Wheelchair tennis unjustly sidelined

 

As Wimbledon draws to a close, there has certainly been some great tennis on show. The best players in the world have treated fans to some high-quality action, while a few surprises and fairytales have also been sprinkled in.

The issue of prize money always raises hackles on the Tour. All four Grand Slams now 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 singles competition will this year pocket £2.2m. Even if you go out in the first round, you will be £35,000 richer. This latter figure also happens to be the amount that the winners of the wheelchair singles events take home.

This disparity is incredible and suggests that disability sport is not taken very seriously at all. Going out in the able-bodied event without winning a match is just as lucrative as 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 the mainstream media than it had done previously. Admittedly, Wimbledon is making strides. Last 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. To compound matters, 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.

British players are vying for the title in every single wheelchair discipline this year. Their stories should be celebrated alongside the likes of Johanna Konta and Andy Murray, but they have all too easily been drowned out.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: Leon Neal/AFP Photo

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