings (weekly wage multiplied by 52) in May 2017 for all employees of $61,240, and full time adult annual earnings of $83,639.39

The Diamonds receive a per diem payment of $450 for when they are in training camps and competitions.40 During 2017 they have participated in two Quad Series against England, New Zealand and South Africa (28 January to 5 February and 26 August to 3 September) and a Constellation Cup against New Zealand (5 to 14 October).41 Assuming that each of these competitions involved two weeks in training camps and associated travel, players may have total commitments of 70 days. This would translate into income of $31,500 for players involved in all three tournaments. The Diamonds have twelve player squads. Combining this with payments from their clubs it is conceivable that Diamond representatives and other leading players, possibly up to twenty five, are earning more than $100,000 a year.

Finally, in what provides an insight into the solidarity that exists between members of the ANPA, if not women’s sport more generally, it should be noted that in April 2017, the ANPA threatened strike action believing that their entitlements were under threat due to changes at board level of Netball Australia. After receiving assurances that their entitlements were safe the ANPA did not proceed with strike action.42



Booth found that the average salary of players in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBL) in 2009 was between $5,000 and $10,000. If nothing else, this explains why Australia’s best players seek employment overseas. The Opals received $250 for playing and $125 when training.43 After being without a broadcaster for a few years, the WNBL secured a three year deal with Fox Sports commencing with the 2017/18 season.44

WNBL and ABPA, as of October 2017, are in the process of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. Eight teams with 10 player squads will play in a four month season from October to January. The minimum wage will be $7,500. A few players will earn incomes over $100,000, another five to eight in the range of $60,000 to $80,000, with the majority of players in the $25,000 to $30,000 range and one fifth of players earning less than $10,000 and/or on the minimum. This suggests that average income is slightly more than $30,000, less than the minimum wage for 2017 of $36,135 (see above) for approximately five months work, with one month factored in for pre season training. Leading players may also derive income from sponsorships. Negotiations are in train over a deal for the Opals (fifteen players) and Boomers, the men’s national team. Both teams generate limited revenue. The agreement will probably include a per diem of $250 and a share of revenues gained from sponsorships and intellectual property.45



In 2010, Football Federation Australia (FFA) and Professional Footballers’ Australia (PFA) entered into an agreement for the Matildas. The agreement specified a three tiered system of payments for a 23 squad. The first tier, of not less than eight players, received $15,000; the second tier, not less than eight players $10,500 and the third tier, $8,000. There was scope for one first tier player’s income to be increased to $17,000 and one second tier player to $11,500. For their participation in the 2010 Asian Football Confederation Women’s Asian Cup, which Australia won, all members of the squad received match fees of $500 for a group match, $750 a semi final and $1,000 the final. All up, they would have received total payments in excess of approximately $335,000, an average of $14,562 a player, approximately half of the minimum wage of $29,639 in 2010 (see above). They were also entitled to receive 50 per cent of bonuses from sponsors and 30 per cent of any prize money paid by FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation to FFA.46

FFA created a W-League in 2008. Only one club paid players when it began operating, to mainly cover travelling and accommodation expenses for overseas players and out of pocket and miscellaneous expenses for local players. For the 2008 and 2009 seasons such expenses totalled $21,000; expected to increase to $46,500 for the 2010 season.47 According to a report by journalist Carol Nader in March 2011, Melissa Barbieri, the captain of the Matildas earnt $32,000 from her retainer and prize money. Nader also reported that Melbourne Victory players earnt $150 a game, and $75 if on the bench.48

In 2015 the Matildas participated in the first ever strike in Australian sport when they refused to go on a two game tour to the USA over low and late payments from FFA.49 They were on a yearly retainer of $21,000 which was well below the minimum wage of $34,159 (the weekly rate by 52).50 An agreement was subsequently negotiated which increased their income to levels above the minimum.

