“Sadly I think Djokovic is right”

Ray Moore’s controversial comments on women’s tennis have brought the debate about equal pay in sport back into the spotlight. In an attempt to be even-handed, The Mixed Zone publishes both sides of the argument, co-incidentally from two former British Olympic badminton players. Here, Gail Emms argues that the sexes should not be paid the same; CLICK HERE to read Susan Egelstaff’s counter-argument

I am about to speak on BBC 5Live and I am really nervous. I get a little rush before speaking on live radio but this time more so. I have talked and commented on many sports issues from school sport to the Olympic Games, but this could be my toughest task yet and I could possibly face a backlash for my comments and views. I am about to go on national radio, as a campaigner for women’s sport, and voice my opinion that women should not get equal pay.

Before I go into my reasons, I want to emphasise a few things. The female athletes who I have met at Olympic and Commonwealth Games, are exceptional. They are true role models and push themselves to the limit just as any male athlete does. When you see an athlete on the top of the podium, filled with emotion, whether they are male or female, they deserve all the adulation and praise for the sacrifice and dedication to the love of being the best in their chosen field. But unlike the outside world, sport is not a level playing field; boys compete against the boys and girls compete against the girls.

If I were to go for a job, a marketing executive post for instance, I would be up against 50+ applicants, of all different ages, backgrounds, race and, of course, men and other women. In this instant, I am up against everyone and that is why in business there should be equal pay. There is no reason why one person deserves more money because they are a man.

In sport, this is not the case. To make it as a top athlete, you have to be the best male or female in your category. It’s a numbers game basically. If your sport has more boys/men playing, then it is harder to reach the top of that sport than if you were in the girls’/women’s sporting world as there are significantly fewer involved. Football is a prime example of this. Saturday mornings when my six-year-old son Harry is running up and down the football pitch, there are around 500 other boys on the sports field with him. Last week I counted two girls. Those two girls have a statistically better chance and an easier route to playing for England than those boys, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect the same pay structure.

Gymnastics is the opposite. For every 20 girls in the class, there is one boy. So my argument would be, that the girls would deserve more prize money here as they have had to beat more competition to reach the top.

Every sport is different, but prize money shouldn’t be the focus of why that person is playing the sport. The prize money should be a small part of the sport as now it is detracting from the real issues of why now in tennis, it is becoming a sexism row storm. I have heard the arguments from tennis saying why the women deserve equal pay in a grand slam … but to me, you cannot say you deserve it if you do not play the same scoring system! How is that equal? If I were a male tennis player, I would be pretty p****d off quite frankly. Novak Djokovic has every right to feel aggrieved. If you want equal pay, then play equal. Then there can be no argument.

As a female former badminton player, I was very aware that in our sport, no one gave a monkeys about the girls. Playing in the 1990s and 2000s, especially in Asia where officials were very much in the same frame of thinking as Raymond Moore, the girls had to battle our corner. We played less points, so we changed that. The girls then got good. Very, very good. So much so that women’s doubles has changed from being a laughing joke, to a spectacle of endurance, patience and power. The money is equal. Even in mixed doubles where the man will hit between 60 and 80 per cent of the shots in a rally knows the importance of the woman on the court and the prize money is split 50/50 with no qualms from the men.

I had the advantage from another point of view in the fact that as there weren’t many top female athletes, I attracted outside sponsors. I had three or four, whereas Nathan Robertson, my playing partner, didn’t. Numbers game. He was up against footballers, rugby players and cricketers etc, but I wasn’t. I earned more money that way than he did. Is that fair? We are on the same team, so should I have given him half of the sponsor money I received? There are fewer numbers in women’s badminton, and in some tournaments the men are having to play at least one more round than the women and now the cracks are starting to show.

I would love to say that women’s sport has every right to be treated on a level playing field as men. But the truth is, there is no level playing field unless there is equality across the board from the grassroots to elite, and I am not sure there is a sport close to this. Tennis is close, maybe hockey? Gymnastics is the other way, so are the girls annoyed if there is an equal pay structure? If women’s sport is going to grow and become a match for the men, we have some work to do.


Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys. Gail’s latest articles

3 thoughts on ““Sadly I think Djokovic is right”

  • 23rd March 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Hi Gail, thanks for looking at both sides, but unfortunately I think you’ve missed the most important point. Firstly, just to get it out of the way, I am a former pro tennis player and we have consistently voted/advocated playing best of five sets in tournaments where the men do. Why don’t we? Simply because it would be a scheduling nightmare for the tournament organisers.

    The point that I think is more important in all this is investment: all professional athletes are ‘trading’ as their own self-contained businesses. I competed before the era of equal prize money, in fact we didn’t even get equal funding, therefore my ‘business’ received a lot less investment than those of my male peers at the time. In 1999 I lost in the first round of Wimbledon in three sets. I could name any number of male competitors who also lost first round in three sets, and yet my prize money was several thousand pounds less. In real terms what that meant was that they could afford to go to a few more tournaments in pursuit of ranking points, or perhaps play further afield where the tournaments were not so strong. Investment = opportunities; how do you quantify the cost of losing out on those? In elite level sport, as you know, we talk a lot about marginal gains – my investment losses were anything but marginal.

    If you strip that back a level you also get another layer of investment – what, perhaps intangible, value did my career have on those who came next? If my endeavours inspired at least one more girl to pick up a racket or persevere through tough times and keep going, then my career contributed to growing the female game. A contributing reason we have fewer girls playing sport is that there are myriad implicit messages that sport is not our domain. Don’t get me wrong – the world has changed since I retired, and continues to do so. However at every level of tennis and sport there are psychological forces at work that are like kryptonite for girls and women. So much so, in fact, that I am currently investigating these phenomena as part of my PhD research.

    In summary, someone smarter than me said that social beliefs can influence social reality – and when women are paid less it reinforces the belief that we’re worth less. Belief influences reality in a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to lower participation, higher drop out and inferior performances from girls and women. We need to keep working hard at creating a new social reality, where young girls see sport as a future career choice, and comments such as we’ve heard in tennis in the last few days are consigned to the dark ages where they belong.

  • 23rd March 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I did not read article my view is if the women can get equal money why are the men hating end of story.cash rules everything around me and if the women can get equal money it is no business of ANY man so they and everyone else can “off”

  • 14th May 2016 at 9:57 am

    Have only seen this article now and am so disappointed in your views. Basically you are equating time spent on court as the determining factor in equal pay – ie quantity over quality. Of course the original statement from Ray Moore was made at Indian Wells, a tournament in which both men and women play best of 3 so the question of equal pay shouldn’t have been on his radar if you judge it on that basis. However sport for spectators is about entertainment and there is no doubt a 5 hour 5 set match is entertaining. But equally entertaining was the 3 set Oz women’s final this year. The arena was at capacity. The seats were sold. The women brought in the punters. And before they ever got that far they trained hard off court to be the best they could be. And they deserved their money.
    As far as sponsorship is concerned, it equates to the marketability of the person. There are a whole heap of reasons why some are more marketable than others. A smaller field gives women a chance to shine, but until there is equality given To coverage of women’s sports, fewer women will participate. Would you argue that the top 4 men n any sport should be paid the same in sponsorship in the basis that they’ve all risen to the top in an equally crowded field? It doesn’t happen.
    You were paid more because you were more marketable than Nathan. And, knowing badminton (a sport I play) it wasn’t exactly a fortune anyway!
    the length of a match does not necessarily equate to the quality of the match. In the same way as a long book isn’t necessarily better than a short one. People react to the effort and endeavour of the athlete regardless of the circumstances of the scoring system. Elite women train as hard and give as much as their male counterparts. They entertain the spectators. They sell tickets. They are the best they can be. They should be equally rewarded for their effort.


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