It's inequality, love
27-06-06 Suggested by: Jack of all Trades
Wimbledon starts today and the women players are up in arms: it's now the last Grand Slam not to pay its male and female winners the same.
So: women couldn't run an Olympic marathon until 1984. It was 1999 before they were allowed to join the MCC. And they only got equal prize money at Wimbledon in . . . aha. As the curtain rises on Wimbledon for 2006, the sorry truth is that the winner of the women's championship still doesn't get as much prize money as the winner of the men's.
For Venus Williams, who is defending her women's title again this year, it's a travesty. She has been vociferous in her attacks on the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club over the issue: on the eve of the championship she is still smarting over the announcement made earlier this year that the winner of the men's competition will get £655,000, while the winner of the women's will net less - £625,000.
It was, she tells the Guardian, a disappointment. "For us it's not about getting paid because all the players love what we do, and that's playing tennis. For us it's about equality, it's about treating a human as a human, no matter what the sex is, and it's about women all over the world. It's a bigger picture than tennis . . . it's about a premier women's sport setting an example all around the world." In the coming contest, she says, she and her fellow women players will "do our best to show we're equal on all fronts".
For Williams and her fellow campaigners, the financial difference is clearly negligible - but so it is for the All England Club, whose annual profits are around £25m.
And the difference this year is that, for the first time, Wimbledon stands isolated. It's now the only Grand Slam tournament where prize money is divided on gender. The US Open has had parity since 1973, the Australian on and off since 1984 and the French shrugged their shoulders and gave in this spring (though only the winners get the same; down the ranks discrepancies remain).
In the UK ministers are pressing for change: Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, wrote to the All England club of her "deep concern" about something that is "tarnishing the image of the championship".
Over at Wimbledon, meanwhile, the heels are digging in ever deeper. The club's argument is purely financial. They say they are only being fair to the men and that last year the top 10 women earned 4% more in prize money than the top 10 men. And that last year at Wimbledon the male quarter-finalists earned £993 per game to the women's £1,432. And that tier-one events on the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour pay just 63% of an equivalent ATP Masters (mens) tournament, whereas Wimbledon pays 87.%
"We believe that what we do at the moment is actually fair to the men as well as to the women," says club chairman Tim Phillips. He says that because men play five sets to the women's three, the top men rarely play doubles and so earn less overall than women.
"It just doesn't seem right to us that the lady players could play in three events and could take away significantly more than the men's champion who battles away through these best-of-five matches."
Decisions at Wimbledon, you see, are taken in a world where women are still ladies, where three initials and blazers rule. Of the 19-strong committee who came up with the prize money, just two are women - clearly, the right ratio.
"It's bullshit," says Martina Navratilova, the nine-times Wimbledon champion who hasn't grown mellow with the years. "How can anyone not feel strongly about this? Whenever there is inequality it doesn't matter whether it is a penny or £100,000. It is about the principle - and the principle is wrong.
"We are willing to play five sets, but they won't let us. Maybe the men should play three. After all, who wants to sit through a five-hour sporting event, unless it's a Test match? It is quality, not quantity. Women's rallies actually last longer so the ball is in play for longer . . . so maybe we should be paid more.
"You can make an argument for men to be paid more, you can make an argument for women to be paid more: but it is just a matter of time before the prize money is equal. It would be just be the best thing for them to announce during the tournament that the money would be equal next year. There would be no more discussion, no more controversy. It would give a good message to society and a good message to other countries. This is not something you decide by talking to the fans in the queue; you should be leading by example.
"A Wimbledon without women would be unthinkable. And unwatchable. How many thudding 40-0 serve games can you cope with in one day? As with men's tennis, some women's games will be terrible, some great. Some years the men's competition will be the more enthralling, sometimes the women's."
And women's tennis is booming. Last year Sony Ericsson signed a £48m six-year sponsorship deal with the Women's Tour - the largest sponsorship deal in the history of tennis, male or female. The names are as big if not bigger than the men's: as well as Venus there is her sister Serena, Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Kim Clijsters, and Amelie Mauresmo: all of them instantly recognisable. Women athletes such as Sharapova earn sponsorship that is beyond the dreams of their male counterparts. Their game gets ever better and stronger.
There are five or six players who could win Wimbledon: the strength in depth might not match the men's game, but at the top it beats it.
Just how the committee worked out that women are 87% as valuable as men we will never know (and they won't make any further comment). But if they are going to break it down that far, one is tempted to ask whether they've considered differentiating between men who win matches in three sets and men who win in five.
The truth is, of course, that it's all a nonsense: this is entertainment, and as Billie Jean King once said, entertainers don't get paid by the hour: they get paid - period. "If Elton John does a concert, it could last one hour or fours hours - it's a done deal."
According to the All England club, the men's matches make more money. "Not as far as I'm aware," says Larry Scott of the WTA."If they charge more for corporate hospitality for the men's matches, it is an indictment of the club's attitude, promoting inequality. No other Slam in the world does it. We can make the data argument, we've provided them with TV ratings, celebrity rankings, column inches - everything - but that misses the point anyway. It is a point of principle. And I'm sorry to say, but it does look petty."
It's been a long battle. Billie Jean King, feminist whirlwind that she is, was the drive behind turning women's tennis into a professional sport. Infuriated by the disparity in male and female prize money at the major events - 58 cents to the dollar - she formed the WTA in 1973, the same year she beat professed chauvinist Bobby Riggs in front of a TV audience of 90 million. She presented him with a baby pig before the game and even now, she says, men come up to her saying, "I was really young when I watched your match. I have a daughter now. I cannot tell you how that changed my life, and how I raise my daughter."
But not all were convinced. The knicker-shot has for years dominated women's tennis coverage in the British tabloids, who have leered lasciviously over such stars as Gabriela Sabatini and Anna Kournikova. The situation was not improved by comments like those of Pat Cash who describe women's tennis as "two sets of rubbish". Even Tim Henman has called women players greedy.
But now, Wimbledon is the last bastion. Sadly, as Scott says, it is out of touch with the times. As he points out, "I've never heard anyone saying, 'We're going to watch the men at Wimbledon.' They say, 'We're going to Wimbledon'."
For Williams, it ain't over yet. "This has been our first year of making a push and really trying to make a difference. Just because it hasn't happened all at once doesn't mean we will stop our campaign or stop our efforts. This is just the beginning"
Many thanks Petite.
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