The disparity that still prevails

The disparity that still prevails

The disparity that still prevails

With renewed scrutiny on the disparate compensation paid to male and female athletes after a wage discrimination lawsuit filed by the US women’s soccer team, tennis has been cited as a leader in gender equality among major sports.

But even in tennis, where men and women compete alongside one another at the same stadiums around the world, female players still earn significantly less than their male peers.

Grand Slam tournaments and the handful of other top combined events that pay men and women equally remain the exceptions.

Raymond Moore, the tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, an equal prize money event, resigned last month, after saying that WTA players were “lucky” to be able to “ride on the coattails of the men.” His comments led to conversations at subsequent tournaments about the financial realities for men and women in tennis.

At the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina, last week, several top players pointed out that the discussion of equal pay often distorts the distinct advantage male players still have in annual compensation.

“The facts were not put on the table; the fact is we don’t earn equal prize money,” said Andrea Petkovic, a German player ranked 30th.

“It’s not true. We only earn it in the Grand Slams and a few other tournaments, but men earn more than we do. I think it was discussed in the wrong manner, and that was very sad to see.”

Although men and women are compensated more comparably in tennis than in any other major sport, the annual prize money paid to the top 100 earners on the WTA and ATP Tours roughly matches the general pay gap in American workplaces, with female tennis players earning 80 cents on each dollar men earn. The median pay gap between a woman in the top 100 and her opposite number on the men’s tour is $120,624.

“I think that sometimes we just hope that those problems are in the past, and that we have come much further,” Petkovic said. “But it’s good to be confronted with the thoughts of men that still think that way, and it’s maybe nice for us to have discussions with them and to explain our point of view.

“I just wish that we would be a leader, that it wouldn’t matter about who is more popular, who is this or that. We, as a sport, could stand for something more than equal prize money — we’d stand for community and sportsmanship.”

Billie Jean King, who pushed for equality as the women’s professional game developed, has remained an advocate for women’s issues in sports and many other areas.

“We have a chance to continue to lead,” King said of tennis. “To have equal prize money in the majors sends a message. It’s not about the money, it’s about the message.”

That message shines brightest under the sport’s biggest spotlights, at the four Grand Slam events, where men and women are paid equally. The US Open became the first Grand Slam event to offer equal pay, in 1973, and Wimbledon the last, in 2007.

But at other large combined ATP-WTA tournaments, where men and women are sold together under one ticket, the prize money disparity can be stark. The Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, the biggest event in the weeks before the US Open, attracts dazzling constellations of top men’s and women’s stars each year to the fourth-largest tennis tournament in US.

The tournament, in which the US Tennis Association owns a majority stake, pays the women only 63 cents on the dollar as compared with the men. Last year, Roger Federer received $731,000 for defending his title at the tournament, while Serena Williams received $495,000 for defending hers hours later.

Organisers cite a technicality in the WTA’s structure to justify the pay differential. The tournament is one of nine Masters 1000 events, the top tier on the ATP Tour. But the top tier of the WTA Tour is four Premier Mandatory events, which include tournaments in Miami, Madrid and Indian Wells, California, where women can expect equal compensation to men. The Ohio event sits in the next tier, the Premier 5.

Women are also paid less than men at similar Premier 5 events in Canada and Rome, which are held in conjunction with men’s tournaments. (At all tour events outside the Grand Slams, men and women play best-of-three-set matches.)

The pay gap extends all the way down the ladder on ATP and WTA tours. According to a 2014 study by the International Tennis Federation that analyzed the average costs for playing professional tennis and the prize money from the previous year, 336 male players could earn enough to cover average expenses, while only 253 women could.

Prize money is generated from each tournament’s sponsors, television rights deals, ticket sales and other on-site concessions. The total revenues of the ATP and WTA tours has fluctuated, with a gap of $2.6 million in 2008 giving way to a men’s advantage of $37.4 million in 2014.

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