Under the agreement players were divided into two tiers of fourteen and six players. The first tier has an annual retainer of $41,000 for 2015/16, increasing to $55,000 in 2018/19. For tier two players the retainer was $30,000 in 2015/16 increasing to $40,000 in 2018/19. There is also a range of match fees from a minimum of $560 to a maximum of $1,600 depending on the competition and level of performance. Matildas are also required to play in the W-League, unless contracted to clubs in leading overseas leagues. There are also provisions for additional income from licensing fees and prize money. Other players called into training camps receive per diems of $171 increasing to $227 over the life of the agreement.51

By averaging the retainers for 2016/17 and 2017/18 for both tiers and factoring in four games played in the first half of 2017 and five played so far and two scheduled games against China, payments, excluding licence fees and prize money, in 2017 would be $54,740 and $42,240 for first and second tier players, respectively. The Matildas squad is currently 21 players.52 Assuming that the 21st player receives a minimum retainer, average income in 2017 would be $50,573. This is above the minimum wage for 2017 of $36,135 (see above). In addition, Matildas can earn extra income from playing in the W-League.

The W-League operates from (late) October to February; including allowances for pre season training, a period of approximately five months. As of the 2017/18 season it operates a nine team competition, one less than the ten team men’s A-League. Melissa Barbieri told a journalist in November 2013 that some players earnt $10,000 a season while others received nothing.53 Tom Smithies reported that for the 2013/14 season, Sydney City spent $70,000 on its W-League team, with a range of payments from $1,000 to $6,000.54

For the 2015/16 season clubs had a salary cap of $150,000.55 With squads of 23 players, and assuming that clubs actually spent up to the level of their caps, this equates to an average wage of $6,522. FFA and the Australian government announced in June 2017 that Australia would bid for the rights to host FIFA’s Women’s World Cup in 2023.56 This, plus pressure from the PFA provided FFA with an incentive to increase payments to W-League players. In September 2017, an agreement was finalised which increased payments to players almost threefold.57 Projected payments over the next two seasons will be approximately $5.9 million. Payments to the Matildas will be approximately $2 million; total payments of $7.9 million.

Under the agreement the minimum retainer for contracted players, of whom there must be a minimum of 18 to a maximum of 23 (the difference being scholarship or amateur players), is $10,000 for 2017/18 and $12,287 for 2018/19. Scholarship players will receive remuneration of $21 per hour. This is above adult national minimum hourly wage of $18.29 for 2017.58 Club salary caps will be $300,000 for 2017/18 and $350,000 for 2018/19. For twenty contracted players this equates to average wages of $15,000 and $17,500 for the two seasons respectively.

Assuming that members of the Matildas would receive a premium of $10,000 above these averages when playing in the W-League their income in 2017, ignoring the problem of overlap of calendar years, for a first tier player would be approximately $78,000, and $66,000 for a second tier player. These amounts are higher than average income for all Australian employees as of May 2017 of $61,240, but less than that of $83,639 for full time adults (see above). The Matildas play in overseas leagues in the off season. The PFA estimates that they may earn $50,000 from such stints, which would increase potential annual earnings to $130,000.59



Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) entered into an agreement on contracts for the women’s national team for the 2008/09 season. There were three tiers of payments of $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. When on tour players received an allowance of $100 a day. National and state players could also be employed as ambassadors to promote women’s cricket.60

Substantial increases occurred in 2013. In recognition of the dominance of the national team, Cricket Australia lifted the maximum retainer for players from $15,000 to $52,000 and the minimum from $5,000 to $25,000. Tour payment per diems were increased from $100 to $250, with 85 days of touring. It was estimated that top players could earn between $70,000 and $80,000 over the next twelve months.61 Such levels of income were well above the Australian adult full time minimum wage of $32,360 (weekly wage multiplied by 52) for 201362 and the average annual wage for all employees of $57,470 (weekly wage multiplied by 52) and close to full time annual adult earnings (weekly wage multiplied by 52) of $77,262 in May 2013.63 Via these increases, cricketers became and have remained the highest paid players in Australian women’s team sports. In addition, $100,000 a year was provided to each of the states and the Australian Capital Territory to fund minimum standards for domestic cricket.

