Tennis equality

Caution – minefield ahead!

I know this is an explosive subject, but I’m afraid I’ll self-combust if I don’t add my fourpenny worth. Which is a whole lot less than any professional tennis player – male or female – gets for lacing up their highly sponsored shoes these days.

The hoary old argument about equal pay in tennis has been reignited by the crass comments from Raymond Moore, a 69 year-old South African and former player himself. As Chief Executive of Indian Wells, the most recent venue on the professional tour, he said: “the women’s game rides on the coat-tails of the men. Female players should get down on their knees every day in thanks to Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.”

He’s no longer the Chief Executive. But he has apologised.

The words he chose to express his opinion were really stupid. The point he was trying to make isn’t.

Serena Williams, the modern game’s most successful female player, and Martina Navratilova, an all-time great, piled in to cut off Mr Moore’s head and stick it on the umpire’s chair, in the midday heat. Martina said his comments were “extremely prejudiced”, and threatened that female players would boycott Indian Wells in future if Mr Moore didn’t resign.

But Novak Djokovic, the Serbian world number one mens player, came out fighting…as he always does.

Winner at Indian Wells again this year, he said: “male tennis players should earn more money than their female counterparts because more people watch them play.”

He also commented: “women fought for what they deserve and they got it”, but he claimed prize money should be “fairly distributed based on who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets”.

There has been equal prize money in all four Grand Slam events – the Australian Open, US Open, French Open and Wimbledon – since 2007, and combined Masters events such as Indian Wells and Miami pay the same to men and women.

But is that really appropriate…or just another example of political correctness winning out over common sense?

Let’s look at some facts:

  • the UK TV viewing numbers for the Wimbledon finals in 2015 were: mens’ 9.2 million; womens’ 4.3 million
  • in the 2014 Wimbledon finals, another epic battle between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic went the distance – 5 sets – and lasted 4 minutes short of 4 hours; in the ladies’ final, Petra Kvitova defeated Eugenie Bouchard 6-3 6-0 in 55 minutes
  • prices for resold tickets for the women’s match were less than 20% of the men’s
  • Djokovich & Kvitova each won £1.76m – £7,457 for each minute played by Novak, and a whopping £32,000 for every 60 seconds Petra was on court that day in SW19

Sure, I’m being selective with my statistics, but the key point remains: women play a maximum of 3 sets in Grand Slams, men play 5. If women also played 5, an equal job would clearly justify equal pay. Just like it does – rightly so – in the workplace, or any other arena of modern life.

Matthew Syed – the excellent Sunday Times journalist – lays bare the madness of equal tennis pay in his bravely worded article yesterday:

There is a “vast gulf in interest that exists between the men’s and women’s game. The latest WTA (womens’) media deal is worth £365 million over ten years; the ATP (mens’) is estimating £904 million revenues over the same period.”

“Every right-minded person would agree that a woman should earn the same as a man for doing the same job, say in an office. But top male players are effectively doing a different job. They are persuading more of the public to pay through the turnstiles and on TV. Why should they have to cede this income to female counterparts?”

“And what would this mean beyond tennis? Should top-flight female footballers, who secure gates of a few hundred, earn the same as men, who play in front of tens of thousands and have secured multibillion-pound TV deals? And let us look at the reverse perspective too. Would it not be absurd for Gisele Bündchen to give up her income to male models who earn less, just because they have the same formal job title?”

See, I told you it was dangerous ground.

(image courtesy of dreamstime.com).

Ultimately, market forces and common sense should surely prevail. But – in my humble opinion – in the sensitive area of equal pay for professional tennis players in major tournaments, they haven’t. Political correctness has won another game.

Ticket pricing

Australian Open 2016 Men’s final $395 for category 3 seating, Women’s final $195 for category 3 seating

French Open 2016 Men’s final from 130 euros, Women’s final from 85 euros

Wimbledon 2016 Men’s final from £160, Women’s final from £133

 

 

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