With college basketball brackets on many minds, one major sports announcement was nearly lost: French Open officials recently announced they would award equal prize money to men and women throughout the tennis tournament.
The news is welcome and long overdue. It brings the French Open in line with the other Grand Slams, including Wimbledon, which announced in February it would equalize pay. The U.S. Open introduced it three decades ago and the Australian Open a few years back.
Although the French Open awarded both men's and women's singles champions the same amount last year, the tournament will now pay the other women who win in the clay-court tournament the same amount as the men.
Critics who have been against awarding equal pay have argued that women play best of three matches compared to the best of five men play and therefore should not be paid equally.
But tournament officials — not players — decide whether women play best of three matches. Five-time Grand Slam singles champ Venus Williams has said that she would be prepared to play the best of five sets like the men if that was what it would take to close the pay gap.
And as tennis legend Billie Jean King, who won a record 20 Wimbledon titles, has said, "Entertainers do not get paid by the hour."
What's more, the women's matches are often more dramatic and sometimes go into longer sets and matches. By contrast, Roger Federer, one of the top men's players, has won many titles with sets —and hours — to spare.
Many tennis fans are more interested in the competitiveness of the women's matches, and the Grand Slams profit well off of them.
"Women's tennis players are getting as many sponsors and media coverage as the men," 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova said. "I understand that our TV ratings at the Grand Slams are pretty much equal to and often better than the men. So I don't understand the rationale for paying the men more than us," she said last year.
Men have rallied around the cause for equal pay, as well.
"When you've got men and women playing at the same tournament, it is ludicrous to have a difference in pay," tennis great John McEnroe said earlier this year. "It would be setting an example to the rest of society in general to have equal prize money."
Fortunately, the French Open realized that paying all women in the tournament equal to their male counterparts is the fair thing to do.
The announcement is a victory for tennis, a victory for sports and a victory for equality.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Sanhita SinhaRoy is editor of the Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP's funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.
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(c) 2007, Sanhita SinhaRoy
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