The Data Game

Nicholas Shaw   |   July 8, 2016   11:39 AM ET

Like most kids, I spent many a day dream winning trophies and representing my country on various sporting battlefields. Like most adults, I spend many an hour shouting at or cheering on the men and women who actually made those dreams a reality.

Over a long career of sporting fandom, I've noticed, it really isn't like the old days. With science, data and professionalism - sport has moved from art and instinct to a quantifiable and calculable formula. Whilst the fairy dust of talent and the dog work of grit does still grace every sport, science, rigour and above all measurement is shaping athletes and helping them to gain that competitive edge.

If you've seen the film Moneyball, or read the book, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Moneyball documented how the unfashionable, impoverished and unsuccessful Oakland Athletics baseball team managed to win 20 consecutive games with an unorthodox analytics-based approach to selecting players.

Sports and athlete data is improving performance and proving to be a competitive advantage. It's keeping athletes healthier for longer, contributing to numerous innovations in equipment, environments and safety, and it's become a vital part of media content, distribution and fan engagement. Desk side chats about the weekend's rugby just wouldn't be the same without the break down in meters carried, tackles made, which makes my punditry look far more informed than I deserve.

This season I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time at rugby team, London Irish's grounds in Reading. Speaking with the team there gave a real insight into how data in sport is evolving. The data collected is a mix of qualitative self-assessment from the players, considering sleep, muscle soreness, stress levels and a general wellness score. This is combined with objective data taken directly from each player's GPS unit, in-game and training performance. The objective analytic data is combined with the subjective self-assessments to create what is known as an RPE figure - a rate of perceived exertion. If the players are running more and their RPE is going down, the training is going well and they're getting fitter. A reverse score can suggest long-term fatigue or overtraining.

But the impact doesn't stop at the sport itself, it's also opening up new revenue streams and growing the sports betting industry at a rapid rate. As data makes its way into the profit and loss columns of sports business balance sheets attitudes to data protection and management are becoming more grown up too.

Earlier this year the International Tennis Federation (ITF), signed a $70 million deal with data company Sportradar to give exclusive access to real-time scores and statistics. For the ITF, theft or loss of that data would represent a huge risk to one of their most significant revenue streams, and thus the future of Tennis' governing body.

When it comes to performance data, the tracking of this for competitive advantage raises the thorny issue of cheating. If data really is the difference between victory and defeat, then knowing your enemy could be incredibly valuable. The secrecy we see already in Formula One around the designs of cars and the information gathered from the sensors about design performance and driver behaviour could become the standard.

If somehow gleaning data on your opposition could help you plan a strategy to overcome them, protecting that becomes vital. However where we're more likely to see impact is in contracts. If you're trying to sell a player, or if a sports person is trying to negotiate a new contract, information on their performance, propensity to injury and even predictions on future performance will affect their value and how those negotiations play out.

Like any other business, the data within the sports industry could be exposed to hacking risks. Last year Tour de France cyclist Chris Frome was subject to a data hack. Personal performance data of a ride that was central to his victory in the Tour that year was stolen and began to appear on social networks in an effort to discredit him, suggesting he had been doping to achieve that level of performance. But it's not only archive data that is vulnerable.

Most athletes wear some kind of wearable technology and research from the Symantec Threat Intelligence team has found that these devices have multiple security risks. With a cheaply built Bluetooth scanners our intelligence team was able to sit at the end of a park run race and 'sniff up' the data from wearables worn by amateur runners. The over the air communications between wearables / GPS units and smartphone apps or servers processing and storing information can often be a weak point. This connection can provide access to logins and security credentials and also allow for hackers to force commands through to the server for execution - exposing the potential for a major security breach.

With more and more sensitive athlete data gathered and revenue streams at risk, sporting organisations could be exposed to the kind of hacks we're seeing across all manner of different companies. However in sport there's a tension between the desire to expose this information in the name of fan engagement and entertainment, and a desire to keep things secretive. In the future timing and access will be everything and I for one can't wait to see how it plays out.

The Data Game

Nicholas Shaw   |   July 7, 2016   11:32 AM ET

Like most kids, I spent many a day dream winning trophies and representing my country on various sporting battlefields. Like most adults, I spend many an hour shouting at or cheering on the men and women who actually made those dreams a reality.

Over a long career of sporting fandom, I've noticed, it really isn't like the old days. With science, data and professionalism - sport has moved from art and instinct to a quantifiable and calculable formula. Whilst the fairy dust of talent and the dog work of grit does still grace every sport, science, rigour and above all measurement is shaping athletes and helping them to gain that competitive edge.

If you've seen the film Moneyball, or read the book, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. Moneyball documented how the unfashionable, impoverished and unsuccessful Oakland Athletics baseball team managed to win 20 consecutive games with an unorthodox analytics-based approach to selecting players.

Sports and athlete data is improving performance and proving to be a competitive advantage. It's keeping athletes healthier for longer, contributing to numerous innovations in equipment, environments and safety, and it's become a vital part of media content, distribution and fan engagement. Desk side chats about the weekend's rugby just wouldn't be the same without the break down in meters carried, tackles made, which makes my punditry look far more informed than I deserve.

