Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fair Pay or Fair Play?

He's better than her.

Tennis and Ovaries

Every year it's the same. When Wimbledon comes around, someone complains about the inequality in prize money between male and female players at the All England Championship. This year the argument has added venom, for two reasons. First, the Roland Garros championship in Paris switched to gender equality in May - making Wimbledon the last Grand Slam tournament to reward men and women differently. Second, no less a personage than Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, has now waded in. Last week she wrote to the Wimbledon Authorities, and said the situation - where male champions get £655,000 and women £625,000 - was 'tarnishing the game's image'.

Ms Jowell's argument is based on a narrow premise: that women's tennis is as popular as men's, judging by the crowds at Wimbledon. But this argument is lightweight: Wimbledon fornight is hugely glamorous and popular, you could probably stage Stockhausen operas on Centre Court, and they would still sell out. Doesn't mean the operas are any good.

The arguments against Ms Jowell's proposals are, by contrast, pretty strong. Men play much more tennis than women to win their prize-money - five set matches instead of three. Men's tennis is also much more competitive than women's - male seeds are regularly knocked out in the early rounds at Wimbledon, whereas the top female players barely break a sweat before the quarter finals. Finally, men's tennis is faster than women's - more powerful and demanding. It is simply superior, in terms of sport.

This is the crux. Taken to its logical conclusion, what Ms Jowell is saying is that even though women's tennis is much weaker than men's, women should still be paid the same, otherwise it is discrimination. On these grounds, a paraplegic football player should be paid the same as Wayne Rooney - to reward the disabled player differently is to discriminate against him simply for the way he is made. Does Ms Jowell really think this?

Moreover, what if we applied the Culture Minister's logic to other competitive arenas of life? Perhaos we should institute a Nobel Prize for Chemistry that Isn't Very Good But It's By a Woman? How about a Field Prize for Feeble Mathematics Done By Someone With Ovaries? We could even have a kind of Booker Prize For Dodgy Novels Written By People In Skirts - whoops, we already have that, it's called the Orange Prize for fiction.

OK, Tessa, I'm teasing. But there is a serious point here. Men's tennis is better and harder than women's, therefore the men should get paid more. All else is political correctness. Wimbledon should stick to their guns.

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