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Equal Pay in Sports Tournaments

Battle of the Sexes:

Equal Work Equal Pay

  1. Introduction

A woman named Billie Jean King is a women’s tennis champion in America in the 1970s who won 39 Grand Slams. However, there was a game once where King won the tennis tournament, and she was treated very unjustly after she won the competition. She found out that male tennis players who also won champions in the same tournament were paid eight times more than female players. If you were her, what would you do? Will you stand out and fight for equal prize money for both men and women? Billie Jean King walked into the office of the founder of American Tennis Association with her match promoter and questioned about the unequal prize money. The founder, Kramer, simply reasoned that watching men’s matches is more exciting and more engaging to the audience. Though King insisted that the women’s tennis match and the men’s tennis match are equally hot both in the ratings and on site. Kramer nonchalantly said that it is an undeniable fact that biology is built this way, that men are faster, stronger and more competitive. This seemingly random debate became the starting point to change King’s fate to fight for equality. Male and female tennis players should receive equal prize money in all professional tournaments like the four Grand Slams.

B. Background

The first real public plea came in Italy in 1970, only two years after the Open era. The winner of that event, Billie Jean King, called for equal distribution of winnings. Ilie Nastase, the men’s champion, took home $3,500, while King made merely $600. The discontent had ramped up, and King would later offer these famous words: “Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top too” (Bodo). However, Bobby Riggs, a famous male tennis player at the time, as well as a gambler, was dismissive about King’s remarks. Therefore, he offered to play a match with King disregarding sexes. It soon attracted great attention from all over the world. Maybe in Riggs’ mind, he would win the game easily even though he was already 55 years old and had not been training for long. Besides, winning the game was not the real goal for him but to grab a biz. However, it was a completely different situation for Billie Jean King. As long as she accepted to play this match, the battle of the sexes started. If she lost, she would destroy her precious new-born feminist idea. However, she had to accept this “unequal” match against a man to fight for equality. This match, was the famous later-called “battle of the sexes.”

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“Battle of the Sexes” is a term that has been used to describe various exhibition matches played between different genders. The most famous one occurred on 1973 between 55-year-old Bobby Riggs and 29-year-old Billie Jean King. Augustyn stated that “it was a bold and rule-breaking match which attracted an in-house attendance of 30,472 as well as a worldwide television audience estimated at over 90 million” (Augustyn). The match ended in female player, Billie Jean King, won in straight three sets, which was a significant moment in women’s movement during the 1970s. Meanwhile, it is of great importance to promote equality, which King had been striving for long.

According to Rothenberg on New York Times, Roger Federer and Serena Williams both won singles champions at the Western & Southern Open in August, 2005; in return, Federer earned $731,000 while Williams made only $495,000 (Rothenberg). However, as the years went on, the gap between earnings slowly is getting narrower (Bodo). However, many tournaments except the Grand Slams are still offering different bonus for men and women. What outstands the most now at the four Grand Slam events is that men and women are paid equally. The four Grand Slams throughout the year are the biggest tennis feasts for players and fans all over the world, with the highest prize money of all tennis events. They are Wimbledon Open, Australia Open, US Open and French Open, which are held in corresponding countries. In these four events, the US Open was the first to offer equal pay, in 1973, and Wimbledon the last, in 2007 (Rothenberg).


C. Visual from Their Point of View

(by Corbis)

This is an old stylish picture in black and white, which was taken in 1973 by Corbis. Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs are in the center of the picture, they are standing next to each other on a tennis court communicating and Riggs was showing his arm muscle to King. He seems saying that there is no way for you to beat me because I am much stronger than you. They both held two tennis balls and a tennis racquet in their hands, looked like a match was about to lit. While Riggs held his fist tight to show his arm muscle, King was talking, seemingly that she did not really agree with the man’s remarks. Behind them, some workers were working on building the spectators stand for the match soon between these two characters.

As a matter of fact, this picture expressed what many people think about men and women. That men are naturally better than women on body structure; that women should take it granted that they are weaker and deserve less; that women should admire men for their strength instead of striving for equal rights for both men and women.

D. Argument with Naysayers

Bobby Riggs easily defeated Margaret Court, the NO.1 woman in tennis at the time, earlier that same year in a match in California. Instead, he lost the $100,000 match in straight sets against King. That was when people started to question if King’s victory was planned before the match (Swaine). However, I strongly disagree with the saying of “fixed victory”. Because competition itself is cruel and unpredictable. King was training so hard day and night while Riggs was so confident about himself and was occupied with a lot of commercials and stunts. In this case, who could guarantee his victory? When women win the match against men, people naturally doubt it ,and this is also prejudice against females.

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Moore is a former player from South Africa who retired years ago, he is quite active on commenting tennis. He once said that if he were a lady player, he would go kneel down and thank God that the great male players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport for women (Fuller). He later apologized for the “erroneous” remarks. This is actually a typical discrimination against women, which is not appropriate at all. When arguing about modern professional tennis matches, it is apparent that women are slower in running and weaker in power compared with male players, which results in more excitement and engagement in men’s matches. Besides, more audience attendance in men’s match as well as the broadcast rate; it brings huge economical incomes. However, are these the reasons that women should be paid less in the same tournament? Definitely no! In the sport of tennis, women players are paying no less effort and money than men players, and sometime even tougher than them.

