Sexism In Professional Tennis: Equal Pay for Equal Play

Posted by Mark Canavarro on

Serena Williams sexism in tennisIt’s been over 40 years since the notorious tennis “Battle of the Sexes” match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Bobby Riggs caused quite a stir commenting before the match that “the best way to handle women was to keep them barefoot and pregnant.” He did an excellent job of promoting the event with a constant stream of inflammatory comments. Billie Jean King easily won the nationally televised match in 1973 but many believe Riggs lost intentionally to win a large sum of money that he had bet against himself. The event struck a nerve with feminists and Billie Jean King was motivated to start the equal pay movement for female athletes. It’s hard to believe but the debate continues to this day.

Professional French tennis player Gilles Simon recently commented that “men’s tennis is really ahead of women’s tennis at this stage.” He continued to say that “I think we are the only sport that has parity with the women in terms of prize money. Meanwhile, men’s tennis remains more attractive than women’s tennis at this moment.” Gilles might have thought he was being politically correct by adding the caveats “at this stage” and “at this moment” but he has stirred up a huge backlash within the professional tennis community. An angry hornet’s nest would be an understatement in describing how the Women’s Tennis Association has responded to Gilles comments.

Sexism in tennis novak djokovic

It’s a fact that on average the men are bigger, stronger and have a faster serve speed than the women. The men serve the ball an average of 25 miles per hour faster than the women of professional tennis. It’s also a fact that the women and men play two completely different styles of tennis and both are entertaining in their own way. Others argue that the men should be paid more because they play the best of 5 sets in Grand Slam tennis matches while women play the best of 3. Does that mean that watching a boring one sided 5 set men’s match deserves more prize money than a women’s best of 3 that is competitive and gets better viewer ratings? No, it doesn’t, and it should be stressed that we watch tennis because we love it and want to see champions go head to head in a competitive match. Good competition is not gender biased and much of the attraction of tennis is about watching our favorite players ascend to greatness irrespective of whether they are men or women.

sexism in professional tennisSerena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are just a few of the reasons why we watch Grand Slam tennis. Star power is obviously not limited to the men’s or women’s professional game. Wimbledon made headlines six years ago when they announced that the prize money for the women’s champion would be equal to that of the men for the first time in their 125-year history. It shouldn’t have taken over a hundred years but if an institution as well respected as Wimbledon recognizes the value of women’s professional tennis the debate about equal pay in professional tennis should be over. Billie Jean King must feel both a sense of accomplishment and relief as more and more professional tournaments are offering equal prize money. These are positive steps in the right direction but comments like those made by Gilles Simon remind us that we’ve still got a long way to go!

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photo credit: y.caradec Maria Sharapova via photopin (license)
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photo credit: Edwin Martinez1 US Open 2013 Part 2 651 via photopin (license)
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