How much are sportswomen worth?

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IT’S SURE to raise hackles again, but LAWRENCE MONEY takes up the cause of the male tennis players who have to play extra sets to earn the same money as the women:

THERE’S a big difference between “equality” (very trendy term these days) and “equivalent”. Back in 1973 Billie Jean King took on ageing tennis hustler Bobby Riggs in a “Battle of the Sexes” challenge – he reckoned, even at 55 years of age, he could beat the 29-year-old female champ. He couldn’t. He learned that, while they had equivalent pedigrees (both got to world Number 1), by that stage he was far from equal on the court.

It’s often forgotten that, four months earlier, Riggs had beaten another female champ of the day – none other than Australian champion Margaret Court – a 6-2, 6-1 drubbing that (due to the date) was dubbed the Mother’s Day Massacre. He did it partially with lobs and drop shots and strategy but also had the natural advantage of male muscle strength. Court was the greatest female player of the age but was not the equal of Riggs that day.

Riggs demanded a re-match with BJ but never got it. I suspect Riggs would have done much better second time around – he treated the King challenge as a huge “Sugar Daddy” joke until he realised too late that BJ was deadly serious.

The upshot of the King triumph was that female players were treated with more respect and their long-running complaints about equal pay were finally heard. That same year BJ threatened to organise a boycott of the US Open unless prizemoney was “equal”. The previous year, when she had won the title, she received $10,000 compared with $25,000 to male champ Ilie Nastase. In 1973 she got her wish – equal prizemoney for both sexes.

However, here’s the point – the women’s contests remained as best-of-three sets while the men have always played best-of-five. Same money but women don’t have to work so hard to get it. Strange sort of equality.

The tennis showdown. Artwork by Gordon Napier.

In January next year the Australian Open prize purse rises to $4 million apiece. As usual, men have to play the best of five sets throughout, women only best of three. Equal money, unequal workload.

Should women play best-of five? If they really want to be on equal terms with men, yes they should. They are surely just as fit as men these days. But what about sheer ability? According to “The Mouth that Roared”, John McEnroe, even Serena Williams, one of the best female players in history, would rank only “around 700” on the men’s tour.

Mac may have just been stirring to promote his book — but Serena herself has conceded that men’s tennis is too fierce for the females. She once told TV’s David Letterman: “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose, 6-0, 6-0, in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. The men are a lot faster, they serve harder, they hit harder. It’s a completely different game.”

So, the best of the women players are equivalent to the men but they’re not their equal. So why is their prizemoney equal? Imagine if women were asked to play dozens more sets per title than the men for the same dough. The shrill howls of feminists would bring down the stadium.

Former Victorian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity Moira Rayner once tweeted to me that sportswomen are able to do anything males can do. I replied: “When I see the women’s tees move back to the men’s in golf, I’ll take you seriously.” That ain’t going to happen.

“Equality” in golf is even worse. Check out the cheque at the Australian Open this year. Winner of the women’s title at Royal Adelaide in February this year collected US$195,000 ($247,000 Australian). For the men’s 2017 Australian title next month at the Australian golf club, the winner pockets $A225,000. The blokes who hit off the more difficult tees get $22,000 less.

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Author: Lawrence Money

Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria’s best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age — and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines — before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.

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