Roland Garros To Pay Equal Champions Check; Inequity Exists In Total Prize Money

By Richard Pagliaro

Roland Garros is growing and so is its prize money. The French Open will begin on Sunday, May 28 and will be contested over 15 days, rather than the traditional two weeks, concluding on Sunday, June 11. The event will award a champion’s check of $1.13 million to both the men’s and women’s winners, joining the Australian Open and U.S. Open in paying equal prize money to champions, however Roland Garros will not pay equal prize money to all men and women.

Total prize money for the clay-court major will be $17.21 million.

WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott commended the French Tennis Federation for paying equal prize money to French Open tournament champions, but criticized the tournament for the prize money inequity that still exists for the other women singles and doubles players in the draw.

“The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour is encouraged by Roland Garros’ increase in prize money and we applaud the decision to award equal prize money to the women’s winner,” Scott said in a statement. “That said, this move should not be allowed to distract from the fact that in the 21st century it is simply indefensible that 127 women’s singles competitors and an equal number of women’s doubles players in a Grand Slam tournament should be receiving considerably less prize money than their male counterparts. Quite apart from the moral case for parity, the remarkable quality and depth of play demonstrated by professional women tennis players, combined with the global popularity and media and sponsor interest in our players, merits equal prize money at all the Grand Slams.”

French Tennis Federation officials initially announced the plan to start Roland Garros on Sunday at the end of the event last June and have now officially finalized the schedule. The move to 15 days is expected to be adopted by some of the other majors, including the U.S. Open, in the coming years. In addition to providing additional revenue from an extra day of ticket sales, starting the tournament on a Sunday increases television exposure on a day in which more people typically tune in to televised sports. The French Tennis Federation plans to schedule 12 matches on its three stadium show courts (Philippe Chatrier, Suzanne Lenglen and Court No. 1) on the opening Sunday. Other courts will be reserved for practice. The first round of the singles will be completed over three days, with the first half of the draw playing on the Sunday and Monday and the rest on the Monday and Tuesday.

“We consider it something positive for tennis because the TV audiences on Sunday afternoon is five million viewers,” French Tennis Federation president Christian Bimes said. “But when you see the audience on a Monday, the first day of the tournament, it is 1.2 million viewers and then goes to two million. If we start on a Sunday, we will have five million viewers.”

Roland Garros’ decision to pay men and women champions equal prize money means Wimbledon will be the only Grand Slam tournament to pay men champions more prize money than women. Wimbledon is expected to announce its 2006 prize money later this month.

“By taking this decision on the parity of prize money for the winners of the singles, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) wishes to keep a role as leader in the development of women’s sport in Europe,” Bimes said.

While Scott took French Open officials to task for not extending equal prize money to all participants, the All England Club has been criticized by the WTA Tour for refusing to pay any women the same prize money as men. Scott has said achieving equal prize money for women at Slams is “a top priority for the WTA Tour and its membership.”

“I remain convinced that the quality and depth of play demonstrated by women’s professional tennis players, combined with the global popularity and media interest in our players merits equal prize money at the Grand Slams,” Scott said. “I reject the notion that an unequal compensation system that distinguishes between men and women at Grand Slams is ‘fair’.”

The All England Club has defended the disparity by arguing that the men’s best-of-five set singles format is significantly longer than the women’s best-of-three set singles matches and therefore men are entitled to more money because they are working longer on the court. Additionally, All England Club chairman Tim Phillips has said in the past the All England Club’s annual survey of fans attending Wimbledon supports that fact that more fans are interested in men’s tennis than women’s tennis and men should be compensated for their greater drawing power.

“We like to think our prize money is driven by market data and fairness,” Phillips said. “The situation is that the women play much shorter matches.”

It’s an argument that the WTA Tour counters with its claim that while women’s matches are shorter the fact that men produce more aces and generally play shorter points on grass means that in some cases the ball is actually in play longer in a women’s match than a men’s match. Scott has suggested that the statistics provided by the All England Club are subjectively slanted to support the Club’s case for continued inequality.

“It is unfortunate that Wimbledon chose to argue against equality based upon subjective and selective use of data,” Scott said in prior comments on the subject. “I do not believe that it is productive to address the specific statements made by Wimbledon, but I look forward to the day when Wimbledon joins the more progressive Grand Slams that have provided leadership on this important issue and recognized the value of women’s tennis and the inherent fairness in awarding equal prize money.”