Tennis: Gender pay gap row!

By Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw

Tennis is again mired in controversy. Not doping this time, but the difference in prize money between the men’s and the women’s game.

Novak Djokovic, the world number 1, has said that men should be paid more than women, because the men’s game attracts more viewers than the women’s game. His remarks follow similar comments made by the former chief executive of the India Wells Masters’ Tournament, Raymond Moore, who recently stepped down because of them. He is reported as having said that women should “get down on their knees and thank God” for Roger Federer for making tennis more popular, implying that Federer has made women players richer than they otherwise would have been!

Andy Murray, the world number 2, commented that Djokovic’s remarks do not “stack up” and “make no sense at all.” Whilst Serena Williams, the women’s number 1, described Djokovic’s comments as “offensive” and called upon him to “explain them.”

Djokovic has since backtracked somewhat on his remarks by later saying that women tennis players deserve the money they get. Normally, he is a consummate diplomat in his public utterings! But not on this occasion!

In fact, tennis was the first sport to pay equal prize money to men and women back at the US Open in 1973, as a result of pressure from the reigning champion Billie Jean King. However, it took another 34 years until 2007 for Wimbledon, the last grand slam championship, to follow suit.

But, there are still differences between the men’s and women’s game, in that the men play five sets, whilst the women play only three. Should they each play five sets? This debate is set to continue, with Murray, for example, in favour of women playing five sets or, if not, then men dropping to three sets!

Of course, under the Olympic Charter, and tennis is an Olympic sport, discrimination of any kind in sport, including on gender grounds, is incompatible with Olympism.

In a BBC survey conducted in 2014, out of 35 sports that pay prize money, 25 only pay men and women equally.

Those sports that do not do so include certain disciplines of cycling, including the Tour de France, cliff diving, cricket, darts, football, golf, squash, surfing, snooker and ski jumping.

The biggest difference in prize money is in golf, where for the 2016 Open Championship, the winner will receive £1.15 million, whilst the winner of the women’s event will receive only £298,000!

Can such a difference be justified on objective grounds in an age that prides itself on equality?

Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw is an international sports lawyer, academic, author and member of CAS and may be contacted by e-mail at ‘ian.blackshaw@orange.fr’