Thursday 22 February 2018

Off the Ball: Tennis must stick with equality ethos

Serena Williams returns serve as she loses to Victoria Azarenka in the final at Indian Wells. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images
Serena Williams returns serve as she loses to Victoria Azarenka in the final at Indian Wells. Photo: Harry How/Getty Images

Michael McCarthy

So last weekend Novak Djokovic suggested men should be paid more than women. Cue the usual uproar, followed by the usual uproar to the uproar.

In the defence of Djokovic came the cry of "fair enough" from usually reasonable commentators. After all, men attract more viewers to tennis - of course they should be paid more. In their world, the economics of cold hard business wins out every day.

But this isn't just business. This is sport. It should be about more than numbers. Isn't that what we crave for as sports fans? Don't we want sport to mean more than just business realities? We obviously understand that this is rarely the case, but even still, encouraging sexist pay systems in sport because of business realities is hardly the work of sports journalists.

It's a bit utopian to suggest that all women playing at a top level of their game should be paid what their male counterparts get. It's obviously never going to happen. In most sports, it's not even going to get close. But when one sport attempts to have a level playing field, why are they getting lambasted for it?

Tennis has been amongst the most progressive of sports in this regard. The women's game almost gets put on an equal footing. And for the most part, it has deserved to be. In the 1990s for example, I was more interested in the rivalry of Steffi Graf and Monica Seles than in the domination of Pete Sampras.


Things change. Serena Williams has won any time she felt like it for over a decade while we've had a true golden age in the men's game. It's swings and roundabouts.

Would the men be as quick to look for less if the women's game was dominating viewership? Doubtful. Would their finals still be on Sunday after the women play on Saturday? Of course they would. Novak Djokovic is hardly suffering from Wimbledon paying Serena Williams as much as him for winning the same tournament. His money is mainly made through endorsements anyway. If the market decides the women's game isn't worth as much, they won't lose much of that pie.

In workplaces all over the world, women are paid less than men. If you ask business owners why, they'll have a million excuses. People don't decide to do this. It's part of a corrupted system. Active steps can be taken to redress the balance. Divisive, retrograde decisions about prize money in tennis are not the way forward.

Women's sport has much bigger problems than this. Gaining even partial equity is near impossible in a lot of our most popular sports. Surely it's not the time to take it away in one of the few that treat them with respect.

Irish Independent

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