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.)