Gender battles in sports: Equality only a word in the dictionary

The question is not about money alone. Women’s sport is not marketed as well as men’s. Equality is only a word in the dictionary for many.

Nine female tennis players — Judy Tegart Dalton, Julie Heldman, Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Kerry Melville, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Kristy Pigeon and Billie Jean King — who broke away from the male-dominated tennis establishment and set out to create what would become the Women’s Tennis Association were recently nominated as a group to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.   -  AP

The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, associate justice of the US Supreme Court, is a reminder of the gender battles that remain to be fought in sport. Equality is only a word in the dictionary for many. Ginsberg “brought America and women forward in a generation,” one of her supporters said.

Billie Jean King, among those who led the revolution in tennis that led to equal pay for women, tweeted, “My Shero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has died. To pay tribute, those who believe in equality & freedom must fight for the ideals she championed. For her. For us. For generations to follow.”

When, half a century ago in September, King and eight others broke away from the male-dominated tennis establishment and set out to create what would become the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), they signed one-dollar contracts and established the first women’s professional tournament.

READ| French Open champ Swiatek rises to 17th; Djokovic, Nadal unchanged

Over the last 12 months, US Open champion Naomi Osaka has won $37.4 million to become the highest-paid woman athlete in sport. That’s quite a ride from the days when women were repeatedly told that nobody would pay to see them play. Men earned 10 or 12 times as much as the women.

The Original Nine — now nominated as a group to the International Tennis Hall of Fame — were Judy Tegart Dalton, Julie Heldman, Peaches Bartkowicz, Rosie Casals, Kerry Melville, Nancy Richey, Valerie Ziegenfuss, Kristy Pigeon and Billie Jean King.

Casals, a 12-time Grand Slam winner, said, “We would drive to newspapers and to editors, we’d plead with them, we’d stop cars in the streets and give out tickets. We signed every autograph until nobody was left.”

The players were led by Gladys Heldman, editor of World Tennis Magazine. Predictably, they were suspended from tournaments and ostracised by the other players.

The men couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. Misogyny was accepted casually, such were the times. Even someone as intelligent, as broad-minded, as put-upon as Arthur Ashe thought that women ought not to be paid more money. Later, he had the grace to admit he was wrong.

Billie Jean King, who, last year spoke up in support of the US women’s soccer team’s suit against the parent body for equal pay, once said, “Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”

READ| ATP Tour: Unnamed tennis player positive for virus

The soccer lawsuit put it unambiguously when it said, in part, “the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players.” It asked for $66 million in damages. The judge dismissed the case for equal pay on a technicality, but the female soccer players, the world champions, have vowed to carry on the fight.

The question is not about money alone. Women’s sport is not marketed as well as men’s. Indian women’s cricket is a good example. Who will be India’s Billie Jean King? Someone not satisfied with crumbs…