Why huge prize money difference in Cincinnati is NOT a gender equality issue

Kevin Palmer
A happy Jessica Pegula
Jessica Pegula celebrates winning in Montreal

The huge discrepancy in prize money between men’s and women’s tournaments is on display once again in Cincinnati this week, with the winner of the ATP Tour event taking home a vastly inflated cheque.

In what has become a theme of the 2023 season, female players are set to earn dramatically less than male players in Cincinnati and this discrepancy is all the more glaring as the two draws are taking place at the same Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio.

While men were playing for a lot more prize money in last week’s Canadian Open, they were performing at a different venue in Toronto compared to their female counterparts.

This week, the same venue is being used for both events, meaning fans pay the same amount of money to watch men’s and women’s matches.

The men’s champion in Cinncy will receive $1,019,335, up five per-cent compared to the amount surprise winner Borna Coric received twelve months ago.

The runner-up also gets a five per-cent pay rise from last year, taking home $556,630 in prize money.

Those numbers are contrasted by the prize money on offer to female players, with the winner collecting $454,500 and the runner-up $267,690.

It means the women’s champion in Cincinnati will earn less than half of the men’s winner, yet this has nothing to do will gender inequality or the long-running debate for equal pay in sport.

Instead, this relates to the value of broadcast and sponsorship deals are the reason for the difference in prize money, with former Wimbledon champion Andy Murray among those calling for the sport to change.

Former world No 1 Murray has always been passionate when it comes to women’s rights in tennis and sport in general and he wants more to be done.

“I’m totally behind equal prize money, and I think that it is brilliant that a lot of the tournaments on the tour that we have that, and I think that’s really, really positive,” he said.

“I think it is difficult for it ever to become truly equal until the ATP and the WTA sort of actually combine and work together.

“That’s my feeling because I don’t know what the, you know, like what the threshold for tournaments is, like to become a 500 on the ATP Tour, if the ATP will have their set of rules as to what levels they need to reach from a prize money perspective, and I’m sure the WTA have their own.

“I always felt like when we’re competing at the same event on the same courts, you know, that we should be playing for, you know, for the same prize money.

“But I think for it ever to become like truly equal, the WTA and the ATP are actually going to have to come together and work as one before that’s the case because I don’t think it’s that straightforward just now, you know, that both tours have different sponsors, different TV deals, and all of that stuff too.

“There are a few things that still need to change, but I feel like things are going in the right direction, like with the move to, you know, to this event becoming a 500 for both. [It] can obviously still get better.”

While men and women players receive equal prize money at Grand Slam events, even though one gender plays best of five set matches and the other only compete over three sets, the scale of the difference in payments in Cincinnati is an issue the game needs to address.

As Murray suggested, that may only happen if the ATP and WTA become one governing body for tennis and that seems unlikely given the current set-up of the sport.

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