Former male Russian player Nikolay Davydenko once expressed his discontent, he questioned: “We need to play five sets, the women only need to play three sets, obviously the men need to put in more energy and effort, but we got the same bonus as the women. I don’t understand why men need to play longer games.” As a matter of fact, this is a quite controversial topic. However, from my point of view, there is nothing wrong with current match system as well as equal bonus. Women and men are born in different body structures; it is unavoidable and unchangeable. Men are naturally running faster; they have more power and better endurance. Since it is so, it should be understandable that men’s matches are longer, fiercer and more competitive. What’s more, five sets match for male will be able to avoid contingency of winning or losing a match. Besides, in women’s match, audience get to taste another style of playing, which is more graceful and has a better visual enjoyment. Thus, this cannot be the reason that women should be paid less.

One of the biggest differences between men and women’s physiological characteristics is that females have the ability to give birth. But also because of such a mission, female tennis players are struggling with monthly period that male players will never experience. Many girls suffer a lot and sometimes even just lay on bed and can do nothing. But as tennis players, they still have to fight in periods, and it is very likely to cause poor condition and lose the match eventually. Additionally, female tennis players will have to deal with pregnancy sometimes. Being a “mother player” is really tough in tennis tours. After an approximately year-long pregnancy and recovery, it takes great effort but still very hard to achieve same competitive level as before. Besides, it is very tough to take care of the kids in tennis tours. Most likely, many female players retired after having babies and focus more on families. This leads to their direct loss of financial support. From this point of view, being a female tennis player is tougher than males and it is no way that women should be paid less.

I remember Djokovic once tasted only a small bite of chocolate after winning a significant Grand Slam championship and he was so satisfied; it caused heated discussion on how tough are professional tennis players’ daily life routines. Players have a fixed daily schedule no matter they are in season or off season, they should keep their body in shape and ready to fight at any time. Typically, players train 4-5 hours on court every day during off-season, while 2 hours on court during seasons. This does not include a good deal of fitness training off courts.   Getting up early to warm up, practice on courts, workout in gym, stretch and relax, then do the same thing over and over again every day. A casual online search for any professional tennis player’s daily routine is enough to get a glimpse of the extraordinary ascetic lives of professional tennis players, regardless of ranking and gender. Men and women are giving out same amount of time and efforts in training, so they deserve to get equal attributions.

Moreover, it is very expensive to be a tennis player, regardless of gender. Clearly, the lower ranked the player, the less one can afford to spend on trainings, travel, and other expenses. It doubles many expenses when a player employs a coach, as the player is expected to pay for all of the coach’s travel expenses (Shanet). According to data analysts from The Australian, it costs a tennis player $US38,800 on average to travel, sleep and eat on tour, and that’s before factoring in the cost of a coach (Grand). Travelling and coaching are the biggest expenses. Travel expense generally includes flights and hotels, which is typically between $50,000 and $150,000 per person, depending on different locations for different tournaments and how fancy the accommodations (Shanet). According to IBT, the starting salaries for professional tennis coaches at the ATP main tour level are probably in the $50,000 per year range, plus any expenses (Shanet). And this is not concluding trainers and assistant coach etc. What’s more, food and other expenses such as ground transportation, tournament penalty fees and medical expenses are also huge burdens for players. More than 99.99% players are still struggling with a win in a low-level event and a few thousand dollars in prize money. These financial issues will definitely not differ for different genders, and that is why it is undoubtful that women should get same bonus from events to compensate daily expenses.


Works Cited

  • Augustyn, Adam. “Battle of the Sexes Tennis Event [1973]”. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 13 Sep. 2018, Accessed on 9 Nov. 2018.
  • Bodo, Peter. “Follow the money: How the pay gap in Grand Slam tennis finally closed”, Sep 8, 2018, Accessed on 9 Nov. 2018.
  • Rothenberg, Ben. “Roger Federer, $731,000; Serena Williams, $495,000: The Pay Gap in Tennis”, The New York Times, April 12,2016, Accessed on 10 October, 2018.
  • Fuller, Russell. “Novak Djokovic questions equal prize money in tennis”, BBC News, 21 March, 2016, Accessed on 9 Nov. 2018.
  • Swaine, Jon. “Billie Jean King win in Battle of the Sexes ‘was fixed’”, The Telegraph, 27 August, 2013, Accessed on 14 Nov. 2018.
  • Grande, Chip. “It’s tough on the world tennis tour”, The Australian, 27 January 2018, Accessed on 14 Nov. 2018.
  • Shanet, Laurence. “How Much Does It Cost to Be A Pro Tennis Player? 5 Expenses Explained”, IBT, 16 July, 2017, Accessed on 14 Nov. 2018.

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