Monday, 9 July 2012

Game, Set and Matched

In the immediate aftermath of the Australian Open this year, an interesting fact came to light.  Novak Djokovic, the 2012 men’s singles champion, spent close to 11 hours on court during his semi-final and final matches alone; Victoria Azarenka, the women’s champion, spent just over 10 hours on court in the entire tournament. Both Djokovic and Azarenka walked away with the same winners prize money of $2,300,000 AUS. It didn’t used to be this way; the Men's champion used to be paid more than the Ladie's champion at a Grand Slam event. Aside from the US Open, which has had equal pay for three decades now, the other three have only recently made the change, the Australian Open in 2000, Wimbledon and the French Open in 2007. Is this fair? Should they be paid the same?

It is the belief in some corners that equal pay is a discrepancy in tennis. Their argument is that if in a standard office environment, a man and a woman did considerably different hours of work, then they would not be paid the same for their efforts. They argue that men play the best of five sets and women the best of only three, if the women want equal pay they must play the best of five sets. Records show that the average men’s tennis set at Wimbledon takes 30 minutes longer to play than the average women’s. This results in the men’s champion having played on average 3½ hours more tennis than the women’s champion. It’s argued that if women want the same prize money as men, they should be prepared to play the same number of sets. If they did, this would provide Wimbledon, or any of the Grand Slams, with more advertising time for networks and sponsors, and it’s from this advertising time that Grand Slams make a large percentage of their revenue from which comes the prize fund; if the men are earning more of the prize fund in the first place by playing longer matches, surely they are eligible for a large cut of it at the end?

It is unacceptable to think women can be paid less than men for doing the same job. Sport or not, the widely accepted principle of equal pay in the workplace ought to be put into practice here too; these are professionals with jobs that should be treated like any other. Talk of longer play by men and the number of sets is totally irrelevant. The champion is the champion; they’ve beaten everyone in their field, and deserve full recognition.  At the end of the day, for these tennis players, the money is a bonus, they aren’t playing for money it is much more about recognition of their talents. Furthermore, elite sports are extremely high profile, and the rewards involved send out a message that the whole of society looks to. Thus, in having unequal prize funds, the organizers of some of our most popular events don’t just look down on women’s sports they look down on women.

Tennis is one of the most mentally tough sports to play. You are on your own out on that court, battling the mind in so many ways. Are you better than your opponent? How tired are you feeling? Are you good enough to win? The game is the same for both men and women, so therefore the pay should without doubt be the same. This nonsense of higher pay for men is talk from 40 years ago. Although all four Grand Slams are now equal pay, many tour events, in which both men and women play 3 set matches, still offer higher winners cheques for the men.  In order to stamp out any remaining advocates of unequal pay, these tour events should follow suit and adopt equal prize money as soon as possible and only then can this out of date debate be put to bed.

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