Friday, June 29, 2012

Equal Pay for Women Tennis Players

Ah, good. Once again, the arguments over equal pay for women tennis players have been raised.

Now, in a sane universe, it would be simple: men and women should be paid the same money for the same work. Period.

However, in this instance there actually are some sane arguments to be made:

  • Firstly, and most obviously, male players play five sets in the major tournaments, while female players play only three.
  • As a direct consequence of this, female players can play a couple of additional competitions during the year, and so supplement their income.
  • It's also true that tennis is actually unusual in that the female athletes typically do have higher earnings than their male counterparts - they tend to significantly supplement their income by modelling and the like.
  • The prize money from the competition comes from audience attendance and TV rights. And, like it or not, the male competition is the bigger draw.

(Of course, there's another argument, which suggests that these are all hugely-paid, extremely priviledged athletes, who have fabulous non-jobs. So, really, arguments over whether they get half a million dollars or a million dollars for two weeks' 'work' are pretty disgusting. But then, it's a matter of principle, so...)

For me, here's what it comes down to: tennis is one of very few sports where the women's game enjoys a comparable profile to the men's. Most sports, if there is a women's competition at all, essentially treat it as a poor cousin - tournaments are held separately, they tend not to be televised, they don't get the same sponsorship, and so on. (Athletics is another fairly egalitarian sport, but tennis has a much higher profile.)

Since tennis is the shining example in this regard, I would argue that it really should take the opportunity to strike the blow for equality across the board.

And so, yes, female competitors should receive the same prize money as the males. That's only right. (And at all competitions, not just the major tournaments.)

But what's also right is that they should compete under the same parameters as the men - that is, best of five sets at the majors. (Alternately, have the men play best of three sets at the majors. Either works, but it should be the same.)

That negates the "they do less" argument, and it also eliminates any argument that they can equalise their earnings by playing more competitions. I don't accept the argument that the women earn more due to modelling and sponsorship as being relevant - that's a side issue (and, anyway, represents extra 'work'). And neither do I accept the "TV rights" argument, as a few years ago the men's game was in a slump (being dominated by the big servers, and so utterly dull) while it was the women's game that was interesting - so that one's swings and roundabouts.

I also don't accept the argument that the men's game is about power/endurance while the women's game is about skill. After all, the entire reason that the Williams sisters dominated women's tennis for so long was precisely because of power. And, of course, that grunting that has so destroyed the women's game is allegedly about power. (Though I suspect that's what we call a 'lie'. These days, it's almost certainly more about getting a psychological edge.)

Fundamentally, though, as long as women get lower prize money or they play fewer sets, the argument will persist from one side or the other. The only way to end it is to equalise both. Conveniently, that's also the right thing to do.

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