It’s been almost 50 years since the legendary tennis player Billie Jean King won the Battle of the Sexes exhibition tennis match, spearheading the feminist movement by shutting down 55-year-old male tennis player, Bobby Riggs. While women have attained equal pay at the top level of professional play, they still face inequality at many other events throughout the year.
Former world number one, Novak Djokovic, rekindled the debate over equal pay in the sport, which had died down after Wimbledon became the last Grand Slam to offer equal prize money to women in 2007. “As long as it’s like that [men attracting more viewers than women] and there is data and stats available upon who attracts more attention, spectators, who sells more tickets and stuff like that, in relation to that, it has to be fairly distributed,” said Djokovic, citing CEO of Indian Wells’ statement about men attracting higher viewership numbers than women at the event.
“I think the press was a bit surprised to hear me say that I was not playing the game to prove that women could beat men,” King said in a documentary about her win against Riggs. “I was playing to prove that men and women had the same entertainment value, which is why we should be paid equally.” King’s statement is echoed by lower sponsorship and marketing dollars being spent on female athletes versus male athletes, arguing that it’s unfair to cite lower viewership when less money was spent promoting women’s tennis tickets. Although not perfectly equal, tennis has made strides toward completely equal pay since King won.
Female tennis players receive the same amount of prize money at the four largest tournaments in the world — namely the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open — and four of the Masters 1000 (next highest tier of tennis tournament). Other tournaments offer women much less prize money.
At the Western and Southern Open, one of the five other Masters 1000 events, winner Roger Federer was awarded a check of $731,000, while his female counterpart Serena Williams took home a check of $495,000. Federer won 47 percent more prize money than his female counterpart for no other reason than winning the men’s draw.
“I think it should be mandatory for ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) events to have equal prize pools,” first-year singles two Madeline Schmidt-Perez said. “I think it’s really outdated that we’re still having this conversation about equal pay, especially when we’re dealing with female athletes versus male athletes.”
“I think there would have to be changes made as far as more inclusivity,” first-year and singles one Amanda Rodriguez said. “For example, more co-ed matches or singles matches between top female and male players.”
While the sexes may have differences in their play, those differences should have nothing to do with payment at the same event.
“I don’t see why women can’t be paid equally. They play the same game as us, attract similar-sized crowds, and have their fan bases,” senior singles and doubles one Andrew You said. “It’s 2017. Everything should be equal. We should be treating all athletes with the same respect.”
Tennis may be one of the forerunners in having equal pay for women, but it has a long way to go, as does every sport in the world. While steps in the right direction are being made, how long will it take before the world of sports and the world as a whole begin to truly treat men and women as equals?
“Sports is a microcosm of society,” King said. So, if in that microcosm, we devalue women, what does that say about the society?