Following protracted negotiations between Cricket Australia and the ACA, an agreement was reached on April 2016 which almost doubled player payments.64 The player payment pool increased from $2.36 million to $4.23 million. Minimum retainers were increased form $49,000 to $65,000 plus an additional $100,000 to be shared between players. There is also a retainer of $15,000 for participation for a women’s Big Bash Twenty/20 competition. National team player retainers were increased to $100,000. With additional income their average salary increased to approximately $150,000, well above minimum and average levels for the workforce as a whole.

There were also increases for domestic based players. Retainers for state teams were increased from $7,000 to $11,000 and for the Big Bash from $3,000 to $7,000. The Big Bash has eight teams in contrast to the six team state based competition. With prize money and entitlements it was estimated that the best domestic based players would earn $26,000 for an approximate five month season; income below the Australian adult full time minimum wage. In October 2016, the New South Wales state team, the Breakers, announced that it would offer players full time contracts with a minimum wage of $35,000.65 This was slightly above the $34,980 (weekly wage multiplied by 52) minimum wage for 2016.66

Tensions that existed during the negotiation of this agreement came to a head with the negotiation of a new agreement, involving both men and women, when Cricket Australia initiated a lockout, beginning on 1 July 2017. It lasted 33 days, the longest dispute in the history of Australian sport. A five year deal was subsequently negotiated.67 Women players received another boost to their payments. The minimum retainers for national players went up to $72,076 in 2017/18, increasing to $87,609 in 2021/22; for state players $25,659 in 2017/18, increasing to $27,287 in 2021/22; and for Big Bash $10,292 in 2017/18, increasing to $11,584. It is estimated that average payments for the national team (sixteen players) will increase from $180,000 to $211,000 over the life of the agreement; and for domestic players from $55,000 to $58,000.68 The income of domestic players is now well above the minimum wage and creeping closer to the average for the workforce as a whole of $61,240 in May 2017 (see above).



The AFL announced in August 2015 that it would create a women’s league in 2017. In its 2016 Annual Report it pointed to the long term involvement of women playing AFL, and "an appreciation of female achievements, including horse racing, cricket, soccer and netball". The Report also noted the high ratings of an All Star game between Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs in 2016.69 The AFL and AFLPA entered into negotiations concerning payments for players for an eight team, nine week competition beginning in February 2017. The AFL offered to pay the majority of players $5,000, $10,000 to a priority signing and $25,000 for two marquee players, $10,000 of which would be for ambassador work, an average wage of $6,667.70

The AFLPA pushed for higher pay and other entitlements/protections. A two year agreement was subsequently negotiated. The above three tiers for 2017 were set at $8,500, $12,000 and $27,000 ($17,000 playing, $10,000 ambassador) respectively; increasing to $9,276, $12,846 and $27,946 in 2018. Players would also receive $80 per diem when away from home, income protection for a year if injured and unable to work and medical expenses covered for a year post contract. The payment model was based on an assumption of nine hours training a week plus match days. Total player payments for 2017 were estimated to be $2.275 million.71 Clubs had squads of 27 players, with allowances for injuries. Average income for players for 2017 was approximately $10,500, an increase of 57.5 per cent on the AFL’s offer, but still well below the minimum wage.

Players devoted more hours to training than the assumptions contained in the agreement. The parties agreed to alter the model to 13 hours a week for eight weeks of pre season training and ten hours during the season for 2018.72 This resulted in the three tiers being increased to $10,500, $14,500 and $30,000 ($20,000 playing, $10,000 ambassador) plus the introduction of rookie contracts of $8,500. Team rosters were increased from 27 to 30 (27 primary plus 3 rookies) and increasing funds for and the number of players who can perform ambassadorial roles.

