Nowadays women are more visible in sports than they were in the past. Though the visibility has increased a bit the profession is not free from gender-based stigma, till today women athletes face discrimination. One such Discrimination is the Huge Pay gap.
In 1973, Bobby Riggs aged 55, who had won many laurels for himself in Tennis criticized the female game and thought that it was inferior. He also went on to say that even at the age of 55, he can beat any of the female tennis players, this eventually led to the match between Riggs and one of the top female tennis players of the time Margaret Court aged 30 on the Mother’s day, in California. It had more than 5,000 spectators & was also telecasted on CBS Sports.
In this match often referred to as Mother’s Day Massacre, Riggs emerged victoriously and left Court off balance. This victory of Riggs put him in the limelight and he further went to taunt all the female tennis players which prompted Kings to accept the match with a lucrative financial offer against Riggs. This match was held on 20 September 1973 at Texas, Houston Astrodome and was propagated by the Promoters as the -Battle of Sexes.
On the D day, Billie Jean’s entered the stadium on a gold throne framed by flamingo pink features and carried 4 shirtless men while her opponent Riggs arrived in a rickshaw pulled by models dubbed as “Bobby’s Bosom Buddies”
The match saw a record 30,000 audience at the Astrodome, from cheerleaders to Champagne, Bands playing the theme song- I AM WOMEN FOR KING AND A CONQUEST FOR RIGGS.” Some men supporters of Riggs wore T-shirts that featured cartoon pigs that read “I am a male chauvinist”, while the women audience held placards that said, “I LOVE BJK”.
More than the publicity, Billie was aware of the impact of this match on the lives of women everywhere.
There has been other male vs female tennis matches but what made this match stand apart was that it was based on the sexist premise that the worth of a women athlete depends on her capability to defend the male counterpart. This was all happening in 1973 when feminism wasn’t too mainstream & it can be illustrated by the fact that back then women cannot even apply for credit cards. So, when King was facing Riggs she was also challenging the widespread cultural attitude of women being inferior to men. King knew the importance of this match which can be used to grab the nation’s attention which will help in changing the mindset of the society.
“Billie won 6–4, 6–3, 6–3.”
After the Victory Billie said that “Had I lost, women’s tennis would have suffered, Title IX could have been hurt and the women’s movement would have been damaged, I … knew it was very important I win the match if I wanted people to take women’s tennis – and women – seriously.”
Later on, King went on to form the Women’s Tennis Association and the US Open became the 1st tournament that offered equal prize money. Consecutively all the 4 Grand Slam Tournaments have offered equal prize money since 2007, this is what makes tennis an exception among all the major sports however it still requires a lot to be done.
A UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director, UN Women, once stated that” The total payout for the Women’s World Cup was 15 million dollars, compared with 576 million dollars for the last men’s World Cup—40 times less. The winning women’s team received 2 million dollars in prize money, whereas the winning men’s team took away 35 million dollars. The losing US men’s team was still awarded 8 million dollars—four times as much as the champion US women’s team.”
Women’s sports often receive fewer media coverage and even the coverage they do get is often too sexist. More often it is seen that equal pay is opposed by male players, Reportedly Novak Djokovic said that men deserve higher prize money because their matches are more popular. The problems not only lie with the players but there has been a dearth of female coaches, the seriousness of the issue can be realized when we get to know that only 3 out of the top 50 women’s players have female coaches reported by The Guardian.
However, the fight for Equality in sports seems to be a long battle only if the voices of the players are unified. Most of the players shy away from activism. In today’s era of the Internet and Active Media, the players need to reunite and raise their voices in unison.