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Is this really equality?

It was announced today that Wimbledon will for the first time this summer offer the same prize money for female players as it does for the men.

So we now have parity in financial terms. But does this really represent true equality?

In modern times, there has always been a natural inequality at the four Grand Slam tournaments (Wimbledon, and the Australian, French and US Opens), by virtue of the fact that men’s matches are played to a best-of-five sets format, whereas the ladies play best-of-three. This means a one-sided ladies’ match can be over in 45 minutes – and rarely lasts more than two hours – whereas a men’s match can go on for four hours or more, and rarely lasts less than two hours.

Put another way, the winner of the women’s singles title at this year’s Wimbledon will play a maximum of 21 sets (and a minimum of 14) in the tournament, whereas the men’s champion will play a minimum of 21 (and a maximum of 35) to win the same prize money.

It’s not the fairest and most direct of comparisons, but one could say that this is equivalent to a women are being paid the same for a three-day week as their male counterparts are for a full five-day week.

In the workplace, there is certainly no reason why women should earn less than men. However, sport is another matter, where commercial drivers dictate the size of the prize. In virtually all other sports it is normal for female players to earn less (usually far less) than males. This is simply because interest in women’s football or golf or cricket is tiny compared to the men’s equivalents – and consequently attract smaller audiences and commercial revenue. For women’s tennis, this is emphatically not the case. Viewing figures for women’s tennis are comparable to men’s. And Maria Sharapova is every bit as popular and marketable as the likes of Roger Federer. So in the case of tennis, there is no overriding financial reason why women shouldn’t have the right to earn as much as the men.

So, the question is: why don’t women play best-of-five in the Grand Slams? Play the same amount as the men – earn the same amount as the men. It seems like a simple equation, doesn’t it?

After all, in many other sports, women compete over the same time-span as men: ladies’ golf tournaments are frequently played over 72 holes, women’s football matches last 90 minutes, and so on.

Historically, the biggest argument against five-set women’s tennis was the physical capability of women to play longer matches in tournaments. This may have been the case in the past – as it was in athletics as 30 years ago, where women could not compete in endurance events such as the 5,000 metres or marathon – but is not necessarily so today. Now, top players like Amelie Mauresmo or Venus Williams possess just as much strength and stamina as their male counterparts, in a way that was perhaps not the case 30 years ago.

So why don’t women play over five sets at Wimbledon? Or, at the very least, play the ladies’ final over the longer span?

It’s a question which has been argued circuitously (and inconclusively) by wiser and more knowledgeable minds than mine. But while I applaud the equality in prize money which Wimbledon has finally bowed to today, I find myself scratching my head at the inequality this appears to have created for the men’s game.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

One Response to Is this really equality?

  1. Anonymous says:

    The Tennis equality thing is simple. If you were in the business of selling the two events, (which tennis cleary is) which would command the biggest fee? Which would be the final Pinacle blue ribband event of the tournament? The men’s final as we all know. Which is why it commands the most money and prize money. The womens event is the supporting feature to the main event. Don’t believe me, Ask a tout the prices for the respective finals – the prices which are of course set by supply and demand of the tennis going public

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