In years gone by it was somewhat accepted that women would earn less prize money than their male counterparts. The feminists amongst us would take issue with this, but in reality they were unable to do very much in a male dominated sport. Men, in general, were seen as the superior sex with regards to playing ability and therefore warranted a greater reward. It was these seemingly prehistoric values that were so prevalent in the tennis world.
2007 was the first time all four Grand Slams offered an equal pay check to the champions, Wimbledon being the last of the four to do so. In a society where political correctness is paramount to public acceptance, why were Wimbledon so slow in adhering to these unwritten rules. Were they, in fact, correct to offer women less prize money than the opposite sex, given that women's matches are potentially two sets less?
The obvious starting point to this discussion is the length and duration of a match. Sticking with Grand Slams, the only tournaments offering equal prize funds, a women's match has the potential to last three sets, compared to a men's match which could last for five sets. Immediately we open the debate of "equal work for equal pay", although those who are quick to suggest that this argument is as clear-cut as that, are exceptionally narrow-minded, and dare I say it, naïve. An interesting point to look at would be the respective 2012 Australian Open finals. Viktoria Azarenka defeated Maria Sharapova in 82 minutes whereas Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in 353 minutes, in fact the first set lasted 80 minutes, two minutes shy of the entirety of the women's final. It is hard to fathom an argument to suggest that the men didn't exert more energy.
Next we must consider the ability to do work. Without risking any controversial statement, it is fair to say, on the whole, men are able to move more quickly and exert more force than women. With specific reference to tennis, the men hit the ball harder, are able to generate significantly more spin and have a greater range of movement. Perhaps the shot which demonstrates this best is the serve. Bar the Williams sisters, the serving amongst the female players is woeful, not only is no spin generated on the serves, but no power is either. Even though the women are less able to generate the same spin and power as the men, this doesn't mean to say that their effort levels are any lower. Without analysing the physiology too closely, it is particularly hard to gauge 'effort' on a tennis court. Who are we to say that Azarenka and Sharapova didn't expend as much energy as Nadal and Djokovic? We can only surmise that they may not have done. In order to become a professional player, either on the ATP or the WTA tour, immense amounts of work and training must be put in, it isn't a breeze to go on the women's tour, despite many thinking it is.
Another facet to look at is entertainment value. There is, undoubtedly, a higher demand to watch male Grand Slam protagonists than their female counterparts. As a result surely it is a smarter move from the governing bodies to elongate the men's matches and to make the women's more concise. If the women's matches were to be extended to five sets, I would hasten a guess that crowd numbers would dwindle, particularly in the opening rounds. Such is the dearth in quality in the opening rounds of women's Grand Slam matches, it would be highly tedious to watch Serena lumber her way through three benign sets of tennis.
Top 20 player, Gilles Simon, hit the headlines during Wimbledon for stating that men are more entertaining to watch and therefore should have a bigger prize fund. Naturally, this was hit by a monumental backlash from the women, notably Sharapova, Williams and Marion Bartoli being quick to refute his claims. Williams claiming that more people watch Sharapova than Simon, probably true, but in a typically ignorant manner she clarified this by stating that Sharapova was "more hot than Simon". Surely that depends on your point of view, Serena?
Although we live in a world of equal opportunites where equal work should mean equal pay, is this really the right argument for this situation? Do bankers really work harder than roofers? Physically, absolutely not, but current demand states that they will be paid more. Tennis is, after all, an entertainment industry and therefore pay scales are derived from relative entertainment values. Ultimately, the men do, it would appear, attract larger crowds and TV audiences and thus should be paid more handsomely.
I would be very interested to hear your views below and I will endeavour to respond.
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