It was estimated that total payments would increase by 24 per cent. This would translate into an income pool of $3.321 million. With 240 players this is an average pay of $13,838. Given that the AFLW will expand to fourteen teams in 2020, given the assumptions of the current payment model, average income would double to approximately $28,000 for a longer, possibly six month season. Such levels of income are below the current minimum wage; let alone what they may be in the future. Only players with ambassador roles, possibly numbering four per club, a total of 50 or so, would earn incomes above the minimum wage. A handful of players also earn extra income from sponsorships, media work and so on. Daisy Pearce, for example, works as a media commentator and has sponsors.73 There will need to be a paradigm shift if AFLW players are to receive incomes commensurate with higher incomes in cricket, netball and soccer. Such a shift may be brought about by the combination of increased income from sponsors and broadcasters as, or if, AFLW becomes more popular, competitive tensions for players from other codes and pressure from the AFLPA.


Rugby Union

In 2014 the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) and Rugby Union Players’ Association (RUPA) reached an agreement on payments for rugby sevens players. Payments ranged from $40,000 to $20,000. Players are also entitled to receive payments from the AIS Winning Edge programme, which is tax free (see above). Prior to the 2016 Olympics it was estimated that the majority of players were earning $35,000,74 which was slightly above the minimum wage of $34,980 (see above).

The sevens won the gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016. This increased their entitlements from the AIS. In 2017 they are receiving an average income of approximately $52,000, comprising payments from the ARU, AIS and prize money from tournaments. Only four players are earning more than $60,000.75 The average for the squad as a whole has climbed above the 2017 minimum wage of $36,135, but is below the 2017 all employee average of $61,240 (see above).

Women’s fifteens play as amateurs. The Wallaroos represented Australia in a Women’s Rugby World Cup in Ireland in August 2017. The ARU covered expenses but did not pay players. A sponsor provided each of them with $1,000.76


Rugby League

Women’s rugby league, like rugby fifteens, operates as an amateur sport. There are signs, however, that this is changing. In 2014, the Jillaroos, the national women’s team, were paid $500 for a game against New Zealand.77 They will receive per diems of $100 for their participation in a Women’s World Cup to be held in Sydney in November and December 2017.78 A team representing New South Wales in July 2017 received payments of $2,000.79 Queensland players were not paid. The National Rugby League (NRL) announced in June 2016 it was only a matter of time before a women’s domestic league would be established.80

Negotiations concerning a new collective bargaining agreement between the NRL and the Rugby League Players’ Association, in the latter part of 2017, will include funding for elite women players. In 2018, the women’s game will be developed through a combination of a Nines competition, a Quad series, state of origin and a game against New Zealand. For 2018, 40 players will receive twelve months contracts of $25,000 and four teams will be formed with a "modest" let to be determined salary cap. Each of the teams will have ten of the contracted players; though it is unclear how such allocation will occur.81 This should result in the employment of over 100 female rugby league players in 2018. The $25,000 payment, for a twelve month contract is below the 2017 national minimum of $36,135.



Hockey operates on a federal model with state and territory teams competing against each other, with the best players selected for the Hockeyroos to represent Australia. The Hockeyroos have a 27 playing squad.82 State/territory players are amateurs, with players having to pay fees to be involved in national (interstate) competitions. Leading Hockeyroos may be employed as player/coaches of state/territory teams on incomes ranging from $5,000 to $30,000.

Hockey is eligible for funding under the AIS Leading Edge programme. Nader reported that in 2011, Madonna Blyth, captain of the Hockeyroos earnt approximately $22,000.83 Under the Leading Edge funding model Hockeyroos receive $13,000 a year. There are a small number of players who also obtain income from sponsors. In the past some players have played in the Netherlands; none currently. Their may be three players who earn in the region of $45,000 to $50,000 a year.84 There are moves afoot to convert hockey from a state to a franchise based competition. Unless this, and sponsors and broadcasters come on board, it is unlikely that there will be improvements in players’ incomes for some time to come.


Summary and Conclusion

The last two or three years have been associated with significant changes in payments in women’s team sports in Australia. Table One provides information on average income in the respective sports for 2014 or 2015, or the most recent time when there was information available before 2017 changes. For those who are multi code players, their individual incomes would need to be adjusted accordingly. The information provided in Table One does not include income from employment with overseas clubs or local sponsors; the latter being difficult to obtain reliable information. National cricketers lead the way with average incomes of $150,000, well above the national minimum and average adult full time earnings for the workforce as a whole. Of the rest, only rugby union sevens received incomes equal to the minimum wage.