This season I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time at rugby team, London Irish's grounds in Reading. Speaking with the team there gave a real insight into how data in sport is evolving. The data collected is a mix of qualitative self-assessment from the players, considering sleep, muscle soreness, stress levels and a general wellness score. This is combined with objective data taken directly from each player's GPS unit, in-game and training performance. The objective analytic data is combined with the subjective self-assessments to create what is known as an RPE figure - a rate of perceived exertion. If the players are running more and their RPE is going down, the training is going well and they're getting fitter. A reverse score can suggest long-term fatigue or overtraining.

But the impact doesn't stop at the sport itself, it's also opening up new revenue streams and growing the sports betting industry at a rapid rate. As data makes its way into the profit and loss columns of sports business balance sheets attitudes to data protection and management are becoming more grown up too.

Earlier this year the International Tennis Federation (ITF), signed a $70 million deal with data company Sportradar to give exclusive access to real-time scores and statistics. For the ITF, theft or loss of that data would represent a huge risk to one of their most significant revenue streams, and thus the future of Tennis' governing body.

When it comes to performance data, the tracking of this for competitive advantage raises the thorny issue of cheating. If data really is the difference between victory and defeat, then knowing your enemy could be incredibly valuable. The secrecy we see already in Formula One around the designs of cars and the information gathered from the sensors about design performance and driver behaviour could become the standard.

If somehow gleaning data on your opposition could help you plan a strategy to overcome them, protecting that becomes vital. However where we're more likely to see impact is in contracts. If you're trying to sell a player, or if a sports person is trying to negotiate a new contract, information on their performance, propensity to injury and even predictions on future performance will affect their value and how those negotiations play out.

Like any other business, the data within the sports industry could be exposed to hacking risks. Last year Tour de France cyclist Chris Frome was subject to a data hack. Personal performance data of a ride that was central to his victory in the Tour that year was stolen and began to appear on social networks in an effort to discredit him, suggesting he had been doping to achieve that level of performance. But it's not only archive data that is vulnerable.

Most athletes wear some kind of wearable technology and research from the Symantec Threat Intelligence team has found that these devices have multiple security risks. With a cheaply built Bluetooth scanners our intelligence team was able to sit at the end of a park run race and 'sniff up' the data from wearables worn by amateur runners. The over the air communications between wearables / GPS units and smartphone apps or servers processing and storing information can often be a weak point. This connection can provide access to logins and security credentials and also allow for hackers to force commands through to the server for execution - exposing the potential for a major security breach.

With more and more sensitive athlete data gathered and revenue streams at risk, sporting organisations could be exposed to the kind of hacks we're seeing across all manner of different companies. However in sport there's a tension between the desire to expose this information in the name of fan engagement and entertainment, and a desire to keep things secretive. In the future timing and access will be everything and I for one can't wait to see how it plays out.

Give Bojo a Second Shot - Wimbledon Season Is an Opportunity for Boris Johnson to Play Tennis and Have Another Revelation

Ania Poullain-Majchrzak   |   July 6, 2016    2:04 PM ET

According to his sister Rachel Johnson and her article in the Daily Mail, Boris Johnson decided about his stand on Brexit over a tennis game. Rachel drove to see her brother on the 20th of February. It was a day before he gave his statement to the media saying that he will vote to leave the EU in the coming referendum. Miss Johnson claims that the revelation about his stand on Brexit had occurred during the game of tennis they had that afternoon.

One would assume that it was a rather opportunistic decision as opposed to an actual decision based on belief but the good news is that according to George W Bush 'America is the land of the second chance - and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.' Well, if the US can subscribe to such a philosophy then why can't the UK?

I'm very fond of Mr Bush's reflection and would argue that not only in America but anywhere in the world in most disciplines of life you get a second shot chance. Take food, even if you went wrong with a starter, you still have the main course to settle matters (and the dessert - that must be the third chance!). Or religion - the worlds leading orthodoxies offer up another opportunity if you waste your life, through the possibilities of reincarnation and heaven etc.

As we can see from the above it gets even better the second time round, therefore, why not open the metaphorical prison gates for Boris Johnson, and let him have another shot? Seeing as the political turmoil coincides with the Wimbledon season perhaps he could take advantage of that and travel back to the moment when he got the whole avalanche started and indulge in another game of tennis.

When it comes to choosing his tennis partner, I dare suggest that it would be only fair that this time he plays with a writer from a publication polar in opinion to the Daily Mail, so as to help foster the right environment for more moderate political decision making. As I'm very pleased and excited to have found out that the most important political decisions can be made while practicing my favourite sport, I would be very pleased to invite Mr Boris Johnson to a casual game of tennis.

Although it might seem too late to unscrew the whole crisis caused by the Brexit referendum, at the present situation, Mr Johnson doesn't have anything to loose and he might be ready for some drastic moves that will only emphasise his eccentric branding. Further to this, looking at the demand of the general public, the likelihood of a new poll is very high (even Rich Richard Branson is having coffee with Mother Theresa May about it). It is a perfect opportunity for Boris to go back on his words and re-campaign. There is still a chance for him to gain the legacy he desires by campaigning for the situation where everybody in the country, including himself, will be all smiles.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing a clip of Mr Johnson playing against David Cameron at the International Paralympic Day in Trafalgar Square on YouTube and I would dare to presume that he looks like a considerate but entertaining tennis partner.

