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TENNIS AT THE FOREFRONT OF GENDER EQUALITY IN SPORTS



50 years ago Billie Jean King won the historic "Battle of the Sexes" where she beat Bobby Riggs, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 in a best-of-five sets format. 90 million people tuned in to watch worldwide.


The impact of this moment cemented tennis as a pioneer in women’s sport for years to come. This match proved so many people wrong.


Not only was the myth about the competency of male vs female players dismissed, but the ludicrous argument that women in sport can’t bring in the viewership and money that men can.


Often referred to as a groundbreaker in women's tennis, Billie Jean King devoted her life and career to ensuring equality for women in the sport.


The deep history and the fight of the Original 9 is what is considered by many the reason why tennis is so much further in front of other sports when it comes to gender equality. Currently, all of the grand slams offer equal prize money, which is groundbreaking as the majority of other sports do not do the same.


Australian players Judy Tegart Dalton and Kerry Melville Reid and American players Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Julie Heldman, Billie Jean King, Kristy Pigeon, Nancy Richey, and Valerie Ziegenfuss took a brave stand. On September 23, 1970, they all signed a $1 contract to join the Virginia Slims Circuit to protest pay inequality across men's and women's tennis, forming the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) as we know it.


Since then the WTA has been at the forefront of fighting for gender equality across different sectors. King fought hard for what was seen as the first groundbreaking milestone in women's tennis, and sports for women in general. In 1973, for the first time ever a grand slam, the US Open offered equal prize money to its men’s and women’s champions.


The Australian Open followed suit after 11 years in 1984 but then switched back to paying men more in 1996, and finally offering equal prize money once again in 2001.


Roland Garros offered equal prize money in 2006 then the following year matched the prize money at each round of the draw. Venus Williams was a major factor in this decision when

she joined a Grand Slam committee to advocate for equal prize money at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Finally, in 2007 Wimbledon also offered equal prize money making the grand slam journey to equality full circle. However, there is still a long way to go.


Many tournaments and even Masters 1000 events still pay the men more than the women.


This year the Italian Open paid out about $8.4 million to male players and only $3.9 million to female players. The Canadian Open and Cincinnati Open, each offered a total of $6.6 million in prize money for men and only $2.8 million for women. The effects of pay disparity are felt even more so across the 250 and 500-level events. The average woman’s tennis player earns about 84% compared to her male counterpart across the tour yearly, showing that there is room for improvement.


However, compared to other sports we are light years ahead. In professional soccer, the average NSWL female player earns only $54,000 a year compared to her MLS male counterpart earning a whopping $471,279.


Basketball is a similar case, the women in the WNBA earn just the men 113,295 compared to men in the NBA earning $10,776,383 yearly.


The media coverage and sponsorship deals for women in tennis also reflect how far ahead

tennis is in terms of gender equality compared to other sports. By showcasing women’s matches across all channels and streaming sites it allows equal access to the woman's game for fans.


This means that by giving women’s tennis the space for viewership in terms of equal distribution of viewership, it can get the same and even more viewership than the men’s game.


The 2023 US Open is a prime example of this. Coco Gauff’s triumph saw 3.4 million viewers tune in on ESPN compared to Novak Djokovic’s win garnering 2.4 million. This is a huge discrepancy in other sports, with women’s games often not televised or facing inequality in distribution affecting viewership as evident in the WNBA compared to the NBA.


Racquet and clothing sponsors also carry a large responsibility as by offering similar contracts and exposure to both male and female athletes, both receive not only equality in terms of pay but also inspire other young women and girls to play and watch the sport.


In conclusion, tennis is definitely are the forefront of gender equality in sports. From the incessant fighting from female players since the birth of tennis to even now, tennis has cemented itself as a sport that works hard for gender equality.


The effects of this are felt throughout the sport. Female athletes and fans are generated from growing up with female idols to not only look up to and aspire to but also to feel welcome and equal in the space of the tennis world. There is still a long way to go, however, other sports need to follow in the footsteps of tennis. In order to create gender equality in not only sports but in the world we need to all work together to create a safe, encouraging, and welcoming palace for women in sports.


This comes from working towards equality in pay, viewership, and distribution as well as sponsorship and exposure. Women deserve equality in sports, and tennis is leading its charge.

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