In 2007, women’s sport took a great leap forward when the winners of both the men’s and women’s Wimbledon championships, Roger Federer and Venus Williams, were awarded equal prize money for the first time. In the vastly unequal world of sport – sponsorship of women’s sport comes to 0.5% of the market in Britain – this was an extremely significant move. Women’s tennis is at the absolute forefront of women’s sport, and one of the only areas of the industry where women can achieve as much exposure as men.
It seems, however, that the row isn’t over. French player Gilles Simon has voiced his opposition to equal prize money at Wimbledon. “Equality in salaries isn’t something that works in sport,” he argued, claiming that men’s tennis is “more attractive” than women’s and that men spend more time on court.
This last argument is one that warrants consideration. At Wimbledon, men play five set matches while women play just three. Even Britain’s Heather Watson has expressed her understanding that men have it tougher at Wimbledon. Although men and women undoubtedly put in the same number of grueling training hours, it is understandable that we can’t expect equal pay without equal play. It’s just difficult to understand why the discussion is about pay at all; shouldn’t we be encouraging five set matches for women as well? There is no evidence to suggest we are physically incapable of this. Women play a full ninety minutes of football, a full eighty minutes of rugby, a full seventy minutes of field hockey, and run a full 26-mile marathon. And Serena Williams could probably floor Gilles Simon.
Besides, Simon has claimed his view has nothing to do with disparity in play. Tennis is a business model, he argued, and “men’s tennis is actually more interesting.” If more people tune in to watch men’s tennis on the television, should men be paid more? No, because we are talking about sport, not television. Tennis players who become famous can earn millions through sponsorship deals, like any other celebrity. Sport is televised and that is great, but if we are judging the prize money for a competition, it has to be about sport, not fame. As Maria Sharapova pointed out, “there are a few more people that watch my matches than his.” Sharapova is arguably just as if not more famous as Novak Djokovic, yet she has earned less prize money this year, despite winning one more title than him. By Simon’s own argument, if he wins Wimbledon next year his prize money should be less than Federer’s was this year because he is less famous: a ridiculous situation.
The third argument and the most valid is that the physical effort needed to play five sets instead of three means that men are unable to enter both the singles and the doubles tournaments. A Williams sister has won both tournaments five times, meaning she can scoop both monetary prizes. The same feat has been achieved by men – John Newcombe in 1970, John McEnroe in 1981, 1983 and 1984 – but undeniably, men find themselves less able to enter both tournaments than women. And, although I can see why male tennis players might feel as though they miss out on something here, I just can’t make myself see it as a bad thing. This is possibly the single opportunity in the entire field of sport that women have of earning more money in a competition than men, and to do so they push themselves through an incredible feat of physicality and endurance. That is inspirationally empowering. As Simon’s fellow countrywoman Marion Bartoli mentioned, “over the year, we are a long way from earning as much as the men.” Equal pay at Wimbledon is a symbol, a figurehead that sets a precedent for the rest of tennis and the rest of sport.
Wimbledon should be celebrated as an example of parity in the disappointingly backward world of sport. Simon’s comments have been met with widespread derision and the strong women of tennis have held their own, making dry, witty comments to the press that display an impressive security and confidence in their position. There will be no pay review at Wimbledon, and so I am happy to dance in the rain that will continue to fall on both the male and female players.
Written by Abbey Lewis
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