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Gender equality: no safe ground exists when thorny issue arises

Novak Djokovic learned the hard way that expressing his opinion can open a whole different can of worms, even though he had a fair point to make

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 March, 2016, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 March, 2016, 6:00pm

There really is no safe ground if you end up on the wrong side of the gender equality debate. Of course, you can be a fool, in which case you deserve a fool’s fate. And yet you can be profound and sympathetic and still be doomed, as we know too well.

Every comment is potentially volatile, loaded with swift and forceful recriminations. The controversy in tennis last week in regards to equality between female and male players has been simmering for quite some time. All it took was foolish fuel to ignite it.

One week ago, 69-year-old Raymond Moore was a largely anonymous former professional tennis player from South Africa who was the chief executive of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

There is significantly more revenue generated on commercials alone during a drama-filled six-hour broadcast than a 90-minute snooze fest

Located in California’s Coachella Valley, which encompasses plush locales like Palm Springs and La Quinta, the sprawling complex plays home to the largest combined male and female two-week event outside of the four grand slams.

A collector of fine wines, Moore was very much at home in Coachella and claimed that even after being intimately involved in the event for 25 years, he had no plans to step down. And then he was asked a question about the WTA, the women’s tour, and said they were living a charmed life riding the coattails of the men.

READ MORE: Serena Williams slams Indian Wells boss for ‘women riding men’s coattails’ remark

“If I was a lady player,” he added, “I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.”

Within minutes the story spread like wild fire; tournament CEO says down on your knees women! Hopefully, Moore was four or five bottles into his fine wine collection at the time because if he wasn’t drunk then his comments were completely inexplicable and indefensible.

Naturally, he apologised, but it was too little too late and he was quickly forced to resign and all of it basically within 24 hours. At least in the all-inclusive world of sports, 24 hours is all a misogynistic fool gets these days and rightfully so.

Novak Djokvoic is nobody’s fool. The best tennis player in the world, he is in the midst of crafting a career for the ages.

A few hours after Moore’s bombast, and a few minutes after he dispatched Milos Raonic in the finals at Indian Wells, he was naturally asked about the sexism row.

Any member of the tennis media will tell you the best player to deal with is Djokovic. He is charming, articulate, thoughtful and accommodating almost to a fault.

He is also, and this is quite significant, insightful and unabashed. He does not spout meaningless clichés like so many of his peers.

He spoke of the battles women had to endure to get equal prize money before adding, “They fought for what they deserve and they got it. On the other hand I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches.”

He went on to say that if the data supported who was drawing the fans and sponsor money then the pay should be fairly distributed.

And, of course, he was pilloried for his comments, not nearly on the level of Moore but still a fair bit. Tennis is rare in that at the biggest tournaments male and female matches are played alongside each other.

The comparative analysis is fairly easy and what may have really upset Djokovic is actually a mantra from the feminist lobby – equal pay for equal work. At the 2012 Australian Open, it took Victoria Azarenka less than an hour and a half to dispatch of Maria Sharapova in the finals, 6-3, 6-0. The next day Djokvoic needed a full six hours to dispose of Rafael Nadal in a gruelling five-set final.

Both Azarenka and Djokovic took home US$2.3 million for their championship. Yes, there is certainly enough money for everybody in tennis these days. But until it is truly a meritocracy, the equality debate will rage.

Simple data will tell you that there is significantly more revenue generated on commercials alone during a drama-filled six-hour broadcast than a 90-minute snooze fest.

Granted, not all events have this great a disparity. But as long as men need three sets to capture a match and women two, there will always be a disparity. Women are still discriminated against on the pay front in the workforce, no question. However in the world of tennis, from a pay perspective at least, their hard fought victories seem secure and good for them. Still, facts are facts.