Pay the male players more, says Djokovic

Baseline pay: Novak Djokovic (left) has earned $97m. Serena Williams (right) just $75m.

The pay gap between men’s and women’s tennis is closing – but according to Novak Djokovic, it should be widening. The world number one thinks male players deserve more money. Do they?

It is rare for the CEO of a tennis tournament to overshadow the players. Yet that is what happened on Sunday, when Indian Wells chief Raymond Moore suggested that female players should be grateful to the men’s game for making the sport so popular.

Condemnations from the tennis world, and a hasty apology from Moore, followed by his resignation, did not end the matter. Fresh from his victory in the men’s tournament, Novak Djokovic took up the subject of gender inequality. ‘[There are] more spectators on the men’s matches,’ he told journalists. ‘That’s… why maybe we should get awarded more.’

Disputes over equal pay have dogged tennis since the 1970s, when players such as Billie Jean King began to campaign for it. Although the major tournaments now offer the same prize money to men and women, the latter earn less overall, as female-only tournaments pay less than their male equivalents. And many, like Djokovic, believe that the gap should widen.

One area of contention is the fact that women play shorter matches than men. Going by the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’, some say, women should be paid correspondingly less – or start playing more. The debate centres on the interpretation of that phrase: is the work only ‘equal’ if the time spent on court is the same?

Yet there remains the question of viewing figures. In 2015, 395 million viewers tuned in to women’s matches. For the men’s game, the figure was 973 million. Men continue to generate more ticket sales. As Djokovic put it, why should they not get remunerated accordingly?

The tennis star’s comments sparked a row, exposing the division in the world of tennis over the issue. He has come in for criticism; but at the same time, in the words of the BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller, his views ‘are shared by very many in the men’s game’. Does Djokovic have a point?

Equality street

Of course, say some. As with any sport, tennis is a market. Prices reflect demand. You don’t have to agree with Moore’s sexist comments to accept that the men’s game is currently more popular than the women’s. People who think otherwise are guilty of double standards: surely they wouldn’t argue that a League Two footballer should be paid as much as his equivalents in the Premier League?

That’s because the League Two is inferior to the Premier League, comes the reply. Women’s tennis is not inferior to men’s – it is just as thrilling and perhaps involves even more skill (but less power). When the money involved is smaller, it sends out the message that the sport is less interesting. This puts off viewers, creating a vicious circle. The problem is not with women’s tennis, but with how it is perceived.

You Decide

  1. Do you find Djokovic’s comments offensive?
  2. Should women be paid the same as men in all sports?


  1. The prize money (for men and women) at Indian Wells is $1,028,300. Imagine you have been awarded that sum. Write 250 words on how you would spend it.
  2. Give a short speech to the class about how sport – any sport – can help society. Use specific examples.

Some People Say...

“Sports are a microcosm of society.”

Billie Jean King

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not a tennis fan. What do I care?
Fine, but this debate touches on all sports (and on women’s place in society in general). A 2014 study by the BBC found that ten sports, including football and golf, still do not pay equal prize money. Unusually, tennis is a sport in which men and women have near-equal status; supporters of equal pay argue that it must therefore set an example to others.
Why don’t women just play five sets, like men?
Good question. The head of the Women’s Tennis Association is in favour, as are many – but not all – female players. In fact, it has been successfully trialled in the past. The main problem is that it would mess up the tournaments’ schedules, which are already packed. Another option, suggested by Andy Murray, would be for men to play three sets.

Word Watch

Indian Wells
Held in California, it is ranked by some as the fifth most important tennis title, after the four Grand Slams.
Novak Djokovic
The men’s world number one. He and female Chinese player Li Na made headlines in 2013 when they played each other in a charity match. Li won, but with huge handicaps.
Billie Jean King
One of the most successful female tennis players ever, King is also famous for her political activism. It is largely thanks to her campaigning that the US Open, one of the Grand Slams, began to offer equal pay to men and women in 1973.
Major tournaments
In 2007, Wimbledon became the last of the Grand Slams — after the Australian and the French — to establish equal prize money.
Shorter matches
In Grand Slams, men play best of five sets, women best of three.
Equal pay for equal work
The concept that people doing the same work should be paid the same. In human rights law, this has also been phrased as ‘work of equal value’. Supporters of equal pay take this to mean that men’s and women’s achievements do not have to be identical – eg matches can be of different lengths.


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