Equal pay for equal work

With prize money of £500,000 for just 49 minutes play, Wimbledon ladies semi-final ranks as one of the most profitable ever for a losing player.

Elena Vesnina made more than £10,000 per minute in a match in which she won just two games against Serena Williams, eventually losing 6-2, 6-0.

Williams’ speedy straight sets demolition of the Russian was in stark contrast to the five-set thrillers played by Roger Federer and Andy Murray the previous day, and has served to revive the debate over equal prize money for men and women at Wimbledon.

Hmmm.

46 thoughts on “Equal pay for equal work”

  1. Why don’t they just combine the two into one big tournament? All players go into one big pool, randomly drawn against the others. Or seeded, I don’t really care.

    After all, the wimmins are equally capable and as strong as the men right? Why should they be treated any different?

  2. I don’t see why women can’t play five sets anyway. Women surely have the stamina to do that.

  3. Aren’t 5 sets and the lower level of skill rather missing the point?

    If people are prepared to pay the same for their product, then the women should get paid the same as the men. But on the basis that both the stadium audiences, and far more importantly the TV audiences, are (I believe) a lot lower, then the market surely demands that this should be reflected in the pay. As it is for women’s cricket, soccer & rugby.

    BUT … maybe the bosses of tennis are being super-sophisticated. By paying women the same as men, they are in tune with the times, and are attracting a much larger female market for their product. Tennis is probably much more popular with women than most sports.

    It’s a minefield …

  4. If you let as single game decide whether the debate should be reopened then you don’t really have a handle on the issue.

    In the second round Federer handed a thorough beating to a young British lad. It didn’t take long and Federer hardly broke sweat – was he overpaid that day? Did the young lad not earn enough (because I’ll give odds that, being a plucky Brit, he attracted many more viewers than would normally watch such a match)?

    Answer to both questions – “no”, because you don’t set policy from one match. You set policy from more general information and let outliers be outliers. And, in general, if the women attract the sponsors and audiences in the same way that the men do then they should get paid the same. I neither know nor care whether that’s the case.

  5. I think all the years of training and competition, as well as progress in the tournament, entitled her to earn 500,000 for that game.

    Moronic to imply that she got that sum for “just one game”. There are some truly thick and spiteful people in this country. Then again, it’s the press.

  6. Rob

    “I think all the years of training and competition, as well as progress in the tournament, entitled her to earn 500,000 for that game.

    Moronic to imply that she got that sum for “just one game”. There are some truly thick and spiteful people in this country. ”

    What about those who spent years of training and competition and lost? Where is their 500k for all that?

  7. The prize money isn’t for playing in the semi-final, it’s for reaching it – Richard Gasquet will have been paid despite conceding his fourth-round match against Tsonga after only six games.

    And players are not paid by the minute. They’re paid to put bums on seats.

  8. The author is a fool. If she played 49 minutes in the semi-final for £500,000 she must have played the earlier rounds for free.

  9. There isn’t equal pay for the doubles players – they get much less than the singles players. Or for the wheelchair players, even for singles, which is a harder square to circle. If men and women deserve equal pay for equality reasons, shouldn’t disabled people get the same, for equality reasons?

    Truth be told this isn’t very much about equality and deserving at all, much more about negotiating power for what the players can extract. For right or wrong.

  10. @Alex

    “The author is a fool. If she played 49 minutes in the semi-final for £500,000 she must have played the earlier rounds for free.”

    Quite! The calculation of payment by the minute is very silly indeed.

    And realistically even the players in the early rounds outside the top 100 are almost all full-time professionals (some may make more money from coaching than playing but those good enough to be touring constantly are basically training and playing full-time). You’d have to assess hourly pay on those hours, after travel and accommodation costs (as well as whatever they pay for their own coaching, physiotherapy, equipment…) and on that basis I imagine the figures look pretty awful for a lot of players. For the young’uns I imagine it is the hope they will break through into the riches of the top 100 that keeps them going, rather than what they’re earning right now.

    Moreover, for the majority of women players, their hourly earnings over the course of the year are likely to be rather less than the equivalent ranked man, since the women’s tour (outside grand slams) is generally less lucrative, which is where the commercial appeal comes into it. A lot of professional players don’t get through the qualifying for grand slams, so equal pay there isn’t much help for the bulk of lower ranked players.

