As Wimbledon draws to a close, there has certainly been some great tennis on show. The best players in the world have treated the world to some high-quality action, while a few surprises and fairytales have also been sprinkled in.
The issue of prize money has also reared its head at these championships. All four Grand Slams offer equal prize money to men and women. The main argument from people against this stance is that female players play a maximum of three sets, as opposed to a maximum of five sets played by their male counterparts. However, these contentions are, in my view, of little consequence. The winner of either competition will this year pocket £2m. Even if you go out at the first round, you will be £30,000 richer.
These sums are eye-watering compared to the prize money in wheelchair tennis. The winner of the singles event on either side will receive the relatively small sum of £25,000, one-eightieth of the figure commanded by the able-bodied athletes. In the wheelchair doubles, each player in the pair will receive £12,000, whereas individuals in victorious men’s, women’s or mixed doubles teams will win £350,000.
The disparity between the two sets of figures is incredible and suggests that disability sport is not taken very seriously at all. Going out in the first round of the able-bodied event is more lucrative than winning the wheelchair singles competition. How can this be right?
Following London 2012, it was assumed that Paralympic sport would receive far greater exposure in mainstream media than it had done previously. Admittedly, Wimbledon is making strides. This year saw the staging of the first-ever singles event for both sexes. However, it received peripheral coverage. Despite the exploits of Gordon Reid and Alfie Hewett, who become the first Britons to secure the men’s doubles wheelchair title, their win received relatively little air-time on the BBC. Allied to this, the match was shunted out to Court 17, hardly a fitting venue for a major final.
The Grand Slam tournament organisers will argue that the low level of prize money offered to wheelchair athletes reflects the relative lack of demand from spectators. Whatever the merits of this argument, they have not done their best to promote the sport. If none of the wheelchair matches are scheduled for any of the show courts, how is interest supposed to be drummed up? While Reid and Hewett were creating history, many of the main courts were given away to invitational matches, which, while entertaining, should be lent far less importance than the wheelchair events.
Tomorrow, Reid will attempt to sew up the singles title, while Jordanne Whiley will attempt to secure the women’s doubles title with her Japanese playing partner Yui Kamiji. These stories should be celebrated, but they have all too easily been drowned out.
Featured image: Leon Neal/AFP Photo