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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Gender Pay Disparity Persists in Tennis: Women Face Unequal Compensation Despite Equal Effort

World’s Elite Tennis Players Gather in Rome for Gender-Inclusive Tournament with Unified Rules and Equal Compensation.

But there’s a huge disparity in the prizes: the males battle for $8.5 million, while the ladies only get $3.9 million.

After two months of tennis, during which men and women competed for equal prize money in three major events in California, Florida, and Madrid, the big pay gap comes as a surprise. At the four Grand Slam competitions, when men play best of five sets and women play best of three, men and women get the same prize money.

Except in the Italian Open in Rome. No, not even at the Western & Southern Open in the Cincinnati suburbs. Or, you may go to Canada and compete in the National Bank Open, where each year the men and women switch between Toronto and Montreal.

In an interview with ESPN, Steve Simon, chairman and chief executive of the WTA Tour, which organises the women’s circuit on behalf of tournament owners and players, explained that the gender pay gap in prize money reflected the fact that the market places a higher value on male athletes when it comes to sponsorships and media rights. He claimed the group was working on a solution that would eventually lead to wage parity at all of tennis’ major tournaments.

When it comes to tennis tournaments, women are often relegated to the background, with less attractive schedules, smaller courts, and even less luxurious lodgings, especially in mixed events. During the awards ceremony for the women’s doubles final that took place in Madrid last week, neither player was given a microphone. That was the work of the males.

The ladies are frequently told they don’t have the “star power” of the guys by the organisers. Amélie Mauresmo, the tournament director at the French Open and a former world No. 1 in singles, scheduled just one women’s match in the main evening slot compared to nine men’s matches, and she justified her decision by saying that the men’s game had “more attraction” and appeal. She expressed regret for her remarks, but the self-fulfilling prophesy of second billing, which may make it more challenging for women to become stars, can result in lesser compensation.

There have been several careless mistakes made by the WTA. Women and men must both be present at the most significant mixed competitions. Even though tournaments in Rome, Canada, and Ohio are ranked slightly below the Grand Slam events in prominence, the WTA only mandates attendance at tournaments in Indian Wells, California; Miami Gardens, Florida; Madrid, Spain; and Beijing, China. Also, in Rome, Canada, and Ohio, the women’s tour winner earns 900 ranking points while the men’s tour champion receives 1,000.

Tournament organisers may claim these subtle distinctions as justification for paying women less, even though almost all of the best women compete in the major optional events unless they are injured. However, tournament organisers insist that obligatory participation is necessary to attract enough local sponsors and media outlets to cover the event.

When questioned lately why the National Bank Open gave men $5.9 million last year and the women $2.53 million, Tennis Canada spokesperson Marc-Antoine Farly pointed to this disparity. Farly, despite the discrepancy, emphasised that “gender equity is very important for our organisation.” Men and women will receive equal prize money at the National Bank Open beginning in 2027, as part of Tennis Canada’s newly announced goal to advance gender equality across all levels of the sport over the next five years.

The prize money mechanism is complex, but that’s par for the course in the tennis industry. Prize money is guaranteed by the tournament’s organisers in exchange for a percentage of ticket, domestic media rights, and sponsorship sales. Media rights and sponsorship arrangements, as well as licencing fees paid by tournament organisers to the tours, help fund the tours’ contributions. According to Simon, the WTA has a far smaller revenue stream than the ATP Tour, meaning it can only give a smaller share of the total prize pool.

However, if the event organisers feel strongly about providing equal prize money, they are free to do so. Larry Ellison, a computer industry tycoon, has committed the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells to doing so for over a decade as part of a deal with the Women’s Tennis Association.

The United States Tennis Association, which has long boasted of its leadership in pay fairness, did not provide equal prize money in the Western & Southern Open, the key tuneup for the U.S. Open, as the Italian and Canadian tennis federations did. Men competed for $6.28 million in Mason, Ohio, a year ago. To the tune of $2.53 million, women competed.

Since the Western & Southern was not a required WTA tournament and the women fought for 10% less rankings points, it seemed fair to pay them around 40% less than the men.

CVC Capital Partners, a private equity investor, paid $150 million for a 20% stake in a WTA commercial subsidiary earlier this year. The WTA expects the investment, which will be used to improve sales and marketing, and a recently completed strategic plan, both of which aim to reduce gender inequality in the sport, will contribute to an increase in the organization’s income. If event organisers pledge to pay equality in the following years, the tour will be able to contribute more to prize money.

Dan O'Brien
Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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