  11. How long before the first player in the Men’s world 1,000 dons a pair of frilly knickers, comes out as a ‘trans’ female and demands the right to compete in the Women’s tournaments? I see we’ve already got the first such (potentially) in our Olympic team.

  12. Truth be told this isn’t very much about equality and deserving at all, much more about negotiating power for what the players can extract. For right or wrong.

    Except that the equalising of the prize money for the mens’ and womens’ tournaments was expressly campaigned for as an “equality measure”. The fact that the All England Club thought it reasonable to capitulate …

  13. I still don’t see why they can’t play five sets. These are highly trained athletes aren’t they?

  14. ‘I still don’t see why they can’t play five sets…’

    Maybe Wimbledon Fortnight would have to grow to be Wimbledon Three Weeks?

  15. @SE

    The fact it is equal is a powerful bargaining chip in its own right – which organisers would want to be seen as sexist? – but ultimately they won because the women’s game still produces significant revenue.

    If the “main event” (in terms of billing/audience /commercial value) was the men’s singles and the second-main was the men’s wheelchair singles, with the women being well below that, then I imagine “equality for disabled athletes” might have been a successful argument and “equality for men and women” would not have been. As it is, female players have sufficient commercial clout and wheelchair players don’t. (Doubles specialists of either sex also don’t, but they have the additional disadvantage of not having any compelling moral argument for equal compensation.)

  16. “The fact that the All England Club thought it reasonable to capitulate …”

    Capitulate is an excellent choice of word. They didn’t capitulate because it was fair or reasonable, they did so to avoid grief and hassle.

  17. The Telegraph appears to believe in some sort of bastardised version of the Labour Theory of Value regarding professional sport.

    It is fucked, will be gone in a few years. Good riddance.

  18. I happened to catch a clip of the England Womens cricket team playing Pakistan Ladies the other day. I saw an English batsman (Batswoman? Batter?) hit a ‘Four’. It did indeed cross the boundary rope, it was just that the boundary rope was about 15 yards in from the normal boundary position, and this on a ground (Chelmsford) that is considered quite small in the men’s game – batsmen regularly put balls into the gardens on the straight boundary.

    Its pathetic that this standard of performance is feted as something special – you could see far better standard of play at your average club league game any Saturday around the country.

  19. Maybe Wimbledon Fortnight would have to grow to be Wimbledon Three Weeks?

    Nah, they could play the lower-ranked womens’ early rounds in the local municipal tennis courts, and no-one would miss it.

  20. The Thought Gang

    They would play five sets if asked. But there is very little appetite amongst fans for them to do so.

    If they did then they might serve up a similar number of great games as the men do, though it seems unlikely with the current crop of players. Mind you, it’s not so long ago that few were interested in many male five setters. The period over which the money equality debate has spanned is not representative of tennis history in general. It is freakishly good on the male side and the female side has suffered with one player being so far ahead of all the others that she can win slams at 50%.

    If we had Graf and Hingis slugging it out on Saturday, and Sampras vs ANOther on Sunday, then things would be very different.

  21. The Thought Gang

    (To put things in context.. and accepting the endless futility of ranking sportsmen across eras… it’s reasonable to argue that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are the three best players of all time… and the fact that he had always been right there with them gives Murray a fair claim on being one of the best of the rest… so of course they’re way out ahead of the women on every measure.. they’re fucking incredible!!)

  22. Yes, to be world #2 in arguably the greatest era in what is a highly competetive global sport is an incredible achievement. Difficult to compare eras/sports, but you could surely mount a pretty good case for Murray as Britain’s greatest sportsman of all time.

  23. This debate seems to recur every summer, a bit like the autumnal one about abolishing BST, or making it permanent, and won’t somebody think of the wee bairns on their way to school, and then of course that descends into an equally pointless squabble about Scottish independence, just as this one is about the thorny and insoluble conundrum of the battle between the sexes.

    My opinion, irrelevant and old-fashioned as it may be, is that women’s tennis is generally easier on the eye than the men’s: their feebler play is often more graceful, for one thing, but of greater importance to me is their occasional comeliness and the revealing nature of their costumes. To my chagrin the sport has become more and more infested with bull dykes, a sorry sign of the times, no doubt, and I may in future have to give greater attention to the ladies who play beach volleyball.

