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Kenny Archer: Gender pay gap in sport must be closed

Serena Williams deserves to be paid the same as her male counterparts  

IT WASN'T quite a Damascene moment, but my mindset towards women’s sport took a significant shift this summer.

Strangely enough, it came after the wonderful Serena Williams won her Wimbledon ladies' singles semi-final in a record fastest time, less than 49 minutes. A journalist (male, of course) asked Serena if she still felt female players merited the same rewards as the men at the All-England Club.

“Yeah, I think we deserve equal prize money. Yeah, absolutely,” replied Serena before adding this apparent zinger: “I mean, if you happen to write a short article, you think you don’t deserve equal pay as your beautiful colleague behind you?”

That was presented as quite the burn from Serena, although as a hack myself I simply thought: ‘But generally you do get paid less for a shorter article, especially if you are a freelance’.

I’d always held the view that the campaign for equal prize money at Wimbledon, and in tennis in general, was ridiculous given that men mostly have to win three sets to win their matches compared to just two sets for women. Basically, women get the same money for less work. That can’t be right, can it?

But when the subject was raised again after Serena eased past Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-0, I suddenly thought - and I realise this is not an argument worthy of comparison with St Paul either - ‘So what?!’ So what if women are better off in this one arena? Women have done - and continue to do - the same work for less money in so many areas, not just in sport, so perhaps this anomaly ironically highlights the inequities and keeps the debate alive.

When every other inequality suffered by women is evened out, then come back and complain about them getting paid the same as men for less work in tennis. In the meantime, women are quite right to keep demanding equal prize money. Perhaps more importantly, they should keep demanding equal funding. After all, there may be separate governing bodies for men and women in most sports, which contributes to differing levels of income and prize money distribution, but when it comes to governing bodies then surely everyone deserves equal treatment - and payment - irrespective of their gender.

As Serena put it in that post-semi-final press conference: “I would like to see people, the public, the press, other athletes in general, just realise and respect women for who they are and what we are and what we do.

“I’ve been working at this since I was three-years-old. Actually, maybe younger… Basically, my whole life I’ve been doing this. I haven’t had a life. I don’t think I would deserve to be paid less because of my sex, or anyone else for that matter in any job.”

 Serena Williams has tied Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 Grand Slams, after defeating Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final

Now, I know we don’t live in an ideal world of equality, far from it, but sport is one area where it is easier to give everyone an equal chance. Politicians often trumpet the benefits sport can bring to the economy and to the general health of the populace, so why not endeavour to extend that positivity to as many citizens as possible? Government funding for schools and youth teams should come with provisos that it be split equally between male and female participants. Official bodies should also bring pressure to bear on sponsors to put just as much money into women’s sports as they do for men’s games.

Before anyone levels accusations of my greatest pet hate, hypocrisy, at me, I’ve long argued the amount of coverage afforded to respective sports in this newspaper - in any newspaper - should be commensurate with the degree of interest from our readers. Other organs in this part of the world do not bother greatly with Gaelic games, on the basis that not many of their readers are greatly interested in them.

Sure, that approach should be constantly assessed, as you try to attract new audiences while retaining your regular readers. You can call that attitude cynical or you can call it sensible. But we are a commercial organisation. Publicly-funded broadcasters deserve greater scrutiny of their coverage of women’s sport.

As for ourselves, at present, there appears to be much more interest in men’s sports than in their female equivalent. As participation by females increases, though, so coverage should increase. It should also improve in another way, by being more honest, less patronising. Please don’t try to tell me every female game is ‘wonderful’ and ‘hard-fought’, particularly when results are extremely one-sided.

As with all sports reporting, there’s no need to be personally, gratuitously insulting, especially where amateur athletes are concerned, but you should always call it as you see it. One can argue that men’s sports are simply ‘better’, which is why more people - spectators, television viewers, sponsors - are interested and prepared to pay more money to be associated with them. Perhaps the perspective should be that they are different games merely played by the same rules.

Often, women’s tennis can be more entertaining than the male equivalent, especially when grass court tennis was largely about serve and volley and clay court mostly seemingly interminable rallies. My own experience from another racquet sport may, ahem, serve to illustrate the key differences.

A few years ago I played a few badminton matches against my wife. The results were pretty even - even, I tells ya. My greater power was cancelled out by her superior skill, or vice versa. I once played a soccer match for a tubby, largely talentless male media team against a top women’s team. They were far more skilful than us but we won, er, handsomely because we could kick the ball far further and run faster to chase it down and score goals, sometimes using our greater height.

Yet I know which style of football I’d rather watch. There’s much to be admired in a skilful, slower-paced game, compared to helter-skelter contests where there’s little time or space for skills to be shown. So women’s sport is different, but that doesn’t make it less worthy of attention and/or funding.

One last point, though: females have to help themselves - and each other - as well. If you really want better for women’s sport then attend games yourself, arrange sponsorships, put pressure on the money men (and women) to invest equally. The road to equality is likely to be a long one, but those would be significant steps along it.

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