It seems that talking about pay in football just causes arguments – see the comments on Wednesday’s post. So as a change from football, let’s consider the question:
Is it fair that the men’s and women’s prizes at Wimbledon are the same?
Obviously we don’t care about this, so I’m sure we can all have a nice convivial discussion and still be friends at the end of it. I don’t know how many ladies read this blog, but I suspect less than 50 per cent of the total. But that won’t matter – we blokes are all very fair-minded so I know we’ll come to the right conclusion.
As background info, the 2012 Wimbledon prize money in the singles was:
And the doubles:
Winners: £260,000 (£130,000 each)
Same amounts for both sexes, of course.
So what are the arguments for men and women at Wimbledon being paid this equal prize money:
- Men and women players all have to train equally hard
- Women may not be as fast and strong as men, and therefore as good as men at tennis, but that’s not their fault, it’s just their physiology
- Some people (women tennis players mainly, to be truthful) say that women’s tennis is often more entertaining than men’s
- Equality is a good principle – same pay for the same job
And the arguments against:
- Is it right to reward for trying, or to reward for success? At Grand Slam tournaments, men play five sets and women play three, so the winning man has to do a lot more work to get the same money as the winning woman. This year Roger Federer played 236 games, an average of 33.7 per match, while women’s champion Serena Williams played 169, an average of 24.1 per match. So Serena played 71% of Fed’s total, but got paid the same.
The fact that men play longer and harder meant that Roger doesn’t really have the option of entering the doubles. The top ladies aren’t so restricted, and Serena won that as well. She played 127 games, at an average of 21.2 per match to do it. Her figures are probably a bit higher than her career average, because unusually in both singles and doubles she had matches that went to three sets where she won the third set 9-7. Last year Petra Kvitova played only 136 games to win the ladies’ singles, and the year before Serena won by playing only 129.
Serena’s total games this year were therefore 296 compared to Fed’s 236, but of course Serena pocketed an extra £130,000 of doubles prize money. So overall for effort expended per pound sterling she did slightly worse than Fed – £4,324 per game against £4,872. Of course I’m not measuring the length of time they’re playing, so I’ll have to assume for the purposes of this that all games average out to equal length.
But if Fed looks to have done better than Serena, take a look at the men’s doubles: the winning doubles team in the men’s tournament, Marray and Nielsen, played a massive 304 games to win their title, at an average of 50.7 per match. If Fed had entered the doubles he might have played 540 games to get the same money as Serena did for her 296.
Looked at from another angle, why should Marray and Neilsen have to work so hard in the doubles for a measly £130,000 each when Serena and Venus Williams can stroll through most of their doubles matches so easily that they can tear up the singles as well? Marray and Neilson earned themselves just £428 per game in the doubles, while Serena and Venus’s per game figure was £1,024!
Now I accept that paying by the game would obviously be daft – you could get players deliberately taking it easy until they got to 6-6 in every set and then just going for it in the tiebreakers. But it’s still obvious that the earning potential for the men is less than for the women.
- Men are better at tennis, so why shouldn’t they be paid more? French player Giles Simon claimed that all 128 men in the draw could beat all the 128 women at Wimbledon. I don’t know if that’s true, but if you put Federer or Djokovic against any of the ladies it wouldn’t last long. Ace; ace; ace; ace; 1-0; etc.
You may have heard, or may remember if you’re old enough, that back in the ‘70s aging men’s former player Bobby Riggs – the 1939 Wimbledon champion – challenged Billie Jean King to a match in an attempt to prove that even at the age of 55 he was better than the top women. King at first declined, so Margaret Court, then 30 and the top ranked woman in the world stepped in. Riggs beat her 6-2, 6-1 on May 13, 1973.
Billie Jean then decided she needed to defend the honour of women, and a $100,000 winner takes all match with Riggs was arranged, which King won 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 by playing a good tactical game and wearing Riggs out by staying on the baseline and making him run around. She was 29 at the time, a full 26 years younger than Riggs, and was also the current Wimbledon champion and winner of 10 singles Grand Slam tournaments to that point.
In 1998 Venus and Serena Williams, then aged 17 and 16, claimed they could beat any man outside the top 200. The 203rd ranked man, Karsten Braasch, then 31, played a set against Venus and won 6-2, then a set against Serena and won 6-1. This was after he’d played a round of golf in the morning and drunk two beers, and he said he didn’t try too hard in order to make it more fun. By Braasch’s estimate, the Williams girls wouldn’t have beaten any of the top 500 men.
The point here is that regardless of exactly how many men could beat the top women, the top men are so far ahead of the top women that no lady would be likely to ever get past the first round of a mixed tournament. So does that deserve equal pay?
- Is men’s tennis more entertaining than women’s, or vice versa? Some of the women players have claimed recently that you can pretty much predict who the four men’s semi-finalists are going to be in the Grand Slams, and that is true to a point. Though even the likes of Djokovic and Federer usually have to work to get there, and work even harder from quarter-finals onwards. You don’t get a lot of 6-0 sets in the men’s game. In the women’s third round at Wimbledon this year Yaroslava Shvedova won a set without losing a single point!
In the professional era the lowest ranked Wimbledon women’s champion was Venus Williams, 31 in the world and seeded 23. The lowest ranked male champion was Goran Ivanisevic, unseeded and ranked 125. Venus was only ranked so low because the Williams’ have a habit of only playing a few tournaments a year – yet they still manage to dominate their sport. In 2009 Venus lost to Serena in the Wimbledon final, but had beaten number 1 seed Dinara Safina 6-1, 6-0 in the semi-final! That never happens in men’s tennis.
The winner of most men’s Wimbledon Championships is Todd Woodbridge with nine (all in the doubles). For the ladies, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova have 20 titles each.
So the women’s game is overall more predictable and thus could be deemed less entertaining. That’s not to say there’s never a boring men’s match, but the fact is the tickets for the men’s final cost more than the tickets for the women’s final, which indicates a higher demand and a justification for more reward.
- Equality: surely the most important thing is that the principle of equality is demonstrated? Men and women paid the same for the same job, as they should be in all walks of life.
Yes, of course women should be paid the same as men for doing the same job, it would be morally wrong to suggest anything else, and in the UK legally wrong to implement it. With a couple of caveats, of course.
The first is that in any job you should pay everyone the same as long as they are doing it to the same standard. In your own workplace you wouldn’t expect the top performers to only get the same as people who are clearly not as proficient, regardless of their sex, so why should tennis be exempt from that?
Secondly, tennis is not a normal job with a salary anyway, it’s an entertainment with the reward based on prize money that itself is based on the demand to see it. No one seriously suggests that women footballers or rugby players be paid as much as men. No one suggests that seniors’ tennis tournaments reward their winners the same as the regular tournaments, or that people under 5ft tall have a tournament with the same prize money, because it’s not their fault they’re disadvantaged by being short.
Doesn’t all that suggest that perhaps the men should be paid just a little bit more?