Former US First Lady Michelle Obama advocated for equal pay for female athletes at the US Open, the latest prominent figure to push for progress in women’s sports.
(Bloomberg) — Former US First Lady Michelle Obama advocated for equal pay for female athletes at the US Open, the latest prominent figure to push for progress in women’s sports.
Addressing the Arthur Ashe stadium crowd on Monday night in Flushing Meadows, New York, Obama honored Billie Jean King, who implored sponsors and the United States Tennis Association to facilitate equal prize money. The milestone occurred for the first time at the 1973 US Open. In 2023, singles champions will each earn $3 million.
“It would take 34 years before all the other majors followed suit, and even today, there are far too many tournaments that still need to give equal pay to women,” said Obama.
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The conversation surrounding equal pay in women’s sports has been elevated in recent weeks during the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Proponents are encouraging broadcasters and sponsors to acknowledge the heightened interest in women’s soccer, as measured by viewership and attendance.
Spain’s Labor Ministry has recently sent letters to football clubs across the country as a first step of a wider campaign to investigate the salary gap between male and female players.
“Billie Jean had a choice,” Obama said, referencing her friend’s prior predicament competing for as little as one-eighth of the purse awarded to her male counterparts. “She could put her head down, keep winning tournament after tournament and just accept whatever check she was given — or she could dig deep and break serve, she could make a stand.”
In tennis, change is coming, but not anytime soon. The Women’s Tennis Association in June outlined a pathway to equal prize money at certain events by 2027, and all tournaments by 2033.
Recent tournaments have highlighted the continuing gulf in prize money between male and female tennis players.
Novak Djokovic and Coco Gauff, the men’s and women’s singles champions at this month’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, earned $1.02 million and $454,500, respectively. A week earlier at the National Bank Open in Canada, Jannik Sinner and Jessica Pegula cashed similarly unequal checks of $1.02 million and $454,500. And at the beginning of August at the Mubadala Citi DC Open in Washington, Dan Evans banked $353,445 while Gauff earned $120,150.
“Let us remember that all of this is far bigger than a champion’s paycheck — this is about how women are seen and valued in this world,” said Obama. “Sadly, we have seen how quickly progress like this can be taken away if we are not mindful and vigilant, if we do not keep remembering and advocating and organizing and speaking out, and yes, voting,” she said, appealing to voters in the US.
(Updated with fifth paragraph.)
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