The world of international tennis is caught up in a row over equal pay for both male and female athletes. Last week Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore was forced to resign, following his sexist remarks. Moore suggested that women “should get on their knees” and be thankful for the men’s game boosting their own profile. Enter Novak Djokovic. The world No1 also suggested male players should be paid more than women because their ticket sales and viewing figures are superior. Suffice to say, the Serb came under severe criticism. “It has been disappointing,” said Serena Williams, a 21-times Grand Slam winner. “If I have a daughter who plays tennis and also have a son that plays tennis, I wouldn’t say that my son deserves more because he is a man. If they both started at three years old I would say they both deserve the same amount of money.” Djokovic’s rival and fellow grand slam winner Andy Murray had a more nuanced view on the subject. Besides questioning the validity of Djokovic’s beliefs, Murray also took a potshot at Ukrainian player Sergiy Stakhovsky, who also opposes equal pay.
“One of the things Novak said was that if women are selling more seats and tickets they should make more but at a tournament like this, for example, if Serena is playing on centre court and you have a men’s match with Stakhovsky playing, people are coming to watch Serena. The crowds are coming to watch the women as well.” On the specific subject of equal pay, Murray said: “I think there should be equal pay, 100 percent, at all combined events. The timing of it (Moore’s remarks) was just so strange, right before a great women’s final, there were 16,000 people in the stadium waiting to see them play.” Top-ranking Masters Tournaments such as Miami and Indian Wells, as well as all four grand slams, have equal pay for both sexes. In response to the incessant criticism, Djokovic has apologised for his comments. “This was never meant to be made into a fight between genders and differences in pay, but in the way all players are rewarded for their play and effort,” he said. “Tennis is a sport that I love and that gave me the opportunity to help others who still have a long way to go to achieve their dreams. This was my view all along and I want to apologise to anyone who has taken this the wrong way.”
Let us consider the facts. Some members of the tennis fraternity passed some sexist remarks. One of the greatest tennis players in history (Serena Williams) called them out on their rubbish. Those who have spoken against equal pay made some well-constructed arguments ranging from “three sets-five sets” to “women don’t attract enough eyeballs” and don’t make enough money for the sport as justification for unequal pay. But again there is an inherent sexism and dare I say racism involved in these arguments. Shekhar Hari Kumar, a former consultant with the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, poses an insightful argument against those who oppose equal pay. “Sania Mirza is the arguably India’s best-known tennis player. Li Na is the face of tennis in China. Pretty much all the incremental viewership in sport comes from people who do not traditionally watch sports. These women are responsible for bringing tennis to the masses in largest countries of the world. More people in these countries watch men’s tennis because of women’s tennis. More women watch sports today than any other time in history. Given how the percentage of women watching sports is low, I’d think that women should be your primary growth market. Suffice to say, the India growth story of the last 25 years is from women entering the labour force. Invest in the women’s game. It makes business sense.”