Rosy Cherrington   |   June 30, 2016    9:57 AM ET

This year's official Wimbledon dress by Nike is causing a bit of a stir among female players, with some even refusing to wear it.

Due to the floaty fabric and loose shape, its design has been likened to a "baby doll nightie" and is distracting tennis stars by flying up during play.

Players have resorted to tying headbands around the dress to keep it down, wearing tops over it and leggings underneath.

British player Katie Swan was seen visibly struggling with her dress, tucking it into her shorts to stop it from flying up during her match on Tuesday 29 June and commentators suggested that the distraction was to blame for her loss.

German player Sabine Lisicki refused to wear the £75 dress, while American star Serena Williams, who is sponsored by Nike, had an alternative design custom made for her.

Rebecca Peterson of Sweden told the NY Times that despite the dress being "simple", the dress was "flying everywhere".

"When I was serving, it was coming up, and I felt like the dress was just everywhere," she said.

After qualifying rounds, Nike asked players to send in their dresses to have the slits on each side sewn up.

A Nike spokesman said at the time: "The product has not been recalled and we often customise products and make alterations for athletes as they compete.

"We work closely with our athletes to provide them with product that helps them perform and feel their best on the court."

But not every female player disliked the controversial dress.

Eugenie Bouchard defended the design to the NY Times, saying: "For me, I love it. It's nice and short so you can move around and be free with your movements.

"Yeah, I don't know. It's funny that people paid a lot of attention to it, but I really think it's really nice."

Wimbledon - One of the Greatest Showcases of Digital Transformation

David Stokes   |   June 28, 2016    4:44 PM ET

Considered by many as the quintessential British event of the year, no other sporting or cultural occasion embodies the pragmatic personality of what it is to be British more so than The Championships, Wimbledon do.

However, as with the British, there is far more to Wimbledon than just a rich heritage and a long and illustrious history. Regarded by many globally as the pre-eminent and most prestigious of tennis tournaments, Wimbledon has now reached a point where it actually transcends sporting and cultural boundaries. However, in order to remain at the very top Wimbledon has had to move with the times and take significant steps to maintain this pre-eminence.

As we all have become more digital, more connected, and more social since the turn of the century, the expectations of what Wimbledon means to visitors, fans and global audiences as a brand and throughout The Championships has also dramatically changed.

More than the on court advances, it is the technology and innovation underpinning the tournament that keeps Wimbledon ahead - and there are new additions each year in support of the All England Lawn Tennis Club's (AELTC) on-going pursuit of greatness.

Consider this: each year over the course of the fortnight, 3.2 million data points are captured, from 19 courts, with an accuracy target of 100% and a sub-second response time - that's a serious amount of data. Highly trained tennis analysts (county level players or above) capture the data and then IBM Systems transform this data in near real time to provide insights to commentators and media. In a matter of seconds this information is available on TV, social channels and millions of digital devices around the world to deliver a fan experience that supports the club's digital vision of cementing digital as the gateway to their brand.

The digital era has put greater demands on everything from politicians to household brands, and Wimbledon has been no different. The difference being, while many recoil in the face of technological advances, The All England Club has embraced it wholeheartedly. This year alone, the wimbledon.com website is expected to be updated over 100,000 times each day (requiring enormous amounts of hosted, scalable cloud capacity), making it the destination for a global community of millions of die-hard fans.

New to the 2016 Championships this year, IBM will be demonstrating a Cognitive Command Centre. It will use IBM Watson and hybrid cloud technologies to ingest feeds across multiple social media channels and automatically understand, reason and learn the most relevant and emerging topics of conversation related to Wimbledon, as well as other major sporting events, providing those insights to the digital editorial team.

By identifying common topics of interest, IBM can help the All England Lawn Tennis Club identify opportunities to better serve relevant articles, posts and images to fans.

For example, the Cognitive Command Centre could identify emerging conversations about a Swiss soccer game at the same time as Roger Federer was playing. Using these insights, Wimbledon will be able to make rapid content decisions to engage and inform sports fans during a summer filled with several major sporting events.

Introducing cognitive solutions to Wimbledon promises to deliver tremendous benefits for the AELTC in terms of insights, learnings and, ultimately, fan engagement and will enable the AELTC to firmly cement digital as the gateway to the Wimbledon brand, whilst at the same time enriching the overall fan experience too.

Innovation and reinvention are the keys to maintaining prominence and relevance in the world today and this is no different, whether you're a country of 60+ million people, a household brand, or the world's most loved tennis tournament. As the public's expectations and needs change, so too must our ability to reinvent ourselves and meet these new challenges head on. Wimbledon's continued success in the face of changing times is something not just the AELTC, but Britain as a nation, should be proud of - roll on the 27th of June...Play!

