Last Thursday, the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club decided to grant equal prize money to the men’s and women’s singles champions of Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.
In the opinion of women’s squash senior co-captain Jamie Singer, Wimbledon’s decision was a much-needed one.
“Wimbledon is the No. 1 tournament for tennis in the world,” Singer said. “Clearly, it’s making a mission statement, and I think all the other tournaments will follow in its path if they haven’t already. We have the same problem in squash; men are given more prize money because people say they draw bigger crowds. This decision is a positive reinforcement for all female athletes.”
Neither the amount of prize money awarded to the two champions nor the amount of the purse for the entire tournament has been annou-nced yet, but the All-England Club has said that earnings for men and women will be equal in each round of competition at the grass-court tennis mecca.
In 2006, the men’s four-time champion Roger Federer of Switzerland took home a $1.170 million paycheck, while the ladies’ champion Amelie Mauresmo, then the top-ranked woman in the world, received $1.117 million — a difference of $53,000, or about 4.5 percent.
Senior co-captain Nisha Suda of the women’s tennis team sees the monetary difference as negligible.
“The champions are making so much money anyway, what’s the difference,” Suda said.
In the past, Wimbledon’s main argument in preserving the practice of paying more money to the men’s champion has been that the men have to play best-of-five set matches while the women only play best-of-three. The All-England Club has also argued that, since the top women are typically more likely to play doubles than the top men due to the length of singles matches, women pros have a better opportunity to enter multiple draws and earn money that way.
Suda agrees with the idea that the men’s extra time and effort on court should carry over to their winnings.
“Just logically, this is the tennis players’ job,” Suda said. “If a person goes to work and works 10 hours a week, they’ll make more than someone who works 5 hours a week. The men sometimes have to play five sets over and over again in a tournament, it’s a huge effort.”
Former Women’s Tennis Association player and women’s tennis head coach Laura Glitz, however, disagrees with her player.
“I think this is great,” Glitz said. “The argument that men play more than women is not really valid, and when I played the tour, it was discussed at many meetings that the WTA would hold about the equal prize money issue. The president of the WTA would talk to the tournament directors at the Grand Slams, and the tournament directors didn’t want the women playing best-of-five sets because they thought the matches would be too long. The women wanted to play best-of-five, but the tournaments didn’t want it.”
Roland Garros, more commonly known in America as the French Open, gave equal prize money to its singles champions Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin last year, but the total prize money paid to men who play in the tournament is still larger than that paid to the women.
“If the argument for equal prize money is a women’s rights issue, it contradicts that to want equal pay for less work,” Suda said. “You shouldn’t get extra compensation for being a woman.”
The issue of inequality in tennis has a long history. At the U.S. Open in 1972, women’s champion Billie Jean King received $15,000 less than her male counterpart, Ilie Nastase. Threatening to not defend her title the following year if the Open didn’t give equal prize money to its two champions, King got her way as the U.S. Open set a precedent for the other Grand Slams by agreeing to pay the champs an equal sum.
King made another statement in 1973 by defeating former Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs in the match made famous as the “Battle of the Sexes”. Her influence impacts pros today such as three-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams who, is known for vocally pressuring major tournaments to pay men and women equally.
“Physical efforts of women should be equal to the physical efforts in men,” Singer said. “Since physical stuff is the greatest difference between the sexes, saying that our physical efforts are equal takes us one step closer to saying that women and men are equal in all of their efforts.”