  24. I can’t see why a payment per minute thing is a bad idea, as long as you have a base payment that makes it worth turning up. The audience is basically worldwide, with ads and subs being paid to watch (outwith the UK, where it was fixed for the BBC by law I think – though o/c we still have to pay). The value accruing to the viewer and the broadcaster is vastly lower in a 50-minute match than a 2hr 50min match, so why not reflect that in the prize money?

    Anyway. I wonder when (or if) we’ll get to the point where a legal challenge will be mounted by a bloke around the 200-300 mark who is being excluded from the female tour and who argues that he is being unfairly discriminated against because he isn’t female? Yes, I know it’s mad but we do seem to be going a bit mad.

  25. @Rob

    ‘I think all the years of training and competition, as well as progress in the tournament, entitled her to earn 500,000 for that game.’

    Rare that I disagree with you Rob, but you don’t get paid to train you get paid to perform. Everyone trains.

    @Social Justice Warrior

    ‘The prize money isn’t for playing in the semi-final, it’s for reaching it – Richard Gasquet will have been paid despite conceding his fourth-round match against Tsonga after only six games.’

    But this is an outlier. If 50% of matches ended in concession after six games the prize money rules would soon change, I’d have thought.

  26. OT, but it pisses me off to hear talk of players winning (say) “12 Grand Slams”. They haven’t. They have won 12 Grand Slam tournaments. To win a Grand Slam, you need to win all 4 in one season.

    Not that I’m about to do that anytime soon…. New balls, please!

  27. Who is Patrick Sawer, and why is what tennis players are paid any of his business? He is a Telegraph Troll.

  28. The American women’s soccer team (world champions, I believe), have put in a claim for more money from their Federation.

    They claim they generate more income for the Federation than the men’s team.

    If this is true (and I suspect it is), then I support their claim.

    I seriously doubt that the Wimbledon situation is similar, and I am a great fan of market-pricing. Professional sport is that, professional.

    Otherwise, how are male models doing when compared……?

  29. Fairness has got little to do with the income of entertainers. It’s a market outcome. Shouldn’t you libertarians be telling me that?

    I can’t see why a payment per minute thing is a bad idea
    You have to be careful with financial incentives. I see some merit in paying the loser of each match a top-up per point won. But not the winner.

  30. You have to be careful with financial incentives. I see some merit in paying the loser of each match a top-up per point won. But not the winner.

    Or, seeing as they are in the entertainment business, you could pay each participant in a match a percentage of the ticket sales. Not necessarily 50-50, 80-20 to the winner would be a fair incentive.

    Then, more bums on seats == bigger pay cheques.

  31. Someone tired to sue in Canada over women only gym sessions recently (not for the first time) and lost. The court agreed it was indeed gender discrimination, but that there also has to be an element of loss/suffering for a claim and as there were plenty of other gyms in the area he lost.
    They also said that the purpose was a factor and as it was to provide a safe space for women their right to said safe space trumped his rights anyway
    Funny how the rules change when it’s women complaining about men’s clubs.
    Though on the basis that there are other changing rooms/toilets available I can’t see the trans groups can claim they are discriminated against by insisting they can use whatever changing rooms/toilets they like especially as it’s infringing on other people’s rights to safe spaces.

  32. “Funny how the rules change when it’s women complaining about men’s clubs.”

    That’s because there is no fixed set of rules. There is a buffet selection of ‘rules’ social justice warriors can use or discard to suit their purposes. They are weapons, really, not rules or, God forbid, actual Laws.

  33. they can have equality in the % share of revenue generated, doesn’t mean they have the same $ payout if say for example the tickets, tv rights and sponsorship for one final is higher than the other

  34. There may be no fixed set of rules, but there is a meta-rule which, I think can best be summed up as: “Justice is the principle which condemns discrimination of which I am the victim, fairness is the principle which upholds discrimination of which I am the beneficiary. Being, like all humans, an irredeemable hypocrite, I am in favour of justice and fairness.”.