Rachel Moss   |   June 27, 2016    4:12 PM ET

Serena Williams is ranked world number one in women's tennis with 21 Grand Slam singles titles, 15 Grand Slam doubles titles and four Olympic gold medals under her belt.

You'd be forgiven for assuming she lives and breathes tennis. But the 34-year-old says her game is better than ever now that she's learned there's "more to life than a sport".

In 2010 Williams experienced a series of health scares after she suffered from a haematoma (a solid swelling of clotted blood within the tissues) and pulmonary embolism (a blockage in the pulmonary artery).

Speculation arose as to whether she would retire from sport.

"I had blot clots bilaterally in my lungs and anyone knows that's not good," she explains in an interview for Makers UK.

"I didn't think about tennis at all. At that point I thought 'okay, I want to live.'"

Williams says it was the first time in her life she wasn't waking up and thinking about training.

"There's so much more to life than a sport. There's family and there's God and there's a bigger picture," she says.

In March 2011 she stepped back onto the tennis court and just two years later, she reclaimed her title as the number one female tennis player in the world.

"When I came back after all that I felt different," she says.

"I felt like I'd been given a second chance and I just felt like if I don't win, you know what, I'm alive.

"I started playing better because I wasn't so uptight - you play loose and free like you have nothing to lose."

This epic comeback is just one of the reasons why Williams was named Sports Illustrated's "Sportsperson of the Year" in December 2015.

She's the first woman to receive the accolade since 1999.

"I feel like I'm being recognised for all of the hard work that I've done," she says.

"I feel like it was not only a win for me, but for all women in general."

The award was monumental, but as a black woman in sport, Williams has been breaking down barriers around race and gender her entire career.

"When Venus and I came on the scene it was something different. You don't see black people in the locker room," she says.

"I didn't know we would influence a whole nation and culture and the world to start playing."

The path to success hasn't always been easy, but Williams believes when women support one another, anything is possible.

"When you're breaking down barriers, there's gonna be moments where you're not going to be comfortable," she says.

"It takes a team, it takes a village, especially as women, to stand together and do things together."

Why Having A Fitness Friend Is Important

Tamsin Kelly   |   June 6, 2016    4:41 PM ET

Imagine this scene. Your friend arrives at your front door in running gear, raring to go and you say "Aw, sorry, I don't really feel like it." It's never going to happen, is it?

When you're lazing on the sofa TV surfing, you might say that to yourself. But can you imagine giving your friend that sort of excuse? And this is precisely why exercising with a friend can be a very good idea - more motivation, no feeble excuses and of course, once you're out together, you'll remember it's fun to catch up while being active together.

The key thing is to pick your fit friend wisely, points out Kathryn Freeland, celebrity personal trainer and founder of Absolute Fitness. "You need a friend who's reliable, who's a similar level of fitness and who wants to do an activity you'll enjoy at a time that will work for you," she says. "Beware, of making lots of plans, going, "Yay, it's going to be great" - and then nothing happens."

So getting fit with a friend gives you a moral obligation to turn up. Plus, you're going to push yourself that bit harder when you're with someone else, even it's jogging to the next lamp post instead of copping out and walking. A recent UK study of women's exercise behaviour found that 64% of women who train with their friends were more likely to push their workouts to the limit than those who exercised on their own.

"I love exercising with my friends," says runner and blogger Bethan Taylor. "Heading out for a run or to do some circuits in the park is a fab - and free - way to catch up and spend quality time with your mates. If you're with your friends you're more likely to try that little bit harder as you can motivate each other when things start to feel tough, with the massive advantage of knowing which type of encouragement works best because you know each other so well.

A sporting challenge among friends can help you to push each other and stretch your limits. Why not enter a charity 5k race together or go to a local parkrun together? Bethan says: "If you want to have extra fun at a race grab a friend - you'll pace each other, gently encourage each other when things get tough and act as a personal cheer squad."

You'll also find that sharing personal fitness goals with a friend brings you closer - and keeps you going. Interestingly, more than 40% of participants drop a fitness course shortly after it begins if they attend on their own. But if they work out with a friend, the dropout rate decreases to 6%. When you achieve a personal best on your own, of course, it feels fantastic. But when you've got a 'personal cheer squad' friend, as Bethan calls it, who know how hard you've worked to conquer your inner sofa slug, it feels even better. And when you have an off day, the understanding from a friend can make things better and silence your personal 'I can't do it' demons.

When you're doing it with a friend, exercise is also a lot more fun - which again, means you're more likely to stick at it and make fitness a regular and enjoyable habit. Laughing and chatting distract you and when you've got the support of a friend, you're more likely to up the ante and try something new. Can you really see yourself doing sit ups or bench presses in the park by yourself without feeling silly? Dangling from a jungle gym in the park without a friend egging you on?

You should also think about exercising with your partner. Studies have shown that couples who exercise together regularly are happier in their relationship: working out together strengthens the relationship and enhances sexual attraction. You don't have to get sweaty in the gym together. What about a weekend cycle ride, or joining a fun new class, like learning to salsa. Having a laugh, learning something new together and getting fit together. What's not to like?

Bipolar Management (Tricky Business)

Oli Jones   |   April 19, 2016    8:20 AM ET

Bipolar really is manageable - six weeks of sleep deprivation (Almost slipped but back on track).

