Thursday 22 February 2018

Kevin Palmer: Should women get paid the same as men at Wimbledon? The notion has never been harder to justify

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 29: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams attend Arthur Ashe Kids Day 2015 at the US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 29, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Uri Schanker/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 29: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Serena Williams attend Arthur Ashe Kids Day 2015 at the US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 29, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Uri Schanker/FilmMagic)
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

"Her match lasted just 48 minutes...but Serena Williams says female players deserve equal pay."

They are the words of a hastily deleted message offered up by the official BBC Sport Twitter account after one of the more desperate occasions witnessed on Centre Court at this year's Wimbledon Championships.

Even at the ripe age of 34, Williams' ability to blast her opponent Elena Vesnina off the court in a 6-2, 6-0 victory that was little more than a slaughter of a hopelessly outclassed opponent fired a dagger through the credibility of women's tennis once more.

Read more: BBC condemned for tweet about Serena Williams

Elder sister Venus Williams was involved in a slightly more entertaining semi-final that was won by Germany's Angelique Kerber in the second semi-final and yet 15 minutes before 4pm, the main event of the afternoon was over for the paying public who had paid a minimum of £126-per-ticket for this sporting feast.

As the clock ticked past 3.45 on Wimbledon's Centre Court 24 hours later, Roger Federer and Milos Raonic were embroiled in an epic men's semi-final, with Andy Murray's match against Tomas Berdych set to extend the entertainment well into the evening in an event everyone wants to see.

Yet despite the imbalance of entertainment, Williams will collect a cool £2m if she beats Kerber in Saturday's final, with the men's champion getting the same amount for his much more demanding triumph on Sunday afternoon.

While no-one would begrudge the great Serena a place among the greatest sporting champions of all-time, the notion that the American is worthy of the same pay packet as the men's Wimbledon champion has never been harder to justify.

Tennis legends Billie Jean-King and Martina Navratilova are among those who fought long and hard for equal pay at their sport's showpiece events, even though women's matches are played over the course of three sets and men's over the more arduous five-set route.

"I don't deserve to be paid less because of my sex," declared Williams, as the subject of equal pay was raised in her post match press briefing on Thursday.

"Basically my whole life I've been doing this. I haven't had a life.

"I would like to see people - the public, the press, other athletes in general - just realise and respect women for who they are and what we are and what we do."

Respect, indeed, is due to Williams for the dedication and brilliance she has displayed in romping to six Wimbledon titles, not to mention the 15 other Grand Slam accolades on her glittering record.

Meanwhile, it is also fair to suggest that Williams' dominance of the women's game over the last decade and more is due, partly, to the lack of quality opposition she has had to face and yet a handful of questions need to be asked in this enduring and polarising debate.

If the case for the defence is presented by Williams and her fellow lady players, here is the alternative viewpoints.

It's no coincidence that Wimbledon organisers generally schedule two men's matches and just one ladies singles game on Centre Court every day.

Having attended most days of The Championships from a privileged seat in the Centre Court press box, it is also dutiful to report that once the men's match is concluded and the ladies arrived on court, it tends to be a cue for most present to make their way for the exits to enjoy some hospitality. The crowd tends to return to their seats en-mass when the gentlemen (as they are referred to by Wimbledon organisers) are back on court an hour or so later. This is a fact, not a slight on the women's game.

So it almost seems unfair to ask the question whether you would rather part with a sizeable sum of cash to watch Federer, Murray and company in action, or whether an afternoon observing Serena and Venus Williams strutting their stuff would be preferable.

If the ladies played their matches over the best of five sets at Wimbledon and if they served up the kind of drama we see year after year from the greats of the men's game, this debate would not even be mentioned and yet here we are again.

After world No.1 Novak Djokovic was embroiled in what became an unpleasant dispute over equal pay in his sport earlier this year, the subject all women who have worked so hard to earn parity in their sporting profession is back on the agenda.

Nothing is likely to change in tennis any time soon...and that includes the chasm in entertainment levels between the men's and women's game. 

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