  35. @ SJW
    But it’s not a market outcome at Wimbledon because politics in the form of a media campaign trumped market pricing.
    I, personally, am in favour of the same pay for each singles winner because he/she is the best (on the day, of course) in the world. There is therfore no ceiling on how good he/she is.
    A few years ago the organiser of a local race set different prizes for men and women and a local international triathlete started a campaign to demand equality, which gained support from a lot of runners of both genders – the guy defended his decision on the grounds that a lot more men than women entered and normally the first man was faster than the first woman – BUT he couldn’t know that in advance so it was wrong to pre-determine that the first man must be superior to the first woman. He found he lacked support and quit.

    In US football pay is, to some extent, market-determined.

  36. “Employers pay what they have to pay to attract and retain people who can do what they want done.” – GC

    ‘They claim they generate more income for the Federation than the men’s team. If this is true (and I suspect it is), then I support their claim.’

    Doesn’t have a damn thing to do with it. They can get all the women soccer players, or tennis players, they want for what they are paying now. There is no reason to pay more.

    ‘Fairness has got little to do with the income of entertainers. It’s a market outcome. Shouldn’t you libertarians be telling me that?’

    Yes. Employers pay what they have to pay.

  37. Scrap the prize money. That should be paid to turn up just like in any other entertainment industry. Harrison Ford gets paid what he does because of the expectation of the number of people who will pay to see him.

    They can be paid per minute (and won’t we see five set women’s matches pretty quickly then) or a proportion of ticket sales /ad revenue.

    It doesn’t matter how it is done just get rid of the prize money.

  38. The Thought Gang

    @BniC
    “Funny how the rules change when it’s women complaining about men’s clubs.”

    Depends which rules you’re looking at. Legally, I’m reasonably sure that men’s clubs are fine.

    ‘Socially’ I think it’s different.. and the people who want to complain about them do seem to get much bigger platforms for their grievances than the people who want to complain about women only stuff. TBH I’m ok with not having to hear from people who object to female only gym sessions, I just wish I could turn off the other lot too.

  39. People aren’t paid according to how hard they work, how long they’ve practiced , they’re paid according to demand for their services (as a group in the case of Tennis Players, there’s £x prize money for y people).

    (People who work in the public sector have a mental block on this, hence you get this ridiculous “work of equal value” (which never is) and so on. Try arguing to a bunch of teachers that a PE teacher should earn less than a Maths teacher)

    Women aren’t that interested in Women’s Tennis. Most of them want to watch Murray and before him Henman. The reason is outside a tiny few (Williams’ etc). Women’s tennis looks like a Pong game with better graphics. There’s a few women players some men like to watch because they have a nice bum and wear short skirts.

    As with many other women’s sports (the Cricket World Cup did this) the women’s competition is put in adjacent to the men’s, because if it wasn’t nobody would bother.

    Try dividing it into Wimbledon (M) and WImbledon (F) and holding it seperately and watch Wimbledon (F) go broke overnight.

  40. @Jim the scary thing is women’s cricket has got a lot better. I remember watching the “highlights” of a 50 over Women’s international a few years back. It was painful to watch.

    It’s still terrible though. I’m fat and 52 and never played above village knockabout and I’m not sure the women spin bowlers are actually any better than me, they seem to throw up non turning lobs most of the time, and when I used to bowl “fast” (by village standards) I think I was quicker.

    I think the few women who look like they can play cricket are probably good club standard. I can only think of 2 or 3 that look like cricketers.

    Most play this wierd variation of cricket where it looks like the bowlers have promised not to try too hard if the batsmen push them around for singles. Some of them are very good at this but they aren’t playing what anyone would recognise.

    I recall a previous England Captain, Karen I think her name was who bowled these extraordinary lobby donkey drops and would get figures like 10-5-13-2. If a bloke bowled those in village cricket you’d get slaughtered. If you remember Jeremy Snape’s moonball he would throw in as a variation, they were all like that but slower.

  41. @Paul: yes its instructive that the best female cricketers seem to occasionally play for ECB premier league clubs with men, which appears to be their standard. The less able sometimes play for lower teams in the same clubs.

    Sarah Taylor apparently played one mens Grade A game in Australia last year, she was out first ball. She was however playing as a keeper, where power is less important than for batting or bowling. Karen Rolton who was a stand out Australian Ladies cricketer 10+ years ago only ever played B and C grade with the men in Australia.

    It seems the absolute pinnacle of female cricketers can just about compete with men who play the highest level of amateur cricket, and no higher.

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