A fair pay for fair play

By | Sport
Edouard Roger Vasselin and Alize Cornet during a mixed doubles match.Credit@Carine06viaflickr.com

The recent debate for equal pay for female tennis players, has been discussed in the media and by many professional players. In the past Billie Jean King and Venus Williams have both aimed to reverse the inequality in pay.

The debate of equal pay for women professional tennis players has been supported by many professionals over the last few decades feeling the reward for women’s tennis needs to be in line with men’s tennis. Yet tennis may have been one of the most progressive sports in terms of pay for both genders, the four grand slam tournaments now offer the same prize money for winners from both sexes. Venus Williams recently attained equal pay for women at Wimbledon.

The history of the debate goes back to the days of Billie Jean King, an ardent advocate for gender equality in tennis. In 1973 when Bobby Riggs ostentatiously stated; even at 55 he might triumph over any of the top professional female players, a series of games named the “Battle of the sexes” ensued. After winning facing Margaret Court the number one in the world at the time, Riggs then played Billie Jean King and was humbled. The retired Riggs told King the standard reached was exceptional and had underestimated the player.

For King it earned the respect of men, boosted the self-esteem of women tennis players and supported the ongoing desire for equality in sport. Billie Jean King’s legacy was to achieve equal pay at the U.S open. The “Battle of the sexes” game is still one of the highest attended tennis matches in the United States.

Billie Jean King gender equality advocate in tennis.Credit@femalecoachingnetwork.com

Billie Jean King gender equality advocate in tennis.Credit@femalecoachingnetwork.com

Even with these advancements men generally receive twice the pay of women. Justifications for this state of affairs range from the fact men’s tennis matches regularly attract larger audiences, men play more sets and therefore work harder and men’s tennis is more competitive. The fact is however, in some tournaments the women’s competition sells out quicker than the men’s, the last three years of the U.S Open are a good example.

Recently, Novak Djokovic echoed similar sentiments reopening the debate. The rationale articulated was men deserve higher pay than women as the ratings achieved by men are higher in comparison to the women’s game. Undeniably, Novak has certain veiled beliefs in the gender equality debate in tennis which do periodically bubble over into discussions which are usually far from expressed in the media spotlight.

Discussing the comments, Andy Murray has opposed the status quo and acknowledged women’s rights to equal pay. Offering discordant views than Novak Djokovic on the subject, Andy admitted there were certain matches where the women’s game had a larger audience than a simultaneous men’s match and this was far from reflected in the level of pay. Top-ranked players from both sexes invariably maintain a similar consistent standard, demonstrating how both sexes are proven to show similar patterns of performance during a career, therefore the reward in pay might be similar or equal.

The law in the UK on equal pay proclaims anyone performing the same role for the same employer must receive equal rewards. The UK government is therefore proposing to increase transparency in relation to the gender pay gap, new regulations come into effect from October 2016. Past UK sport minister Helen Grant emphasised the need for gender equality amid evidence male athletes earn significantly more than females.

Media coverage of male sport has additionally been far more extensive than offered to the female game. The context of media attention in female sport particularly tennis may focus on the traditional roles of females, however this may be improving. The airtime given to female sport has noticeably increased in recent years. The noble and honourable opposition to the disparity in pay between men and women tennis players has been challenged for many decades, some victories have made it increasingly onerous for tournaments to maintain this stance. The many proponents of sporting equality like Billie Jean King and Venus William’s have made the future better for many up-and-coming tennis stars.

How do professional players change the attitudes on player pay?

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