The Woman Who Successfully Fought For Equal Pay In Women’s Tennis

Venus-Williams

Equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender, is something that many sectors have still yet to implement. The sports industry is certainly not exempt from this issue. Just look at what female rugby players, soccer players, wrestlers, boxers, and some olympic athletes get paid in comparison to men, and you’ll know what we mean.

Things are slowly changing, but it takes relentless campaigning, and proving that women deserve the same amount of recognition as men. It’s not just a matter of “will they attract more audiences?” because regardless of whether viewers would rather watch male rugby players than female, the fact is they are still putting in the same amount of work.

One sport which has recently made major strides in the area of equal pay is tennis. The Washington Post interviewed Stacey Allaster, who runs the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and who had a major hand in winning equal pay status for female players in two major Grand Slams. The interview was run during the time of the US Open in early September, and Stacey said it wasn’t until 2007 hat Wimbledon and Roland Garros (the French Open) finally relinquished its antiquated ways and joined the other two Grand Slams (US Open and Australian Open) to offer equal prize money to both male and female athletes.

She said it was legendary player Billie Jean King who had the grand vision that women’s tennis could be just as commercially successful as the men’s game, and petitioned the United States Tennis Association during her playing career in 1970-1973 to pay women what they deserved.

“The WTA was founded on the principles of equality and the empowerment of women through the great Billie Jean King. When you hear it from Billie, the weight of the world was on her shoulders. It wasn’t about winning a tennis match. It was about showing that women were confident, strong and equal.”

stacey-allaster-WTA

While Stacey is credited as being responsible for Wimbledon and Roland Garros finally paying women equally, she said it was decades of hard work form former tennis greats such as Martina Navratilove and Chris Evert who laid the ground leading up to the 2007 decision.

“We were at 93 percent of pay in 2006. We launched a public opinion campaign in France and Britain. We presented the data that showed our sponsorship revenues were very strong. We had a strong political campaign in business leaders like Richard Branson. Tessa Jowell, the minister of sport in Britain, was able to get Tony Blair on the House of Commons floor to say that Wimbledon should pay equal prize money,” she said.

She also credits Venus Williams as the woman who got the vote across the line as she was asked to speak on behalf of the WTA at the time.

Stacey addresses the issue that if women are going to be paid equally, then they should play 5 sets like the men, by saying the women are more than willing. But regardless, the effort they put in on the court and in training is the same.

“This issue of parity is not a women’s issue. It’s a societal issue that needs to be resolved by men and women. Having sponsor support and male leadership support in this area has been a key to our success.”

There are a range of female stars at the top of the world rankings who draw in just as big a crowd as any of the Federers, Djokovic’s, and Nadals. Names such as Maria Sharapova, Li Na, and let’s not forget powerhouse Serena Williams who is still conquering all surfaces in her game. So the debate about drawing in advertisers, viewers and interest is certainly not an issue that comes into play in terms of equal pay in tennis says Stacey.

billie-jean-king

But for her personally, a career in sports at her level was also something that was often called into contention because she was a woman.

“I was young, ambitious and naive when I came out of college to think that my gender didn’t matter, that I was just going to prove myself through hard work and results. Probably by age 32-ish I began to hit the glass ceiling, and the recognition that there was gender bias and gender inequality hit me,” she said.

“I’m the only female in the world running a global professional sport. Even in our sport — the sport of equality — right now, the International Tennis Federation does not have one woman on its board.”

These are the stories and women we need to hear more about, because the more representation we have in the world on all fronts, the less likely the next girl who comes out of college will be affected in an industry because of her gender. One trailblazer makes the path a little wider for the next generation coming through, and while the journey is often difficult, the results which transcend one lifetime are worth it.

Stacey’s insight into the world of tennis shows that underneath what we see in the media, it is a business. And in business, everyone who does a good job deserves to be compensated equally based on their hard work, not on their appearance.

Here’s hoping issues like this will become more and more obsolete the more seats we gain for ourselves at the table. Let this interview be a source of encouragement to whatever battle you are facing today, especially if it is because you are a woman. Never back down!

maria-sharapova