Friday, February 23, 2007

Deuce?

There is no justification for this picture.
So Wimbledon has bowed to the inevitable and joined the rest of the major tennis tournaments in granting equal prize money to both the men's champion and the women's. It's a hard decision to criticise really - we're all supposed to be in favour of equality and all that - but it's also, oddly, a difficult decision to defend. Mark Lawson, in the Guardian, writes in laudatory terms about it, but I'm not convinced his arguments stack up.
Challenged to a match by 55-year-old former champion Bobby Riggs, who had declared the absolute superiority of men in the sport, she [Billie Jean King] whipped him in straight sets. Logically, Wimbledon should have balanced its payouts then.
Really? At 55 Riggs was well, well past his prime (though he had defeated the women's number 1 Margaret Court 6-1 6-1 that same year). If Lawson's argument is that women deserve equal payouts because they are equally as good as tennis as the men, that is palpably not the case. Whether you look at the party pieces (Jimmy Connors beating Martina Navratilova in straight sets, when Connors had only a single serve and had to defend the doubles court), or just in comparison (speed of first serve, number of unforced errors and the like) it is clear that men play tennis better than women. That might not necessarily be an argument for unequal pay, but it sure as hell isn't an argument against it.
Men play more sets, and better tennis. They attract more viewers, and more sponsorship money. The male game is more competitive (except for the dominance at the very top by Federer); the first half of most women's competitions tends to be extremely predictable - not many upsets to be seen. All these look like arguments in favour of different pay-outs. I'm basically intrinsically disposed to favour equality in this - but I haven't really seen an argument designed to counter these that stacks up.

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