Friday, June 30, 2006

Venus Williams on equality

Before the start of Wimbledon Venus Williams wrote a column about the tournament's continuing practice of awarding the men and the women unequal prize money.
Good for her, I thought to myself. But then I read it and was not as convinced it was such a valuable exercise.
It was well-written and she made some good points. But I was surprised by her meritocracy argument which she personalized by discussing her own struggles and the work ethic of her father who conveyed to his daughters that hard work pays off. That Williams buys into the myth of meritocracy is disappointing to me. She must literally see how American systems (education, legal, etc.) work against some people (mainly racial and ethnic "minorities") and work for others (primarily white people). And most of the time it doesn't matter how much hard work one puts in. Williams does a disservice to everyone who has worked hard only to have the system descend and keep them down by extolling the value of hard work. Wimbledon's prize money itself policy is an example of the myth.
And ultimately, I was left thinking, well if she is that pissed off about it--and she should be--maybe she should be doing something more. She invoked Billie Jean King but there was no mention of the sacrifice King made by organizing boycotts of tournaments in the 1970s. The powers that be at Wimbledon are not threatened by written or verbalized attacks on their prize money policy. They have experienced it for years.
Williams is right--Wilmbledon can easily cover the difference in pay based on the profits they turn in food sales alone. So clearly it's not a money issue--it's some kind of principle, often under the guise of tradition, that they keep holding on to. But nothing makes people reevaluate their principles like money--or rather the lack thereof. If key players like Williams, Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne, Mauresmo, Sharapova decided they just would refuse to play until the prize money was the same, Wimbledon would fold pretty quickly I imagine. Ratings would plummet--maybe even ticket sales.
But the likelihood of that happening is, well just as slim as the cigarettes that used to be the primary sponsor of women's tennis. For one, the pressures of sponsors and the tour itself with its system of bonuses and penalties make it difficult for an individual player to make that stand. Second, it would mean the top players, who are inherently competitive with one another, would have to switch paradigms and form a coalition in order for a boycott to be effective. And lastly, the players would have to be willing to give up a big chunk of (potential) money in order to gain a small amount for the larger good. Somehow I can't see Sharapova (and some others) agreeing to that.


Diane said...

Venus said in her interview yesterday that she does not use the "b" word. Too bad.

Amateur said...

Meritocracy is a very easy concept for athletes — especially in individual sports — to buy into. Of course! The tennis system really is a meritocracy, OK not a perfect one but much, much more so than anything in "real" life. So it is not that surprising when athletes believe that the model applies to everything.