Research suggests gender inequality still rife at Wimbledon
Prize money is equal at SW19 but women get less time on Centre and Number One courts
Serena and Venus Williams celebrate their sixth Wimbledon women’s doubles title. Photograph: Lindsey Parnaby/Getty
The prize money may be equal at £2.2 million (€2.5m) each for the king and queen of Wimbledon. But the tennis championships, which open on Monday, are still serving up sex discrimination on its top two show courts, it has been claimed.
An analysis of matches scheduled on Centre and Number One courts during the last two championships demonstrated a gender bias overwhelmingly in favour of male players.
Tennis fan Mark Leyland, said the All England Club employed a 4:2 formula – two men’s matches and one women’s match on each of the two courts – despite complaints. “None of the other grand slam tournaments do this,” he said, citing the US and French championships’ top court schedules as roughly gender equal.
The novelist and campaigner has already taken the BBC to task over gender bias after recording the entirety of their coverage on BBC1, BBC2 and its red button service, to prove that 76 per cent of airtime during the 2015 championships went to the men’s game. On one day it was 93 per cent.
The BBC’s governing body, which examined his complaint, subsequently reported finding a “startling disparity” in the number of men’s and women’s games broadcast. In 2016 the broadcaster achieved more equal coverage, with 37 men’s matches covered compared to 25 women’s, said Leyland. He said he would be monitoring again this year to ensure the corporation’s “unbiased coverage continues”.
Now he has the All England Club in his sights. Leyland analysed the top two show courts’ scheduling during the first week of both the 2015 and 2016 Wimbledon championships, and found the 4:2 formula was adopted on 10 out of the 12 days.
Not only that, but in 2015 the top five men’s seeds – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori – plus Rafael Nadal, who was seeded 10th, had every match scheduled on the two show courts in week one. Indeed, all of the top 13 men’s seeds appeared, he noted.
By contrast, only the top two women – Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova – had all their matches on the show courts. The top five women appeared on them at least once, but none of the rest of the top 13 women was ever scheduled.
Serena Williams, as defending champion, complained in 2011 when she and her sister Venus were asked to play on Court 2, saying Nadal and Djokovic were never moved across, despite the sisters together having won more Wimbledons. The discrimination debate was further fuelled when the No 1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, was relegated to Court 2 for her match with Virginia Razzano.
Venus Williams accused Wimbledon officials of discrimination last year when, after two days of rain caused a backlog, she found herself on Court 18. In 2007 the former No 1 Jelena Jankovic complained that she “needed a helicopter” to reach the smallest of Wimbledon’s six show courts.
Leyland said female players did find themselves on the two show courts as part of the “to be announced” last-minute decision to fill time if a previous match finished early. He said this was “a convenience for the AELTC rather than recognition of the women’s game” and “another sign of disrespect”.
He restricted his analysis to the first week of the championships because “that is when there is a ton of men’s and women’s matches going on”. During the second week it is mostly quarter-finals and then semis, which are all on show courts, he said.
He said he had met the AELTC chief executive, Richard Lewis, in 2015 to discuss the disparity. “He seemed surprised,” said Leyland, and asked: “Even on Ladies’ Day?”
Leyland said: “Tennis is one of the few sports where women get equal prize money and should, ideally, get equal prominence. For Wimbledon, still the biggest tournament in the world, to neglect the women’s tournament, whether it be the broadcaster or the organisers, is to go against that.”
A Wimbledon spokesperson said scheduling and court allocation was a “complex operation and there will inevitably be variations from year to year depending on the way the draw falls”.
Placing leading names on Centre Court and No 1 Court was “expected by both the paying public and our TV audiences”. Weather conditions, player availability and player requests were among many factors considered and it consulted with the ATP and WTA tours.
“It is worth noting that in 2016, there were 65 men’s and 67 ladies’ single’s matches scheduled across the top six show courts. Across Centre Court and No 1 Court, the split of singles was 50/50, including the previously ‘to be announced’ matches, which are played later in the day and therefore in front of higher television audiences,” it said.
“The championships remains the only grand slam to schedule standalone ladies’ quarter finals and semi finals days, a move which brings the full weight of international broadcast, print and digital media exposure on to the ladies’ competition.”
The practice of limiting female tennis players to three-set matches has also been criticised and was branded “indefensible” and “outdated” by academics. Paul Davis, of the University of Sunderland, and Lisa Edwards, a senior lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University, said the practice underlined false beliefs about women’s physical limitations and outmoded ideals of femininity. It also fuelled the argument against equal prize money that women had fought for so long to achieve, they said.
Women played 90 minutes of football, 80 minutes of rugby, 18 holes of golf and ran the same distance in a marathon as men. Davis, chair of the British Philosophy of Sport Association, said: “The grand slam sex-based sets disparity is a cultural tradition which degrades women, as it reinforces a false stereotype of female incapacity and, in turn, a fast-dying notion of femininity, which is starkly challenged by what women do on the tennis court and in other sports. It should be ended”.