Sporting Life

Prize money debate is demeaning, dull and outdated

This is what constitutes progress in 2016. Fascism has returned, racism won't go away, equal prize money in tennis is still being discussed and old sporting sexists still get more news time than they warrant. As the late Yogi Berra would have said: "It's like deja vu all over again."

Ray Moore has evidently spent too much time in the California sun where he runs a tournament. In case you missed it, on Sunday he said: "In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on coat-tails of the men...

"If I was a lady player, 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."

Evidently Moore is related to that other gender guru, Sepp Blatter, who had noted that women footballers should try "tighter shorts". Such are the men we find to run sport.

Women were banned from competing at the Ancient Olympics - though a Spartan princess, Cynisca, reportedly trained a male team to win a chariot race - and we're still trying to sideline them. Even Novak Djokovic, a wise fellow, opted to argue the case of the suffering of sporting men on a day when he lost two games in the Indian Wells final and earned US$1,028,300 (S$1.34 million).

Djokovic also felt the urge to say of women, "their bodies are much different than men's bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don't have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don't need to go into details".

Novak, a small word: Firstly, men also have hormones. Just saying. Secondly, if what you mean is menstruation, then say it. It's fine. Women have heard the word. Thirdly, when male athletes, however fine their intentions, stray into this area they rarely emerge with any distinction. Ask Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who said in 2013: "You know, the girls, they are more unstable emotionally than us... It's just about hormones and all this stuff."

Moore, 69, possibly thinks Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In is a tennis stance. Djokovic, however, is a modern and fair man who should understand equal prize money is a moral issue. It's the right thing. The necessary thing. But on he went.

He said he's "completely for women power", he said he applauded women because "they fought for what they deserve, and they got it", but then he said "our men's tennis world... should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men's tennis matches".

Indeed, we should fight for Tomas Berdych, who has earned US$24,280,489 despite being incredibly difficult to watch.

Billie Jean King, who had male players in the 1970s telling her "no one wants to see you birds play," must be sighing. Surely this fight was over. No chance.

Ancient arguments are being retrieved from the attic and dusted off. Men play five sets and thus greater labour deserves greater money. In the same way one presumes that decathletes should get larger Olympic gold medals than sprinters.

But these days only the Slams are five-setters and everything else in men's tennis is three sets. Yet in February, for example, a no-Slam month, there was more than US$11 million available to male players at tournaments and less than US$6.5 million for female players.

Unequal pay is already out there. Yet it's hard to sway people either way, for this is like a Democrat-Republican debate. Positions are fixed as sharply as bayonets.

Higher wages for the more popular sex is like taking a stroll on dangerous ground. We're so intoxicated by the golden age of men's tennis that our memories are unreliable.

Used to be a duet named Martina-Chris who made Rafa-Roger seem like a sandpit skirmish. Used to be a time when Wimbledon's male hero was (unfairly) derided as Samprazzz while its female stars were a forehand-flashing Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis whose game resembled an Enigma machine.

Used to be an era when the ladies' top 10 was Davenport, Capriati, Venus, Hingis, Clijsters, Serena, Henin, Dokic, Mauresmo, Seles and the men's was Hewitt, Kuerten, Agassi, Kafelnikov, Ferrero, Grosjean, Rafter, Haas, Henman, Sampras.

Who were you watching?

This is how sport is, cycles turn, Federer goes, Dominic Thiem comes, Nadal leaves, Andrey Rublev comes. Maybe they'll be sensational. Maybe we'll be too busy watching Garbine Muguruza.

In the old days, women players strung up bare bulbs on court and stood on the road with signs that read "Women's Tennis Here!" They built a grand tour and tennis has recognised them rightly as equals. So let's bury this debate because it disparages women, demeans tennis, is deadly boring and plain outdated.

It is also in desperate need of perspective. To lose in the first round of the Australian Open, man or woman, is to earn A$38,500 (S$39,950). It is roughly in the region of the annual starting salary of graduate teachers in Singapore. Many of whom might be happy to give Ray Moore an education in fairness. For free.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2016, with the headline Prize money debate is demeaning, dull and outdated. Subscribe