Wednesday 12 December 2018

John McEnroe defends BBC commentary pay packet after Martina Navratilova complaints

John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova
John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova

Paul Newman

John McEnroe has defended his Wimbledon commentary pay packet from the BBC on the basis that “you get paid based on the job that you do”.

The veteran American will be working for the BBC again at Wimbledon, which begins next week, alongside Martina Navratilova, who complained earlier this year about the discrepancies in the broadcaster’s pay for men and women.

Navratilova expressed her shock when it was disclosed that McEnroe was being paid more than £150,000 by the BBC. “I get about £15,000 for Wimbledon and unless John McEnroe’s doing a whole bunch of stuff outside of Wimbledon he’s getting at least 10 times as much money,” Navratilova told the BBC’s Panorama programme.

The BBC said at the time that the roles of McEnroe and Navratilova were “simply not comparable” and insisted that gender was not a factor. Navratilova, who complained nevertheless that “male voices are valued more than women's voices” later revealed that she had agreed a deal to work for the BBC again at Wimbledon, though it was not clear whether she was being paid more.

Looking ahead to this summer’s Championships, McEnroe insisted that the pay debate was “not a black and white issue”. He explained: “I don’t think it’s simply like people receiving the same pay. You’re not going out and playing Wimbledon or the US Open. This is a totally different animal. We can agree on that, right?

“It’s like if you work at a magazine or a paper and there’s a woman and a man: I believe you’re going to get paid based on the job that you do, in the opinion of the paper. Right? And if the girl does the better job she should get more money. That’s what it boils down to.”

McEnroe said he had not discussed the matter with Navratilova. “We’re not in the same place that often and it doesn’t come up,” he said.

The former Wimbledon champion said he enjoyed working for the BBC because it gave him “the opportunity to present myself in a different way”. He added: “At least people see me in a slightly different light than they saw me on the court, so I think it’s been mutually beneficial hopefully.”

Asked what he enjoyed most about his BBC role, McEnroe said: “It’s like being an ambassador for the game in a way, and hopefully also adding some insight, but also just enjoying the experience of Wimbledon, because I get to see it through a different lens to when I was playing. Certainly in the beginning things were rocky.”

As a former player who is not afraid to speak his mind, McEnroe has become one of the best commentators in tennis. He insists that he makes “constructive” observations, though he admits that as a player he did not like it when former professionals made criticisms which he felt were unjustified.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to accept it,” he said. “You’re obviously entitled to your opinion. That’s the game. I know guys coming after me was frustrating, but you at least think about it. 

“I think that ultimately what I want to do is to do something where they would actually take it and it would actually help that person down the road, as opposed to hurt them. Hurting someone, to me that’s not what I want to do. But I do not like it when I do not see people giving all-out effort.”

Asked which other commentators he liked, McEnroe singled out the BBC’s Sue Barker. “I believe that Sue does a very good job, but don’t tell her that, because her head is already very big,” he joked. “She is juggling and has got people in her ear all the time. That’s already a lot tougher than what I do.”

McEnroe had typically forthright opinions when asked whether Serena Williams should be seeded at Wimbledon. The women’s seedings normally follow the world rankings, though Wimbledon reserves the right to diverge from them in order to produce what it calls “a balanced draw”. The All England Club will announce their seedings on Wednesday.

The recent French Open decided not to seed Williams, who is currently ranked No 183 in the world. The 36-year-old American has played only seven matches since beginning her comeback following the birth of her daughter.

Asked where he would seed Williams next week, McEnroe said: “Somewhere between one and 10, one and 16 at the worst. I don’t think there would be a player that would complain, especially the top ones, if she was one of the top eight. Why in the world would they want to play her in the first, second or third round? Nor should they, in my opinion.”

A counter-argument to seeding the seven-times Wimbledon champion is the fact that it would mean another player (in this case Dominika Cibulkova, the current world No 32) would not be seeded, despite having earned her place in the rankings through her efforts over the last year.

However, McEnroe insisted that Williams’ box-office appeal alone would justify her seeding.  He said that he had commentated at the French Open for the American broadcaster NBC, whose ratings on the day Williams played were “50 per cent more” than a year previously.

“It’s like Tiger Woods when he came back,” McEnroe said. “All of a sudden it’s top of the ratings. Forget the fact that she has won 23 majors and what she brings to the table. I’m sorry, I apologise to the 32nd player in the world. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. I just don’t think it’s right to think that way.”

Andy Murray, who is currently ranked No 156 in the world after being out of the game for 11 months because of a hip injury, will not be seeded. Although the men’s seedings give extra weight to grass-court results over the last two years, the seeds still have to be the 32 highest-ranked players in the entry list.

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