Almost a year ago to the day, my recovery from Bipolar disorder was about to start. I was prescribed lithium which started to work almost immediately and since then, bar the odd few days, my mood and my life has been the most stable for 13 years.

However the last six weeks have provided me with a real test and have proved as a stark reminder of how my condition must continue to be managed and probably will have to be for the rest of my days.

Around six weeks ago, my sleep really started to suffer. Prior to this I had been sleeping really well getting on average 6-8 hours per night and there was no sign of any change. However, something clearly switched in my brain and body and I started to get less and less sleep. After a few weeks, some nights I was not sleeping at all, however I didn't feel that my mood was changing. A lack of sleep for me can often indicate an upturn in mood and can signify a shift to mania. I am aware of this, but as I stated, initially I didn't feel any shift in mood.

The lack of sleep persisted and suddenly I found myself with bundles of energy, my mind was racing and believe me, this is fun, but left untreated is very dangerous.

I had to cut right down on the amount of exercise that I was doing (which frustrated me highly) as contrary to popular belief, intense exercise could have stimulated my body and mind even more and therefore exasperating the problem. I also had to increase the amount of medication to help me sleep.

Along with the frustration of not being able to do what I wanted to do, other elements of my life started to deteriorate. My diet became erratic and my sleeping patterns where all over the place. Fortunately everybody at my place of work, Brooklands Sports Club, are aware of my Bi Polar and the majority of people understood that I had to take a back seat for a few weeks, often taking a few days off to manage my deteriorating sleep patterns. I had great support as always but some people just did not understand. Is oli ill? Is he going to be off work for months? If he's feeling slightly high, why is he taking time off? These are valid questions, because that is what has happened in the past.

The support has been outstanding as ever but still the nagging doubts arise from certain key people. It is very difficult for people living without mental illness to understand it, try as they might. Am I expecting people to understand it and feel sorry for me? No. Absolutely not.
There have been, as ever, lots of messages of support via text, email and phone calls which are amazing to receive and really do help.

As this episode of hardly sleeping continued, people around me and I, myself, became more and more frustrated resulting in me regretting some of my actions and being rueful of some of the things I've said. I like to think of myself as a fairly thoughtful and caring person but I have not covered myself in glory with my behaviour over the last couple of weeks and for that I am sorry. I am no angel.

Then, last week, my sleep improved. I had a quick trip over to Cleethorpes for some fresh sea air and a change of scenery and I sit here today feeling much more like myself.

I have not had to take months off work, I have not had the inevitable depression that follows a high and in the last few days, I have been running and been to the gym, played tennis and feel great. Last night I got 7 hours sleep which feels magic.

I feel a huge sense of achievement as I feel that this is the first time I have had to really manage my condition, adapting my lifestyle to reflect where my mood is. Did everybody agree with how I managed it? No. Could I have done it better? Of course. We can all do everything better. I live and learn.

Game, Set and Mismatch: Is Djokovic Missing the Point?

Beckie Middleton   |   March 22, 2016    9:13 PM ET

Prize money should be "fairly distributed" according to "who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets"

In the name of fairness, before I get stuck into this topic I do want to spare a thought for Novak Djokovic. He probably just wanted to answer a few questions about the tournament he'd won, humbly pay his beaten opponent some compliments and get out of the press room to enjoy his victory. Instead - and with no small thanks to the idiotic comments of the Indian Wells tournament CEO - a journalist threw him a grenade. Novak was tired and sweaty and his footwork hadn't let him down all week. But instead of a deft sidestep, a "No comment," or an "I don't really want to talk about that right now," he slipped. He's allowed to voice his opinion, of course. It's just that an opinion on this particular topic is always going to cause a bit of a stir.

As usual, I'm not planning to burn my bra or march to Westminster over this. Djokovic's words might hold some truth and I think it's important to consider these arguments too. On the face of it, there is a certain degree of logic to his answer. As an entertainment-hungry public, we are prepared to pay a premium to see superstars perform. It would be good to have a situation where lower ranked performers find themselves in a more financially viable position to climb the ladder, but it's pretty easy to admit I'd pay more to watch a top player than an average one. There's no doubt that supply and demand have an impact on sportspeople's earning potential - if you attract more attention, maybe you should be paid more. However, I'd argue that ultimately this is more about your profile as an athlete and your ability to attract endorsements. We're talking about prize money - should the 'attention' you receive really impact on how much you're paid in the same way your results do?

Of course, it's still going to be a bit difficult for many people to digest without raising an eyebrow. Does a man who has now earned almost $100 million in career prize money alone need an extra few hundred thousand dollars here or there? The counter argument is easy: you should be paid what you deserve. Top tennis players work in an arena where enormous financial rewards are available. Don't forget that as spectators, we create this by paying for Sky TV and devouring the sports pages - but the 'morality' of this lucrative environment is a discussion for another time.

