Maria Sharapova needed less than an hour to advance past the first round of the Australian Open, but shouldn't have to take a pay cut because of it.
Photo: Getty Images
It's that time of the year when the Australian Open swings around, and brings with it that old debate about whether women's tennis players should be paid as much as the men.
At this year's Australian Open, both the men's and women's singles champions will receive $2,430,000.
For those who may have missed it, this is controversial. Not the amount, but the fact that both the men's and women's winners will be awarded the same prize money.
But those who argue that both sexes shouldn't get equal pay are missing the point.
Yes, it's absurd that Olga Puchkova received $27,600 – or about $500 a minute – for taking part in her 6-0 6-0 first-round thrashing at the hands of fellow Russian Maria Sharapova.
But is it any more absurd than the fact Spanish footballer Fernando Torres will be paid about $250,000 in wages by English Premier League club Chelsea this week? Or that Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o is paid $465,000 by Russian club Anzhi every week? Or that boxer Floyd Mayweather made $85 million last year?
The money in professional sport is ridiculous, but that's been the way for decades.
Nobody argues NFL star Peyton Manning shouldn't have earned US$42 million last year for playing 15 games of American football and featuring in some advertisements for Reebok, Sony and Gatorade.
Yet when female tennis players earn the same as men, despite doing less work (i.e. playing three-set matches instead of five), there's plenty of indignation to go round.
That's because people forget that athletes don't get paid for how much work they do; they get paid because of how many people they can entertain (and therefore how many advertising dollars they can attract).
The median household income in the United States is $52,762. LeBron James (who earned US$59.4 million from June 2011 to June 2012) has put a lot of effort into his basketball, but he doesn't work 1125 times harder than the average American household.
No, he gets paid that much because he is watched by millions of people every week. It's the same for all professional sportspeople.
The duration of a contest doesn't matter. The Australian cricket team didn't get paid less for winning the Sydney Test match in three days rather than five. A boxer gets paid the same for a first-round knockout as he does for a split decision after 12 rounds. A men's tennis player doesn't get paid less for winning (or losing) a match in three sets rather than five.
Domestic cricketers get paid far more for playing Big Bash or Indian Premier League games that last three hours than they do for playing Sheffield Shield matches that last four days. Why? Because people are watching. That's all that matters when it comes to professional sport.
If workload was the main factor for how much sportspeople were paid, then female athletes who play football in the W-League or represent Australia in cricket (often while working in another job as well) would be earning just as much as their male counterparts.
It's a little curious that tennis – possibly the only professional sport in the world in which women earn a similar amount as men – is the one sport which sparks these regular debates about equal pay.
Critics can argue the standard isn't the same, but the same number of people watch a women's first-round Australian Open match as they do a men's. The crowds for an average match are roughly the same, and the TV ratings are roughly equal.
Granted, at the top level the women's game doesn't currently have the star power to match the blockbuster Federer-Nadal-Djokovic-Murray battles in the men's events, which affects television viewer numbers for the finals.
But that's not to say previous women's greats like Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis and Monica Seles – or current stars like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova – don't capture the public's attention. Australian tennis fans are no less likely to watch a match featuring Sam Stosur than one featuring Bernard Tomic.
If we are seriously worried about sportspeople not "earning" the large pay packets they're getting, then we need to rethink the whole structure of professional sport.
If not, then how about we leave this tired debate alone at last and just enjoy the tennis?
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.