123 YEARS LATER – YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY? THE REAL FORCE BEHIND WIMBLEDON’S MONUMENTAL DECISION- by Perry Cohen

Billie Jean KingThursday marked a watershed event for women’s tennis. After 123 years of discriminating against women through the unequal distribution of prize money, the Committee of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club voted to award the men’s and women’s Wimbledon Champions equal prize money for the 2007 tournament and onwards.

While I would love to sit back and revel in how far female athletes have come, I can’t help but wonder why, after 123 years, did the “Committee” finally agree to equal prize money? They were not swayed in 1968 when the US Open leveled its purses. They were not swayed when the Australian (1968) and French Open (2006) finally recognized the need for equality. They were not convinced by the repeated appeals of former Wimbledon Champions Billie Jean King or Venus Williams. So what was it that made them acquiesce to the call that had been so long ignored?

Club Chairman, Tim Phillips, stated that social factors outside of the world of sport contributed to the private club’s move toward equality. Yet, in the same New York Times article, Phillips noted that ultimately the decision was based on economics. Up until 2006 he believed that good business dictated an unequal distribution of prize money. He suggested that the small (5% or $53,000) difference was insignificant and women actually had the potential to make more money than men because “they still play doubles.” What Phillips is missing, besides the fact that $53,000 is a lot of money and that men can play doubles too, is that the issue is not entirely financial. While the actual dollars would certainly be appreciated, the recognition that a woman is no less a champion than a man is, might be even more appreciated than the cash.

However, in 2007, the economic benefits of equal prize money finally outweighed the drawbacks. So, while it would be wonderful to read Wimbledon’s decision as a watershed moment for all women that is reflective of a society that views men and women as equals, Phillips comments clearly demonstrate that not to be the case. “There are two ways of looking at it,” Phillips said. “One is that it is an equal right and entitlement and the other is that in the sports and entertainment business, remuneration is driven by the market and not by your gender, and we happen to take that view.” So, we can choose to believe that Wimbledon voted to award equal prize money because it was the right thing to do. Or, we can dig a little bit deeper and uncover the sad reality that even gender equity is driven by economic interests.

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5 thoughts on “123 YEARS LATER – YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY BABY? THE REAL FORCE BEHIND WIMBLEDON’S MONUMENTAL DECISION- by Perry Cohen

  1. I agree, as you pointed out, that it is a shame that Wimbeldon is acknowledging the fact that they are equaling the prize money solely because it makes more sense ecnomically for them, rather than it being the fair, and correct thing to do. It’s sad to see that even in 2007, women in sports are treated as unequals, especially in a sport like tennis, where women participants aren’t rare at all. Hopefully the media will make a big enough deal out of this that Wimbeldon will see how idiotic they look with the comments they made. We’ll have to wait and see…

    -Dan Morrison

  2. Aside from the fact that economics is involved, I think one has to realize that in a country that is run by a woman it becomes even more difficult to justify their slow reaction to change. Making excuses does them no good, and it’s a shame that women cannot be viewed as equals. I am happy that they have decided to make the change, but I still feel like a country as advanced as England (with the pound weighing more heavily than the dollar), gender issue should have no place in economics.

  3. Economics is indeed involved. I think the accusation of discrimination over 123 yrs is a bit too much. I doubt 123 yrs ago or 75 yrs ago the female winner of Wimbledon was able to provide the tournament enough economic rent to justify a bigger purse. This is Wimbledon, not the Nobel Prize. Prize money figures reflect value attained from athletes involved. Club Chairman (sic), Tom] Phillips had cited surveys showing that men give better value than the women, until now….

    “It just doesn’t seem right to us that the lady players could play in three events and could take away significantly more than the men’s champion who battles away through these best-of-five matches,” Phillips said last year. “We don’t see it as an equal rights issue.”

    The key thing here is not who has to work harder for their money, it is who generates the revenue for Wimbledon. Today, it seems from the ratings that men and women are on par with each other when it comes to Tennis. Successful female tennis players usually are more sought after than their counterparts in other sports for endorsement deals and such, which tells you something about their popularity.

  4. Interesting argument. I don’t agree with it, but if for the sake of argument we go with it, how would you respond to the suggestion that since women actually draw more tv viewers than men, they should be paid more than the men? Does that make it seem like it should be about more than just dollars in and dollars out? Isn’t it about the integrity of the event itself?

  5. Since when are sportting events about the integrity of the event itself? Wimbledon, like any other firm, will reward highest those that bring it the most value. I’m not of the opinion that equal pay should be the standard for the promotion of geneder rights. If women are brining in the ratings, they deserve the bulk of the purse.

    Do you think WNBA players and NBA should have their respective paychecks leveled off for the integrity of basketball?

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