In 2007, The Championships at Wimbledon became the last Grand Slam to offer equal prize money for Men and Women, to a host of praise from players and former players alike. But with men often playing up to twice as many minutes as women throughout a Grand Slam stretch, is equal pay really fair? With the Australian Open in full swing, Hattie Sharman discusses the ins and outs of it.
A Landmark Decision
Wimbledon began in 1877 when the only competition held was the Men’s Singles. The Women’s Singles was not added until six years later. But it was only at the start of the Open Era in 1968 that prize money was introduced, and back then it was £2,000 for the winner of the Men’s Singles and £750 for the winner of the Women’s. This inequality lasted almost 40 years.When the decision did come, it was greeted, for the most part, with praise. Venus Williams described the competition as “reach[ing] an even greater height”; Maria Sharapova was “thrilled” with the decision; and six-time champion Billie Jean King felt it was “the right thing to do for the sport, the tournament and for the world.” And it wasn’t just female athletes getting involved: John McEnroe claimed it was “ludicrous” that men and women had been getting paid different amounts until the decision came in 2007.
However, not everyone agreed with the decision. In 2012, Gilles Simon claimed that “right now men’s tennis is better than women’s tennis. In Grand Slams, men’s spend twice as long on the court as women.” Paolo Bandini of The Guardian agreed, who believed equality in pay should come with equality on court – i.e., that women should also be required to play five-set tennis at Slams – and felt the decision “smack[ed] of political correctness for political correctness’ sake”.
Right or Wrong?
So who is right? Or will it always be a matter of opinion?
At first glance, it seems a logical decision: men and women are playing the same game, in front of the same crowd, and competing for the same trophy. But you cannot fail to miss the fact that in a Grand Slam, women play less tennis. For example, en route to winning the 2015 Wimbledon title, Novak Djokovic played 247 games of tennis, despite winning in straight sets 5 times out of 7. In contrast, Serena Williams played exactly 100 games fewer, 147 in total. That’s almost 60% more tennis. And they both won the same prize money at the end of it.
That’s the real world equivalent of all the women in an office working from 9am until 5pm, and all the men in the office working from 9am until 10pm, and both parties earning the same amount of money at the end of the day.
You could argue that the women can only beat what’s in front of them – i.e. they play less tennis because they’re only required to play best-of-three matches. So why not up the workload?
Equal Pay for Equal Play?
From the beginning of time, sport was, and in many cases still is, seen as a male preserve and a medium for men to demonstrate their masculinity. But today, women’s football lasts for 90 minutes, rugby for 80, female golfers play the full 18 holes, female athletes run the same distances as men – so why shouldn’t female tennis players be given the chance to play five sets at Grand Slams?Some people will argue that women are just not able; that they do not have the endurance or stamina to complete 5 sets. But is that because women players specifically train their body to endure 3 sets and no more? Could they adapt their training to play the best of 5 sets? It certainly seems achievable for such incredible women, especially those at the very top of the game.
Indeed, if women aimed and trained for a five set game, as do the men, then their endurance and stamina would further develop, which may lead to a greater variety of pace and skills to be shown within the game. This would ultimately lead to a more exciting future for women’s tennis. In 2013, Andy Murray spoke to the New York Times about the women’s game in a similar regard, saying this:
“I’m not saying the men work harder than the women, but if you have to train to play five sets, it’s a longer distance. It’s like someone training to be a 400-meter runner and someone training to be a 600-meter runner. I think the women should play best-of-five sets. I don’t see why they couldn’t do it. It would mean the days in the Slams are a little bit longer. And maybe it doesn’t have to be from the first rounds. I think either the men go three sets or the women go five sets. I think that’s more what the guys tend to complain about, rather than the equal prize money itself.”
He goes on to recall a time between 1984-1998 when the year-end WTA Championship was a five set match, stating that the likes of Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova were “unbelievable” over five sets. Surely the likes of Serena Williams would be able to endure something similar?
The Entertainment Factor
However, despite men and women finding parity across many sports these days, pay gaps still exist all across sport, and for one gigantic, all-encompassing reason: TV money.
Football is the clearest example. In the 2014/15 season, Premier League clubs each scooped almost £50 million in domestic and overseas TV rights money, because people will pay to see their team play live. This viewer power is a often what funds the huge prize pots on offer in the Men’s game. The final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup drew over 1 billion viewers worldwide, and Germany, the winning team, took home $35 million in prize money. In contrast, the Women’s World Cup last year, hailed as a tournament which broke all viewing figures, had just over 750 million viewers overall, with a prize pot for the champions of just $2 million as a result. That’s less than the teams that go out at the Group Stage of the Men’s World Cup.Are male sports in general simply more entertaining than women’s? As viewers, we want to see athletes breaking records, pushing themselves to the very limits of their capabilities. We all know who Usain Bolt is: he’s the fastest person on the planet, the 100m and 200m world record holder. He’s a household name, an icon, a legend, because he’s simply the best on Earth. But who’s the women’s record holder? I had to look it up. Is American Florence Griffith-Joyner is less revered, less well-known than Bolt because although she’s a record holder, she’s not truly the fastest? Or is it simply because she broke the record so long ago that we’ve almost forgotten? Either way, while she can claim to be the fastest woman on the planet, she can’t claim to be the fastest person. Bolt can. Is that the difference?
Perhaps we don’t engage more in the women’s game because the men’s game inherently has faster serves, harder hitting, more outrageous defensive play, and for sure, more competition at the very top of the game. But should our engagement with the sport make a difference to the prize money at the end of it?
Perhaps. According to Wimbledon’s official statistics, The 2015 Women’s Singles Final drew a peak audience of 4.3m on the BBC. The Men’s Final had more than double that – 9.2m. For the coming year, the set costs in 2016 for one ticket at the Women’s Final on centre court is £1130, compared to £3905 for the Men’s Final. Clearly the men make more money for the event organisers in terms of audience engagement, so why shouldn’t they get paid more because of it?
Have Your Say
So what do you think? Do women deserve equal pay at Grand Slams, or should they be required to play best-of-five-set matches in order to truly match the men? Or does the popularity of men’s sport justify such prize inequities? Vote now.