May 24, 2024

The Fight for Equality In Tennis 

The debate for equal prize money for men and women in tennis has been going on for years. Although the Grand Slam tournaments pay equal prize money to both men and women, most WTA tournaments do not. 

Billie Jean King, the pioneer for equal prize money for women in tennis, took part in ‘The Battle of Sexes’ to prove that women deserved equal pay as men. She played a match against Bobby Riggs, a 55-year-old man who claimed that women were inferior to men and that “women belong in the bedroom and the kitchen, in that order,” and therefore they did not deserve equal pay. The match was played in front of 30,000 spectators and a worldwide TV audience of millions. King won in straight sets and won $100,000, which is equivalent to $658,000 today, while Riggs got nothing. 

This event sparked the debate over equal prize money in tennis. To ensure better pay for women, Billie Jean King created a separate women’s tour in 1973, which was called WTA (Women’s Tennis Association), attracting major sponsors and hence offering improved pay for women. After the creation of a separate tour, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money to women. The other major tournaments followed, with the Australian Open offering equal prize money since 2001 and the French Open and Wimbledon offering equal prize money since 2006 and 2007, respectively.

One of the most popular arguments against equal prize money for women is that, as men play longer matches than women, they deserve more pay. However, the governing body of tennis, the International Tennis Foundation (ITF), which oversees all Grand Slams, dictates that men have to play best-of-five-set matches while women have to play best-of-three-set matches. Women have no voice in this decision. Many female players have also expressed their eagerness to play five set matches, according to WTA chairman Stacey Allaster. This rule has created the misconception that women are not resilient enough to endure five sets. Although women play fewer sets, they train as much as men do and put in just as much effort, if not more.

Just because men have to play longer matches doesn’t mean they are worthy of higher pay. By this logic, champions who play finals of four or five sets should be paid more than champions who are able to finish a match within three sets. This is not what the sport of tennis stands for or represents. Hence, denying women equal prize money for these reasons is unfair. 

Another popular argument against equal prize money for women is that women’s tennis is less popular than men’s tennis. Although the popularity of men’s tennis is higher, the popularity of women’s tennis is increasing at a high rate, and in some cases, it has exceeded the popularity of men’s tennis. The 2015 US Open women’s singles final between Serena Williams and Venus Williams sold out more quickly than the men’s singles final, and the 2005 Wimbledon women’s singles final between Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport drew one million more viewers than the men’s singles final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. 

In figure skating and gymnastics, the women’s games usually attract higher audiences than the men’s games. Yet, men and women are paid equally in both of these sports. Moreover, following this logic of popularity indicating pay, popular players should be paid more than unpopular players as they attract more audiences and sponsors. However, this will not be fair. 

Moreover, the low popularity of women’s sports has become a vicious loop where if women’s sports garnered more popularity, then sponsors and media outlets would devote more resources—both financial and time—to cover them. Women’s sports would undoubtedly attract more viewers if there were more sponsorships and media coverage. However, fans’ interest in women’s sport is increasing gradually, as sixty-one percent of sports fans think elite female athletes are as talented as their male counterparts, and over fifty percent think watching them is equally thrilling.

Therefore, these reasons are not enough to deny women equal prize money in tennis. In a world that increasingly advocates for equality, both men and women should be paid equally for equal work. Hence, tennis has to catch up with the world and ensure women are paid equal prize money as their male counterparts across all tournaments.  

What are your thoughts about equal prize money in tennis? Let us know in the comment section below.

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