Equal prize money – Simon reignites the debate
by David Cox
Whatever did the WTA do to anger Gilles Simon ? He may not have featured for long at this year’s Wimbledon but the Frenchman certainly left his mark, doing his level best to reopen old, bitter wounds with his extraordinary attack on the current equal prize money system.
Here we all were, happily enjoying the first week of a tournament which was already promising much and suddenly thanks to good old Gilles, highly sensitive socio-political issues were mingling explosively in the air. And as I watched Simon in press conferences over the following days, seemingly hell-bent on making himself public enemy no. 1 to the entire women’s draw, I couldn’t help but wonder, just where has he been for the past five years?
Equal prize money has been in place at Wimbledon since 2007. There were a few rumblings from the men’s draw when it was first introduced (if I remember rightly Mardy Fish among others, publicly voiced his displeasure) but those have long since died down, so why bring it up now? And what on earth did he expect The All England Club to do about it (‘sorry Serena, we had to knock £50,000 off your winner’s fee, Gilles was just complaining so bitterly’) ?
Simon has evidently been simmering about this for some time and having toiled for several hours during his second round defeat to Xavier Malisse, maybe watching Victoria Azarenka pocket £38,875 for beating the hapless Romina Oprandi 6-2, 6-0 at the same stage was just a little too much.
Bastille Day may have been on the horizon but if Simon was hoping to start a revolution then he was sorely disappointed. While the leading women queued up to take a pot shot at the Frenchman (‘I'm sure there are a few more people that watch my matches than his,’ Maria Sharapova retorted waspishly,), not a single one of the 63 other male players left in the singles draw at that stage came forward to offer their support.
Surprising? Not really. Why put yourself up for ridicule and waste energy on a lost cause. It is only the Federers and the Djokovics of the men’s game who have the power to drive real change. If the outburst had come from the lips of the ever eloquent Swiss, then I imagine we would have seen far more clamour from the rest of the locker room.
But that aside, does Simon have a point? Whatever the Sharapovas and the Serenas of the world say, when you look at the bare facts, everything intuitively suggests that there should be a disparity in the prize money.
As it stands, the men’s matches are treated as the bigger selling point within the sport. They’re longer (best of five sets), on average they generate the bigger TV audiences and the Grand Slam scheduling reflects this. A day’s play on Centre Court at Wimbledon will always see spectators treated to two men’s singles and a women’s singles. Never the other way round and hence legendary champions like Serena Williams find themselves often relegated out to Court 2. When have you ever seen Roger Federer suffer such an indignity? And as Simon pointed out, nothing quite reflects this bias than the differing ticket prices between the men’s and women’s singles finals tickets at Wimbledon.
But then we have to ask ourselves the question, do these biases towards the men’s game reflect the natural choice of the viewing public? Possibly but then again, it’s also something that’s been drilled into tennis (and us, subconsciously) over the years. When the Wimbledon traditions, so faithfully followed to this day, were established, sexism was institutionalized throughout the sport and society in general with women’s tennis widely accepted as being a mere sideshow to the main event.
And would it be fair to punish the leading women’s players, athletes who have toiled and made huge sacrifices to reach the pinnacle of their abilities, for being the victims of tennis tradition? Of course not.
Imagine a parallel universe where women’s tennis had a rivalry as compelling as the Djokovic, Federer, Nadal era while the men’s game was blighted by injuries, premature retirements and a host of one-slam wonders. Maybe then the women’s game would be used to sell tennis, drawing in the captivated viewers in their droves. If Sharapova had won 17 Grand Slam titles and 7 Wimbledons, just imagine how much greater her already considerable marketability would be.
And in that case, should it be the men who take a smaller cut of the prize money ? No, because at the Grand Slams, it is the complete tennis package which is being sold to the sporting public. Both the men’s and women’s events combine to create the overall spectacle. And hence the rewards should be the same.