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Game, set and match - is equal pay always fair?

Sinclair Robbie
Robbie Sinclair



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23 March 2016


Equal pay has had its fair share of media coverage over the last year, reaching dizzy heights with the publication of mandatory gender pay gap reporting regulations in February 2016. This is not, however, simply the concern of everyday workers in cities across the UK. Even in the glamour world of Hollywood actors, equal pay is being hotly debated.

As an avid sports fan I was particularly interested in the recent controversy over women’s pay in tennis. Just a few days after the Indian Wells tournament, CEO, Raymond Moore, said the women’s WTA Tour was riding “on the coat-tails of the men”. Novak Djokovic served a double fault when he waded in with the comment that male tennis players should earn more money than their feequal paymale counterparts because more people watch them play.


By way of background, men and women receive equal prize money when competing in the same event (namely the four Grand Slam tournaments including Wimbledon, and for some other noteworthy tournaments such as Indian Wells). The immediate reaction to Djokovic’s comment by most commentators is “of course it is right that male and female tennis players should receive equal prize money”. But is it really? How would these arguments play out in the workplace? How would these argument stand up legally in the context of equal pay legislation?

Male should tennis players be paid more?

  1. Whilst male and female tennis players receive equal prize money in Grand Slam tournaments, men play more tennis (playing best of five sets as opposed to best of three). As a result, the women are doing up to 40% less work than their male counterparts. When looking at the workplace, this is directly comparable to how much work is undertaken – it is fair to pay an employee proportionately, so an individual who works a three-day week receives less than someone who works a five-day week.
  2. In tennis the main source of the prize money is sponsorship. In single-sex events, the bigger draw for sponsors is men's tennis. An even clearer illustration of this point is that whilst the number one ranked player in the world, Serena Williams, received $13m in endorsements in 2015, her male counterpart, Novak Djokovic, received $31m in sponsorship. Roger Federer received even more with $58m during 2015. Having these stars at a tournament brings increased endorsements/revenue stream for the tournament which leads to an increased prize fund. In a traditional workplace, this is comparable to how many clients an individual can attract or the amount of revenue generated for the organisation. To respond to allegations of unequal pay, evidence would be adduced to justify that the pay differential was not gender-related but was linked to performance.
  3. Men attract larger audiences both in terms of spectators and viewing figures. By way of illustration, the 2015 men’s singles final at Wimbledon had 9.2m viewers compared to 4.3m viewers for the women's’ final. The equivalent of this in the workplace might be an individual’s profile on social media or more generally on the market. A worker with a higher profile should be entitled to a higher level of pay.

Male and female tennis players should be paid equally

  1. It is morally and legally the right thing to do to pay men and women the same rate for the same work. Where there are differences in the role or aspects of the role, the differences in pay might be justified.

Advantage Djokovic

Was Djokovic’s comment really a double fault? Just as Hawk-Eye is called upon to scrutinise a point in a tennis game, his arguments should be considered before being dismissed outright. The issue is not as black and white as it is often portrayed: within those extremes, there are at least 50 shades of grey. And having examined the issues, Djokovic raises comments that have some merit legally in an equal pay context. Indeed, when comparing like with like, women are being paid more for the Grand Slams.
As we all know though, it is not just about the law. The message is equally important. Paying women tennis players the same prize money is sending out a very strong message about value, equality, and men and women.

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