Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tennis Parity

So famed tennis tournament Wimbledon has finally made the decision that it will pay its female champions the same as it pays its male champions. Sounds great.

I'm looking forward to seeing Martina Hingis play a five-set match against Maria Sharpova. That would be hot.

Seriously, I support equal pay for equal work, but the fact is, the women are asked to play less. They therefore exert less effort. How does that merit equal pay?

As the article points out, proponents of equal pay note that it was Wimbledon, not the players, who chose to set women's matches as three-set affairs. This is true. All I'm saying, then, is that in order to justify the equal pay, Wimbledon organizers should require that women play to five sets.

Proponents also lament that paying women less had always "sent the message" that that women's tennis was inferior to men's. Somehow, though, I didn't see anyone arguing that women should be required to play five games, because limiting their court time "sent the message" that women's tennis wasn't as great as men's tennis.

There's really only so many ways one can swing the word "equality."


p.p. said...

I think Hingis is awesome. Sharapova? I dunno, for whatever reason, she annoys me.

Wyatt said...

Dennis, I'm tending to disagree with you. First of all, if it was Wimbledon that set the match length at three sets, they can't very well go on and penalize the women for it. That would be like an employer saying to a woman, "Because you're a woman, I'm going to reduce your job duties, and because your job duties are now less, I'm going to pay you less." If they want women to play three set matches (which they apparently do), they're going to have to pay the premium price. Is that unfair to the men? Maybe a little bit. But considering that all of Wimbledon's history is based upon a three set women's match, I don't think they should be required to make the women play five sets.

If we think about it, players aren't payed based upon the number of sets that they play, anyway. First place plays the same number of sets as second place, yet earns something like twice the money. Whether Federer cleans up his opponents in three straight sets or lets them hang around for five, he still gets the same pay. You get paid for winning matches, for beating people, and for placing in the tournament. Besides, the prize money is such a fortune that it only makes sense to view it as a reward (prize!) rather than a wage. If they want the prestige of the women's side to be equal to that of the men's, I think they are right to even out the prizes.

(By the way, should long distance runners receive more prize money at track meets because they do more "work"?)

It's funny how two people looking at an issue like this in different ways can come to entirely different conclusions.

Dennis! said...

Wyatt: Thanks for your comment.

I agree that since Wimbledon originally set women's play to three sets, it's unfair to allow them to hide behind that as an excuse. However, that was a long time ago. I can't find it right now, but my recollection is that Billie Jean King won something along the lines of $1,100 for her first prize win -- just as guide for how long ago it was.

But if you're trying to "equalize" things in terms of pay, there's nothing to say that the requested effort should be equal. Here in the States, for example, the Equal Pay Act is shorthanded as "equal pay for equal work." If you perform the same work, you must cannot get paid less based upon your sex.

The example of track runners is inapposite for that reason: you can't directly compare sprinters to long-distance runners as a matter of how much "effort" they perform. You can, however, directly compare one marathon runner to another.

And yes, I understand that playing to five is dependent on the skill levels of the players involved, and that a top ranked male player may well get to the final round playing nothing but three-set matches. But on the women's side, the most direct comparison is that the best female player could end up making it to the final round playing nothing but a bunch of two-set games -- again, fewer games than the similarly-placed men.

So yes, Wimbledon wants to "equalize" its pay scales. It's entitled, then, to change other parts of its traditional rules to reflect that as well.

The main thrust of my thought is that you can't have it both ways: you can't demand equal pay, then not be willing to put up the equal work. While the WaPo article I linked to quotes Billie Jean King because shorter play was Wimbledon's choice in the first instance, but it doesn't go on to say that women would be happy to play to five if it meant true equality.

Advocates of the pay equalization are also quoted in the article as saying it was necessary to increase the women's pay because not doing so sent the worldwide message they were inferior. Doesn't saying that women need only play best-of-three matches send the same message? "We'll pay you what we pay the men... but we can't possibly expect you to perform to the same caliber as men."

Anyway, I appreciate a good disagreement. Feel free to keep this discussion going if you want to.