THERE’S nothing quite like a list to illustrate where female athletes are in comparison to their male counterparts.

The release of the annual Forbes Rich List this week, which details the 100 highest-earning athletes within sport over the last year, is made up exclusively of men.

Boxer Floyd Mayweather claimed top spot having collected $275 million, primarily made up of the earnings from his super-fight against UFC star Conor McGregor who, having earned $99 million, occupied fourth place on the list behind Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo.

The complete absence of women should though, perhaps not be as shocking as it appears at first glance. Without exception, the list has always been overwhelmingly male with only the odd female athlete breaking the strangle-hold.

2010 was the last time not a single woman made it into the top 100, with Serena Williams the highest-placed – and only - woman in last year’s list at number 51. But Williams’ absence from tennis over much of the last year due to her pregnancy has seen her drop out of the top 100, with none of her fellow female athletes having the earning power to replace her.

The dominance of a couple of sports on the list is telling – basketball is the best represented with 40 NBA players making the top 100, while American football is next with 18 players being named. And America is by far the most lucrative country to play sport, with two thirds of the men who make the list hailing from there.

There is little doubt that female athletes lag far behind their male counterparts in financial terms – the gender pay gap is a huge issue in almost every profession but it is particularly stark in sport.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar earns almost £33 million in salary alone per year, meaning he is paid more than every woman player in the top leagues in France, Germany, England, the US, Sweden, Australia and Mexico and is a brutal reminder of quite how significant an issue this is.

That Williams, and before her, Maria Sharapova, have both made the list in recent years which highlights that tennis is the sport which is closest to equality, but even there, the gap remains significant both in terms of prize-money and endorsement deals.

It is particularly galling, though, that Mayweather, the man who tops Forbes’ list, is a convicted domestic abuser.

The days since the list was released have seen much lamenting about the disparity in earnings between male and female athletes and certainly, it highlights quite how wide the gap is. But rather than moaning about the unfairness of the situation, it would be more constructive to suggest what can be done about it.

I have believed over the past few years that things are improving – in Britain, female athletes as a collective group are as high profile as they have ever been and while the media coverage of men’s football continues to overshadow everything else – including male athletes in minority sports – there’s a pretty solid case to suggest things are moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.

But until a significant change occurs financially, the progress of women’s sport will continue at a snail’s pace. There are precedents where men have backed their female counterparts and almost without exception, the outcome is positive.

Last December, Norway’s international male footballers agreed to take a pay cut in order to allow the women a pay rise and achieve parity. And last month, an agreement was reached in New Zealand which will see both the men’s and women’s national teams paid equally, with both receiving equal prize money, image rights and travel benefits.

These cases show significant progress is possible, although it will be some time before Forbes’ top 100 is made up of an equal split of men and women.

However, with the support of male athletes, and a recognition that female athletes are worth something, sizeable steps towards equality are possible. Will it happen in the UK any time soon? If some of the highly-paid male athletes stick their neck out and push for change, it could happen sooner than we all anticipate.