It’s probably fair to say that at the age of 17 most of our biggest concerns were passing our drivers test or choosing between schoolies destinations. For Serena Williams though, these typically tumultuous high school years were spent solidifying her status as one of tennis’ legendary players. Winning her first of 23 grand slam titles at just 17 years old, Serena’s career has featured an unprecedented amount of achievements both on and off the court.
Something a little less well known about Serena Williams though is that in 2017, she was the only female athlete to rank among the world’s top 100 highest-paid athletes. Perusing down the long list of males you’d eventually find Serena ranked at number 51, her yearly earnings nearing the $18 million mark. This is a number incomprehensible to most of us. It’s undoubtedly monumental, but this salary is also a symbol of the brutal reality which continues to plague international sport year after year; the gender pay gap.
Serena’s income is $16 million less than the world’s highest paid male athlete, Cristiano Ronaldo, who rakes in a whopping $34 million every year. So why are the two highest paid female and male athletes separated by $16 million?
This is a reality Serena Williams has been advocating to change for most of her career. Last night the issue was brought back into the spotlight as Rafael Nadal was grilled in his post match interview on what thought about the gender pay gap. Asked if he thinks males should join their female counterparts in calling for equal prize money offered in non-major tournaments, Nadal responded saying,
“As you know, I love the women’s tennis. I feel that they can win as much [prize money] as they want. [It] is not about equal or not equal prize money.
“I don’t care if they win more [money] than us. That’s the real thing. If they sell more tickets than what we sell tickets, they deserve to [earn] more than us. It’s not about being male or women. Doesn’t matter. We are the same.”
After years of what are unfortunately rather uncomfortable discussions about gender inequality and the pay gap that sadly separates male and female tennis players, Serena played an enormous role in changing the rules. Both male and female tennis players now earn equal prize money at all of the four major tournaments. Yet the fight for total gender equality across the board continues as Serena and a number of notable figures in the tennis industry push for other, non-major championships to also change the rules.
Last night’s interview prompted us to take a look beyond the pay gap which so obviously plagues international tennis, to see how it fares in other global sports. You’d be pretty hard pressed to find any other sport that doesn’t feature a horribly ill-matched average salary/prize winning between male and female athletes. The worst offender is Champion’s League Football. Rather disturbingly, Real Madrid’s earnings for winning the Champion’s League totalled $18 million whereas their female counterparts received as little as $300,000 for winning the women’s competition. When looking at total prize money payout, the US Open Golf in 2017 paid male athletes $2.3 million whereas female golfers barely copped $1.2 million.
Despite what is an obvious improvement upon recent years, the world’s top 100 highest paid athletes remains dominated by male athletes year after year. The harsh reality is that female athletes are sidelined from the list not because of their lack of sporting ability or talent, but because of the pay gaps that count them out of ever being recognised as equals to their male counterparts.
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