Table One - Average and Minimum Wages And Workforce in Australian Women’s Sport


Average Wage

2014 or 2015

Average Wage





Minimum Wage




Netball Diamonds


$450 per diem



$24,000 (for 2010)


181 %






$250 per diem
















$6,522 (for 2016)


130 %




National Team

$150,000 (for 2013)


20 %






112 %









Rugby Union 7s



49 %



Rugby Union 15s






Rugby League



300 %









By 2017, netballers, the Matildas and domestic cricketers had incomes well in excess of the national minimum, as well as rugby sevens players. Netballers are receiving incomes in excess of average income for the workforce as a whole. Table One also reveals the extent of increases in percentage terms, with the income of netballers, the Matildas, domestic soccer and cricket players more than doubling. The income of rugby league players trebled, from a very low base.

In 2017, only the national cricket team and the Matildas have minimum wages higher than the national minimum, with that of the cricketers again being a standout. The lowest minimum, excluding rugby union 15s and rugby league, our two amateur codes, is in basketball with $7,500. All of the 21 Matildas would be earning incomes in excess of $80,000. Approximately three basketballers and 25 netballers would have incomes in excess of $100,000, as well as all of the members of the national cricket team. Possibly half a dozen of the latter earn incomes in excess of $200,000.

The income of women is inferior to that of men in the respective sports. The average income of male Cricket Australia contracted players is approaching $2 million and domestic players slightly more than $200,000.85 The average for AFL players is approximately $350,000;86 rugby league over $250,000;87 rugby union approximately $180,000;88 and basketball89 and the A-League90 over $100,000. Rugby sevens earn approximately an extra $30,000 than women, and women and men hockey players a similar amount.91 The US women’s ice hockey team achieved equal pay in March 2017, after threatening strike action.92 The US women’s soccer team obtained substantial increases to their pay in April 2017, following an equal pay campaign.93 In Norway, in October 2017, soccer authorities and the player association negotiated equal pay for female and male players.94

Table One provides information on the sizes of the respective workforces. If we total these, and avoiding double counting for national teams, other than for cricket and the Opals, the latter who play in overseas leagues, then the total is approximately 800 players. Rugby fifteens and rugby league should be excluded as they are amateurs. This would reduce the number of professionals to 750. Only a year earlier there had been approximately 520 professional players. The increase resulted from the transformation of netball from five teams with 12 player squads to eight teams with squads of 10 and the inclusion of 219 players from the AFLW.

If we look ahead to 2020, it is likely that there will be further employment increases. The AFLW has flagged that it will have fourteen teams. Assuming a squad of 30 players (a longer season may result in more players being needed) this would equal a workforce of 420. Rugby league has also indicated that it wishes to create women’s nine and thirteen team competitions. This will result in the employment of a minimum of 104 players; if successful the number could increase further by 2020. Netball may increase squads to 12, as operated previously in the Trans Tasman competition, and may increase the number of teams to lengthen its season and marketability to sponsors and broadcasters. With a longer season it may be necessary to increase squad size to 14; which seems "logical" with a game of 7 players. The W-League may also emulate the A-League and becomes a 10 team competition, and if the A-League expands this may provide additional employment opportunities.

It is conceivable that the number of professional women players will increase to over 1,100 by 2020; a more than doubling of the numbers five or six years earlier. This in turn will provide employment opportunities for women in other areas associated with sport; administrative, coaching and team support, player associations, journalists and in the media as producers and behind the scenes functions. While the wages of women players are lower than those of men, the last two years have witnessed sizeable increases in income across an increasing number of sports. The advent of AFLW has had a beneficial impact on the incomes of netballers, soccer players and domestic cricketers. It has acted as a spur for the NRL to embrace professionalism in 2018. As the AFLW expands and rugby league establishes a women’s league, competition between the respective sports will further enhance the income earning prospects of players. There has never been a better time in the history of Australian sport for women with athletic talent.

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