For me, the biggest discussions Djoko's comments raise are around this concept of fairness. How can we measure "fair distribution" accurately? Should we rely on a stereotypical inclination to assume that more people buy tickets to watch men's tennis, or should we focus on the fact that the women's 2015 US Open final sold out more quickly than the men's? Every single Grand Slam singles final for both genders is always played in front of a capacity crowd. As spectators, do we bank on a battle between Djokovic and Andy Murray being better, or do we buy into the frequently enthralling unpredictability of a match in the women's tournament?
...An erudite friend of mine summed that up perfectly: "While I love Andy Murray as much as the next one-eyed Scot, the men's [2016] Aussie Open final was worth about a fiver. The women's final, on the other hand, was an absolute cracker."

The other problem as I see it is that Djokovic's statement is too focused on 'now'. Let's imagine a world where men and women live, work, speak, aspire and are perceived completely equally. In that world, if men's tennis truly generates more attention and sells more tickets, then maybe it would be reasonable to consider allocating prize money on the basis of gender. But we don't live in that world. It's all well and good making an offhand statement that people prefer men's tennis, but whether or not it is true, in an environment where it's still pushed more, broadcast more, talked about more, that doesn't automatically mean it should be "worth" more. And perhaps more importantly, shouldn't we be concerned about creating and supporting an environment that allows change and enables players' potential to be realised regardless of their gender?

A great rivalry, an intense battle or a superhuman performance on a sports field isn't determined by whether you're a man or a woman. At the moment though, the number of column inches and the amount of discussion about these things does tend to be shaped by the gender of the players involved. Maybe as the guy who wins the most tournaments and sells more than his fair share of tickets, Djokovic has a legitimate claim that money in tennis could be allocated more fairly according to these criteria. But is that because he's Novak Djokovic, or because he's a man? Without a magical way to measure what 'fairly' really means in tennis, sport and on a wider scale, life, I'd argue that gender simply isn't a wise yardstick to use.

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Djokovic Double Faulted in Reopening Can of Worms That Should Have Stayed Shut

Gabriel Samuels   |   March 22, 2016    4:33 PM ET

Just when it seemed that anyone who wasn't a troll or rooted in the past had moved on from the debate over whether male and female tennis players should have equal pay, Novak Djokovic just had to go stick his size-nine foot right in it.

I don't think I was alone in being deeply disappointed, as the world Number 1 always came across one of the good guys - although now I'm thinking that perception may have been misplaced.

A sinewy beast on the court, the Djoker has always been a diplomatic - and seemingly liberal - presence off it. He has stood up for charitable causes after natural disasters, and has grown into a worthy ambassador of his sport and its universal graces.

He regularly tweets positive things like 'We, young generations are standing on the shoulders of giants' - which he sent to Billie Jean King - and 'Let's use our voice to do good for this world'. It's just a shame he couldn't follow his own advice on that last one.

Novak is typically at his slick best during press conferences - measured in his thoughts, wise in his words and likeable in his opinions. As with his performances on court, stumbles are few and far between.

Yet this time, seemingly for no reason at all, he chose to flail his way into the issue of equal pay between men and women - a row which has been flogged to death, and which didn't belong in 21st century sport in the first place.

What on earth could he have meant - that men should be paid more? Or women less?
After praising the good work of the WTA, why in God's name did he not just stop talking? How can someone who is 'completely for women's power' simultaneously harbour such outdated views?

The awkwardness after that moment was palpable. Djokovic fumbled, floundered and fought to express his opinions clearly but every way he said it, he seemed more and more like that slightly bigoted uncle who tries to make sense of 'womens' rights' after a couple of Merlots.

Then, in a moment that needed to be seen to be believed, he started barking on about women's 'hormones' and bodies 'being different' - prompting comedy "cut-it-out" hand gestures from the entire sane population of Planet Earth.

Quite rightly, his comments have prompted howls of outrage and disbelief from all quarters. Surely the best thing to do in this situation would be to simply ignore his short-sighted stance, even ridicule it.

But as he is the top male tennis player in the world and a huge star - accompanied by the usual responsibilities of being a role-model and a mouthpiece for his sport - the whole argument will be dusted off and cracked open for business once again.

Perhaps what is even more worrying is how this non-issue turns some liberal-minded men into raging, right-wing numbskulls - as evidenced by the reactions of certain individuals on Twitter today.

For the final time - continuing this debate will not be necessary. Yes, the men's circuit generates more money and has more followers than the women's; yes, men play five sets and women play three at grand slams, and per game women will thus get paid more.

These 'arguments' have well and truly passed their sell-by date. Winning Wimbledon is winning Wimbledon - success in tennis is not, and has never been, based on the amount of time a player spends on the court. End of discussion.

The pretty sizeable difference between 'equal work' and 'work of equal' value appears to still confuse some people. When said people appreciate the concept of value progression - that it is ability that should always count, and not 'hormones' or 'body differences' (in heavily inverted commas) - sport will be a better place for all.

The thought that the aspirations of a young and ambitious female tennis player could be dented by the injustices of being paid less than a man, simply because women's tennis is not quite as popular, is something that should never be an option.

All these things go without saying - and it's depressing that people have to say them once again. Believe what you like Novak - but next time stick to the day job you do so well.

