Tennis tragic 

Anyone that tunes in to, well anything by mwah. will know that I am an absolute tennis tragic (yes, that describes my great love for the game and the way I play it). So, you can imagine how thrilled I was by the great performances of the Aussies at the recent French Open.  An incredible win by both Ash Barty(female) and Dylan Alcott (male wheelchair quad) but it left me wondering if the gender pay gap in sport and indeed the general pay equity amongst all players is meant to reflect my enjoyment?

Lots came out on Ash, quite rightly, after the triumph – the $3.6m payday, the return from professional cricket, the comparison to other Aussie tennis greats, the embodiment of Aussie spirit (and thank goodness, something beyond thrown chairs, dislike of clay and an unfound basketball career) and that you can win at 1.66m..

We also saw some real progress made by Priscilla Hon, an Aussie Fed Cup player ranked in the mid-100s that made the 2nd round and the gritty Jordan Thompson had a solid showing, succumbing 8th seed Juan Del Potro (DelPo) in the 3rd round.

And there was a bit on Dylan too, who absolutely dominates.

But this is not a story to indulge the tennis tragic in me. Or announce great Australian personal bests.

It’s actually a thinking point on pay equity and equality.

Are we getting close to Pay Equity?

The French Open, and tennis generally, has done a lot right to fix pay equity across the Men’s and Women’s draws.

Ash pocketed $3.6m, Priscilla (no extra for pushing to 3 sets) got ~$143k and Jordan nabbed ~$234k. Decent numbers, and there is absolute gender parity from Round 1 to the Quarter Finals (and a very slight deviation for the last 8 – at its widest of $165k for the winner on a big base ~$3.73m).

And about this time all sorts of comparisons, contrasts, sophisticated conversations and reporting on these topics is happening for many organisations in Australia. Submissions are in to WGEA on how organisations approach reward, their role levels and structures. It’s a great reference point, and without the results – I am confident in saying there will be more work to do – these things never ‘land’, they require constant vigilance and crunchy conversations. Learn some more. Repeat. Never stop.

In some ways, in the Tennis Slams (big 4 tournaments), tennis goes beyond ‘equal pay, for equal work’. On the surface, the French Open has actually paid female players a little better than men.

No stones – hear me out.

Ash Barty played 7 rounds and 16 sets and men’s winner Rafael (Rafa) Nadal won his 12th French Open in 7 rounds and 23 sets. Per set played, Ash got $225k and Rafa got ~$163k. It’s not a comment on why men play best of 5 sets, and women best of 3 sets either.

My base assumption is that both Ash and Rafa would be doing similar (and lots) of practice, physical training, recovery, nutrition and sports psychology. I fully get that these assumptions could be dangerous, unfair and incorrect. In fact, they are.

Many great-intended people fall in to this exact same trap – analysis is made on hypotheses that end up explaining the reasons for why things are so, and ultimately why it is okay the way it is.


The Real Statistics

On this example, if we were to go deeper, we would consider what happens in every tournament outside the big 4 (pay gap widens). 71% of the top 100 men have made more this year than their female counterparts (at the same ranking).

Yes, we could go back down the hypotheses and data route, and construct reasons explaining the differences away – but I doubt finding a landing other than gender pay being something that requires vigilance and action.

But while we could argue the toss (pun intended) on gender pay parity in tennis, we had some of the most amazing athletes, and greatest tennis players at the French for the first time.

We saw the Quad Wheelchair athletes compete – albeit with the unfortunately small crowds that plagued the tournament as a whole (at least to us watching on TV!). And these players are unbelievable. The ability level is freakish. The intensity is off the charts. The matches super competitive. The shots made incredible.

Yes, that is absolutely biased from my view as an able-bodied tennis hack. I don’t apologise for it. The struggle of the high backhand is real,

without the added complexity of navigating the juggling act of a tennis racquet, wheeling your chair to the ball then even attempting to play the shot.

I am simply in awe.

So how did Dylan end up financially? He got a shiny trophy and ~$33k for the win. Yes, $33k.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s great these athletes were included. And the draw sizes in the tournament are different. The sponsorships different. It’s a new competition,  it’s a journey. But that’s a bloody big gap.

We need to do better. We need to show support to the amazing ability.

For me, it’s about a shared passion for a great game and for the athletes – however they show up, make it to court and whatever way they play the game being able to make a fist of it. For it to be viable to give their unique contribution to better the game.

So, as we are constantly vigilant on gender pay equity, and as refinements are made and the thinking gets deeper and more sophisticated – we need to go further. We need to go beyond the ‘commercial’ conversations that justify the pay differences and have the real ones.

On the breadth of talent in the sport, of diverse role models, of elevating different thinking, perspectives, entertainment and change.

Tennis is a sport for everyone. Age, ability, height, culture, disability and so on.

One ball at a time.