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Debate: Equal prize money for male and female athletes

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Should Wimbledon and other sports competitions offer equal prize money for men and women?

Background and context

The organising bodies of tournaments in several sports currently offer ‘uneven’ prize funds, paying the champion of the men’s competition more than the women’s. The most obvious and high profile example is the Wimbledon Championship hosted by the All-England Tennis and Croquet Club, but also other events such as bodybuilding or cycling offer more money for men [Purses for men’s chess championships are always higher than those for women, but top tournaments are run by different organisations thus making proper comparison impossible, and chess's status as a ‘sport’ is doubted]. In tennis, the US Open has paid equal prize money for three decades, and was followed by the Australian Open in 2000. Should others do the same? [The following case is presented with reference to the principles involved – should they? Debates may or may not involve a mechanism, too – should we somehow make them?][1]

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Merit: Are female athletes working just as hard?

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Yes

It is outrageous that in the modern world women can be paid less than men for doing the same job. Sport or not, the widely accepted principle of equal pay in the workplace ought to be applied – after all, these are professionals with jobs that should be treated like any other. Talk about longer play and other differences is irrelevant. The champion is the champion – they’ve beaten everyone in their field – and deserve full recognition. For this isn’t really about the money – it’s about the message of comparative inferiority lower prize funds send about women’s sports. Furthermore, elite sports are extremely high profile, and in their organisation and rewards they contain messages that the whole of society looks to. Thus, in having unequal prize funds, the organisers of some of our most popular events don’t just look down on women’s sports – they look down on women. The message this sends must be corrected. Proof, if it’s needed, that the ‘longer play’ line is bogus is found in the fact that in non-grand slam events men receive higher prize funds, even though they only play best of 3 sets matches, like the women (except in some finals). Even if it’s justifiable for Wimbledon to differentiate on this ground (and it’s not, given the message it sends as outlined above), the vast majority of tournaments should change their policy to equality if you accept the ‘work rate’ logic of the opposition.[2]

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No

Men's higher inherent ability to perform in sports has a higher market value: Of course women should be paid equal pay – for equal work. The work being done isn’t equal, so there’s no discrimination. Sports fans are interested in the highest levels of performance, so the highest athletic prizes should go to the competitors who are strongest, fastest, most powerful or who have the greatest endurance. It is coincidental that for biological reasons such competitors are almost always men. Firstly, in tennis men play ‘best of five sets’ matches; women play only three. In weightlifting, they lift more weight. It’s therefore perfectly reasonable for the men to be paid more as the men are doing more work. Since records began, the average men’s tennis game at Wimbledon has taken on 30 minutes longer to play than the average women’s game. Thus, on average the men’s champion will have played 3? hours more tennis than the women’s. If women want the same prize money, they should be prepared to play the same number of sets (thus providing more advertising time for networks, from which much of Wimbledon’s revenue – and thus the prize fund – comes), or in the weightlifting example, lift more weights. The men’s game is also more contested at the top. 52% of men’s games went into at least the 4th set at Wimbledon 2002, whilst only 24% of women’s matches made it to the 3rd set. This suggests a greater, and thus more exciting, contest, which feeds into popularity (see argument 2). But it also points to the fact that men at the height of their game have to perform and train harder, and for longer than the women do, enduring more pain, risking more injuries, and delivering higher levels of performance. Again – the work isn’t equal, so neither is the pay.[3]

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Market value: Is equal pay fair to market values?

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Yes

Male athletes have received unrepresentative support from male sport administrators and media executives: How can this fairly be decided, when men’s sports dominate media coverage so thoroughly? The market has been conditioned historically by the preferences of biased male sports administrators and media executives. Do we really know that sports fans prefer men’s sports, or do we only know that they watch them? In fact, many viewers say that they prefer women's tennis, as it relies more on skill and less on power than the men's game, especially in fast grass services such as that at Wimbledon.[4]

Women’s sports are played at a lower level precisely because there is less money in them. This cycle has to be broken at some point.

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No

The market decides the ratio of reward – and there isn’t a fairer method of deciding than that: The male game is more popular. It’s more powerful and many find it more exciting. If that were different, the pay scale would be too. Rewards come from consumers: if women’s tennis or weightlifting or cycling were more popular than men’s, they’d be paid more than men. For the same reasons, heavyweight (male) boxers get much greater rewards than boxers in lighter weight categories.[5]

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Feasibility: Is it feasible to equalize pay between men and women?

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Yes

A complete change toward pay equality is a feasible long-term goal:

One quick fix could be to equalize pay first in tournaments with joint men’s and women’s events: It also makes sense symbolically to begin with something like Wimbledon, where both men’s and women’s games are played at a very high level and both are very popular.[6]

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No

Equal-pay campaigns are selectively discriminatory and risk causing a backlash against joint tournaments that will harm female pay: It is not really fair that tournaments in which both sexes (separately) compete, such as Wimbledon, are singled out for campaigns for equality, as different levels of popularity and physical ability has resulted in this differentiation across all major sports – such as soccer, rugby, cricket, basketball, baseball. There is a danger that sports administrators will decide the best way to avoid forced equality is to scrap joint tournaments in which men and women compete at the same time in parallel competitions. This could have the unintended consequence of reducing the opportunities for women to compete at the top level and so to earn the highest financial rewards.[7]

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Exceptionality: Are unequal pay events the exception rather than the norm, and does this matter?

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Yes

Wimbledon stands out as discriminatory given that two other ‘Grand Slam’ tournaments (the US and Australian Opens) pay equal prize money. The Wimbledon tournament trades party upon a sense of history and tradition, but upholding discrimination makes it look outdated. Over time, this will reduce its status as the leading international tennis tournament and make it less attractive to sponsors and media partners.[8]

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No

Equal prize money in tournaments is the exception rather than the norm: Wimbledon and the French Open both have larger men’s prizes. Only very recently have half of the Grand Slams paid equal money, and in the wider tennis world an imbalance is still normal. In other sports, such as weightlifting, very few joint events pay equal prize money.[9]

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Public image: Does the public reject unequal pay and punish those events that uphold it?

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Yes

Wimbledon is losing face by maintaining that women should not receive equal pay: It is not in the tournament’s interests to do this: it makes Wimbledon and similar events look bad, and over time it will only become more of an issue. Martina Hingis has suggested that women should boycott tournaments with unequal prize funds. The same applies to weightlifting, cycling etc. The quality of the competition will be lower, and the publicity will be terrible.[10]

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No

On the contrary, this is an accepted principle in world sports and anyone trying to blackmail a tournament would lose public sympathy themselves: They also wouldn’t change anything except denying themselves the chance to compete, as winning is so prestigious that plenty of other women will still enter and protestors will just get forgotten as the tournament progresses.[11]

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