Less Balls Please - Why Tennis Should Keep Pay Equal

Jenny Laville   |   March 21, 2016    3:38 PM ET

When is equal not equal? When it's tennis prize money apparently. Tennis is one of the few sports where the women's game is treated with the same gravity and reward as the men's. You'd have thought that this is something the tennis world would be proud of, but sadly, it's something that continues to be questioned more than it's celebrated.

It's probably not worth going into the comments made by Raymond Moore, Indian Wells CEO, on the subject recently because they were ridiculous involving 'coat-tails' and 'getting down on knees' and other such nonsense, which he retracted with an apology soon after. However his statement triggered questions asked to Novak Djokovic who makes a more interesting and coherent argument largely based on the same premise, but without the needless misogyny. Djokovic basically says, good on the women for working hard and getting equal pay, but men should ask for more money because they get more spectators.

Now the problem with this argument is that it is based on a transient quantity. As Chris Evert tweeted: 'Now is the Golden Era 4 men, no doubt, but women have worked, fought harder, and have been bigger draws many times.'

Serena Williams points out that she and her sister are massive draws to the game and that the women's final at the US Open sold out before the men's. Regardless of gender, some players are more interesting to watch or have more support than others. If prize money is based on ticket sales, why draw the distinction along gender-lines? Why not pay more to players bringing in a large home crowd, or the prettier players or the more dynamic players?

The fact is that 'bigger-draw' tennis players already earn more because of sponsorship and endorsements. This is where Djokovic's popularity-related pay is currently at work and it is far more responsive to the market-place than prize-money ever could be.

There is always the old argument that women should get a smaller prize because they play shorter three-set games rather than the standard men's five sets, which on the face of it sounds fair enough. However the WTA have repeatedly offered to play the longer game, but have been turned down by the ITA presumably because sport generally is moving towards shorter games to attract more spectators. Many people still maintain that these highly trained dedicated athletes couldn't handle five sets because they are female. Everyone knows that their breasts would fall off by the forth and if it went to a tie-breaker their wombs would explode.

Tennis governing bodies need a reality check, women don't run shorter distances in athletics or play on smaller pitches in football. The 3 sets/5 sets difference should be addressed, but not by restricting how long women can play and then docking their pay accordingly. Only nutters would argue that's fair and nutters shouldn't really be entertained in the debate *side-eye to Raymond Moore*.

If you are giving someone a lower rate of pay because of their gender, that is wrong. Djokovic may say it's based on popularity of players, but it's gender he is using as the dividing line, not gate receipts. Men and women tennis players get the same prize money because, as Djokovic acknowledges, they do more-or-less the same job. There are many who argue that there are significant differences in style of play not to mention length of game (take it up with the ITF), but I would compare the situation to modelling where, unusually women generally get more than men. Defenders of this disparity say that more demands are placed on female models in terms of weight, nudity etc, and that a woman's career is shorter, which is all true, but pay should be defined by the job not the gender, be it in the court or the catwalk.

Ultimately what is prize money for? It's not wage or profit sharing. It's to attract the best players and draw the biggest audience. If you raise the men's pot, what do you achieve? The same players will play, the same spectators will go, but you will have dramatically undermined the women's game, and lost one of the sports' greatest qualities- it's equality.

(And for everyone itching to tell me that it's 'fewer balls' - I'm using balls as an adjective.)

Novak Djokovic's Comment Shows Why a Business Case Perspective May Actually Harm Gender Equality

Jawad Syed   |   March 21, 2016    1:34 PM ET

2016-03-21-1458565693-7873923-Novak_Djokovic_19528970049.jpg

In a controversial yet thought provoking comment, world number one Novak Djokovic has questioned equal prize money in tennis, suggesting men should be paid more as they have more spectators. Djokovic made these remarks after winning the BNP Paribas Open final on 20 March 2016. He said:

"Stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men's tennis matches. I think that is one of the... reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. As long as it is like that and there is data and stats available and information... upon who attracts more attention, spectators, who sells more tickets and stuff like that, in relation to that it has to be fairly distributed."

He further said that male players should follow in the footsteps of the female players who "fought for what they deserve and they got it. On the other hand I think that our men's tennis world should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men's tennis matches. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve."


The comment can be analysed from two perspectives on diversity, i.e., business case and social justice case.

From a purely business perspective, the argument that 'the viewing statistics may be used to determine fair distribution of prizes at joint events' seems to be credible. This is broadly consistent with the human resource management principle of pay for performance or commission for sales.

However, the argument also highlights why a purely business perspective may not be enough to promote equality and diversity. Indeed, such perspective seems to ignore two interconnected issues:

(a) The historical stereotyping and disadvantage of women in all fields of life including sports; and

(b) Diversity of women and men. A neglect of gender diversity results in the sameness paradigm, which is problematic because women's and men's issues and life cycles are not and must not be treated as identical.

Interestingly while Djokovic alludes to physical differences between women and men ("Their bodies are much different to men's bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don't have to go through...the hormones and different stuff."), he does not mention the historical disadvantage that women have been sustaining since time immemorial until today due to these very differences. He seems to ignore that these differences need to be valued and accommodated to create greater equality and inclusion, instead of being used to reinforce and augment the existing gender gaps not only in sports but also in entertainment, employment, politics and leadership.

