Wimbledon 2013: Tennis leading way in battle for gender equality

07:00 24 June 2013

File photo dated 08/07/2012 of Switzerland

File photo dated 08/07/2012 of Switzerland's Roger Federer and USA's Serena Williams with their 2012 trophies during the Champions Ball at the Intercontinental Hotel, London. Picture: Adam Davy/EMPICS

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Tennis is leading the way in the battle for equality between men and women in sport, a campaigner has said.

Despite annual arguments over gender equality on the courts, whether the length of matches or pay, tennis is at the forefront of the sports in terms of equality, according to Sue Tibballs, chief executive of the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation.

The organisation works to improve and promote opportunities for women and girls in sport.

Speaking ahead of the start of the Wimbledon Championship, which last year saw the issue of gender equality rear its head again, Ms Tibballs said tennis was probably the most genuinely equal sport.

“What’s interesting about tennis is it’s probably the most genuinely equally sport.

“Tennis and golf are the two sports that women were allowed to play.

“Middle-class women back in Victorian times were allowed to play tennis and because of that it had a long history that has allowed the sport to develop and actually have some parity with the men’s game.

“It has been commercially and professionally well-developed through the years.

“Women’s sport is in great health at the moment but tennis sits at the top.”

The men’s and ladies’ singles champions have received the same prize money at Wimbledon since 2007 - and this year will each get £1.6 million.

But women matches are the best of three sets, compared to the best of five played in the men’s tournament.

Last year a row broke out after French player Gilles Simon sparked controversy by claiming female players should not get paid as much as their male counterparts, as they spend less time on the court.

His comments sparked fury from the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and female players.

And during this year’s French Open, which he went on to win, Rafael Nadal brought gender into his complaints when he said it was harder for men to play two days in a row than women because their matches are shorter.

But today Ms Tibballs said tennis was one of the few women’s sports that had developed to the point where it is successful as the men’s.

“Obviously we are in favour of equal pay, in fact we were one of those who lobbied very hard for it to happen,” she said.

“The women are the best women in the world in the same way that the men are the best men in the world and they should get the same prizes. We don’t measure it in terms of seconds spent on the court or sweat sweated.

“The three set or five thing we haven’t got a fixed position on but what I note is that a lot of the female tennis players seem to want to play a five-set match.

“What’s interesting in terms of tennis and increasingly for other sport is people do notice the quality.

“A lot of people actually prefer women’s tennis. It’s amazing quality sport, it’s a sport that’s one of the few women’s sports that has developed to the point where commercially and professionally it’s as successful as men’s.”

She said attitudes were rapidly shifting to realise that although women may play a different game, they still offer good quality sport for spectators.

“There’s huge interest in women’s sport and 2012 just obviously pushed it a whole stage further.

“Tennis is leading the way in terms of how a sport can work across the women’s game and men’s game.

“They should be so proud, they are at the forefront.”

But she said there were still some issues with the way female players are presented, with an apparent pressure on women to “glam up and sell themselves on appearance rather than just athletic skill”.

“But from all our research it isn’t actually what drives interest from most sports fans,” she added.

“It’s really important not to feel pressured to promote themselves based on their appearance and it happens in tennis more than most sports.

“That’s an element of tennis that’s regrettable but I think that is shifting. It’s an argument we have got across women’s sport as a whole.”

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