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Apr 7th 2016

Why sports isn't a family affair

The members of the US women's national football team went to the government to seek equal pay to their male counterparts. They are the reigning Women's World Cup champion. They are the gold medal winners of the last three Olympics. Their case isn't different from the other female athletes in other sports. It's far from sexism in the third millennium, as tennis is one of the few sports where gender pay equity is no longer an issue. But marketing dictates the distribution of profit.

Here's a breakdown:

NBA superstars don't have to worry about salary and endorsement. In fact, some stars have forgotten how fortunate they are. Perhaps they need to look at the WNBA players. Most aren't household names, and some will wonder why they can't have a season that would last eight months. (The WNBA season is barely half of the NBA.) Does the organizers think that female basketball players can't attract the same crowd as their male counterparts? Must stars like Sheryl Swoopers bare their bodies to make them noticed? Both questions will divide basketball fans.

The FIVB Volleyball World League is the richest international volleyball competition created by the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB). The winning team will receive a prize money of one million US dollars. On the other hand, the winner of the FIVB World Grand Prix, its female counterpart, only gets one fifth of what the male volleyball players get.

The recently-concluded Alpine Skiing World Cup revealed a wide gap in prize money. Austria's Marcel Hirscher won his record-breaking fifth overall title in St. Moritz, earning almost 600,000 Swiss francs. Lindsey Vonn, the top female skier during the season, won more than 430,000 francs.

The above cases mean one thing. It comes down to publicity. Did WNBA, FIVB and FIS made a poor job in marketing female athletes? On the part of the competitors, there might be a need to have more of the likes of Vonn. The 2010 Olympic downhill champion loves the limelight. In fact, her competitors would be the first to admit that the sport became more popular because of her. How about tennis?

Battle of the Sexes

In 1973, Billie Jean King led a small group of female tennis players to form the Women's Tennis Association (WTA). They wanted gender pay equity, and King played Bobby Riggs to prove it. (Riggs, a self-confessed chauvinist, was a top male player before World War II.) It took several decades before the organizers of the four Grand Slam events would agree to equal pay.

The issue was raised up from time to time. (Gilles Simon earned the ire of Maria Sharapova and other top players during the 2012 Wimbledon Championships.) Recently, Raymond Moore and Novak Djokovic found themselves in hot water after favoring the idea of male players earning more than the female players. The reaction was universal.

“We're better at taking opportunities and being graceful. It's our duty to keep just working hard through whatever comments there is.” - Victoria Azarenka

"We're not taking their money. We just want to earn the same." - Svetlana Kuznetsova

"No woman should be down on their knees" - Serena Williams

Women's tennis benefited from the rivalries during the past decades. Chris Evert v Martina Navratilova. Steffi Graf v Monica Seles. Martina Hingis v Williams sisters. Justine Henin v Serena Williams. The Williams sisters might be hanging up their rackets in five years or less. At the moment, the women's tour is an even field. This might not help their cause, but King and Navratilova are still around. And they will be the first to defend gender pay equity.

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