If you care about gender parity in sport, tennis is an easy game to love (easier anyway) because it’s one of the few where extraordinary pay gaps, dude-driven marketing skews and lop-sided broadcast coverage isn’t as likely to work a person into an inequality-induced rage.
And yet, male tears still find a reason to fall. Anyone who may have been feeling complacent about the evenly matched state of play for men and women on the court were recently treated to a dazzling reality check, thanks to the misogynistic statements by two of the biggest names in tennis.
ICYMI, BNP Paribas Open CEO and Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore was recently forced to step down from his role after a baffling ramble about lady players who should be swooning with gratitude to men for well, nobody can quite figure that bit out, but maybe for letting women have equal pay.
“They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank god that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport,” Moore said.
Riiiiiight. Naturally a sh*tstorm ensued, and Queen Serena Williams clapped back at Moore to let him know women are doing fine all by themselves, thank-you-very-much.
Then the world’s number 1 ranked men’s tennis player, Novak Djokovic entered the fray, blithely asserting that men should be fighting for more money because they attract more attention, pull more spectators and sell more tickets.
Don’t worry though, he was kind enough give women props for everything they’ve achieved in spite of “their different bodies” and “hormones and different stuff”. He seriously even used the words “ladies know what I'm talking about.”
Yep, we sure do. You’re talking a lot of garbage.
Women in tennis didn’t make it to their enviable position by riding on the coat tails of men, and they didn’t get there in spite of their hormonal bodies. They’ve been right there all along, playing elite-level tennis since women first participated in Wimbledon in 1880.
By the time Billie Jean King founded the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 and began pushing for equal pay, she was backed by almost one hundred years of fierce female players staking their claims on the tennis courts.
In 1982 Martina Navratilova became the first woman to earn over $1 million in a season, ten years later Monica Seles made history when she earned more prize money that the number 1 men’s player for the second year in a row. In 1997 Martina Hingis became the youngest-ever number 1 player and in 2002 Serena and Venus Williams began their reign, each becoming the number 1 player in the world and going on to be the most recognisable faces in the game.
Today women’s tennis is more popular and lucrative than ever, with the top 3 spots in 2015’s ‘Forbes Highest-Paid Female Athletes’ all going to tennis players. What’s more, ticket sales and TV ratings are more equal than in any other sport, as highlighted during last year’s Grand Slam when the women's singles final sold out before the men's for the first time in US Open history.
The level of gender equality that exists in tennis is there because women fought a hard-won battle for it. They should be proud and like Serena says, they shouldn’t have to drop to their knees at any point and thank the mens for letting them play.