From a social justice perspective of diversity, it is unfair that women should be evaluated and paid less for their anatomical differences. The fact that hormones, implying period, do affect women's training and performance is not in dispute. However, life cycle and anatomical differences should not be used to penalise women, such as those women whose careers are adversely affected due to maternity leave and traditional family roles. Instead such differences should be valued and accommodated in organisational structures and routines. For example, an inclusive approach to gender diversity is reflected in Grand Slams where women play only three sets compared to men who are required to play five.

The fact that the resale prices of Wimbledon debenture seat tickets for men's finals' tickets are usually two to three times costlier than those for women's final is perhaps not only a measure of popularity but also indicates gender differences in total and disposable incomes. For example, in the UK the gender pay gap for median earnings of full-time employees is more than 9% and may be as high as 54% in top-level highest-paid jobs. Thus, ticket sales and viewership may reflect and reinforce social inequalities and stereotypes, and are a poor measure for actual performance.

There is also an issue of male vs. female binary which is at times emphasised at the cost of a complementary view of men and women. Indeed, many events are more successful when they combine women and men, which is why the trend has been toward combining rather than separating them.

Last but not least, there is also an issue of equity and class across the field, i.e., to distribute more money to the lower rungs of the sport. There is allegedly massive discrepancy between the top tier and lower tier earnings in Tennis and other sports which merits urgent attention.

Photo credits: By Tatiana from Moscow, Russia (via Wikimedia)

Sarah Harris1   |   March 21, 2016    9:08 AM ET

Novak Djokovic has found himself facing a deluge of criticism after weighing in with his view on equal pay in the world of tennis this weekend.

A huge number of people, including Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Jess Phillips, expressed their exasperation after the world number one questioned whether female players should be awarded equal prize money, although suggested that they deserved “respect” for going through “hormones and different stuff”.

The Serbian star said that men’s tennis pulls in more spectators, indicating that this meant it was acceptable for male players to be awarded more prize money.

Speaking after his victory at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, Djokovic said: "As long as it is like that and there is data and stats available and information... upon who attracts more attention, spectators, who sells more tickets and stuff like that, in relation to that it has to be fairly distributed."

However, he was quick to add that he had “tremendous respect” for female players, according to the Guardian, adding “Their bodies are much different to men’s bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don’t need to go into details. I have great admiration and respect for them to be able to fight on such a high level.

Equal pay in tennis

Women now earn equal prize money in the four major tennis tournaments.

Wimbledon was the last major to achieve gender parity, equalising the prizes in 2007.

The US open led the way in 1973, while the Australian Open followed in 2001 and Roland Garros in 2006.

 “Many of them have to sacrifice for certain periods of time, the family time or decisions that they make on their own bodies in order to play tennis and play professional sport. I have had a woman that was my coach and that was a huge part of my tennis career. I’m surrounded by women. I’m very happy to be married with one and to have a child. I’m completely for women power.”

However, his comments attracted a barrage of criticism on social media, with Labour MP Stella Creasy leading the charge:

Although some men claimed that since women play fewer sets, they should be paid less…

His comments come after a top tennis chief claimed that if he was a woman he would “go down every night on my knees” in thanks for male players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Indian Wells Tennis Garden CEO Raymond Moore said that the women’s WTA Tour “ride on the coat-tails of the men".

Moore added: "If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

He comments were slammed by Serena Williams as “offensive” and he later apologised.

Sarah Ann Harris   |   March 7, 2016    8:58 PM ET

Tennis star Maria Sharapova has been suspended from tennis after revealing she failed a drug test at the Australian Open.

The 28-year-old said she tested positive for meldonium, which she said she has been taking for 10 years for numerous health issues, the Associated Press reported.

Meldonium became a banned substance this year under the WADA code, and Sharapova claims she didn't notice its addition to the banned list.

Making the announcement at a news conference Monday in Los Angeles, the former world No. 1 said: “I know that with this, I face consequences."

maria sharapova

Maria Sharapova speaks at a news conference today

"I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

Sharapova's penalties could range from a multiyear ban to a minimal sanction with no suspension if officials believe she made an honest mistake.

The International Tennis Federation announced a provisional suspension starting 12 March, Sky News reported.

"I have to take full responsibility for it," Sharapova said. "It's my body, and I'm responsible for what I put into it."

SEE ALSO:

Sharapova said she tested positive in an in-competition test at the Australian Open, where she lost to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals on 26 January Sharapova hasn't played since while recovering from a forearm injury.

Meldonium, also known as mildronate, is a Latvian-manufactured drug popular for fighting heart disease in former Soviet Union countries. Several athletes have tested positive for the drug since it became illegal in January, including two Ukrainian biathletes and Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov. Earlier Monday, Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova, a European champion ice dancer, told local media she had tested positive for meldonium.

Sharapova is a former world No 1 and is currently No. 7 in the WTA rankings after playing just three tournaments and the Fed Cup final in the last eight months since Wimbledon due to injuries. She dropped out of the upcoming BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last Thursday, citing injury.