Tennis Leads the Way in Gender Equity
Was I born in the right place at the right time? Am I just lucky? As I look back, I think I can answer these two questions positively. I was born in Czechoslovakia in 1965. My mother was playing on the international tennis circuit and was single finalist at Wimbledon in 1962. My father was president of the Czechoslovakian Tennis Federation. When I started playing, the system in my country was already in place and it worked well. Above all, it gave equal opportunities to girls and boys to train, move forward and try their luck at the highest level.
The State paid for travel abroad to play the tournaments under 18 years of age but you had to be ranked among best 2 players in the country in these junior age categories to benefit from this. Nobody else was allowed to travel abroad. In the adult category only the top 4 players could travel abroad to the international tournaments but they had to pay for their expenses themselves. The rules were clear. They applied to both sexes in the same way.
When I started to play on the professional circuit in the 1980s, I was lucky it was at a time when women’s tennis had already been revolutionized. Billie Jean King had made a great contribution through her activism for equality a decade earlier to really advance things. Of course, there was still some way to go, but I haven’t known a time when there was a real gap between men’s and women’s tennis.
Today, I feel that sport is a fairly true reflection of the rest of society. Women have gained a lot of ground where they were previously absent or in the minority. It’s not all perfect, far from it, there are still battles to fight and win. But the balance has never been so close to equality. And we can see more and more gender equity in the sporting field. Particularly, I feel that among all sports, tennis has worked hard for gender equality. It has led the way. In Grand Slam tournaments, the prize money is identical for both men and women. In the Olympics, players are treated in the same way, with matches in two winning sets and a mixed doubles competition. In demanding parity at all levels, the IOC fully plays its role, even though it can be difficult in practice to achieve the same level of quality in both sexes. In Boxing, for example, girls lag behind. In gymnastics, however, they take the lead.
In my country, the Czech Republic, we have six girls in the world’s top 100, against only 2 boys. The media gives a bigger place to the women’s circuit. Their results have given sportswomen a recognition that make them the envy of men. Of course, the picture is not idyllic. In 2017, only one woman appeared in the Forbes ranking of the 100 best-paid athletes in the world: Serena Williams. She disappeared from the list in 2018, after leaving the circuit time to have a baby. Nevertheless, progress has been done and twenty years ago, there would have been perhaps only one woman in the ranking of the top 1,000 richest athletes. Today, the promotion of gender equity and to give access to sport to girls and women is part of the international sport and peacebuilding agenda. On the field, there are a lot of associations, NGO’s, Champions for Peace and committed athletes who are advocating for the cause and bringing sport activities in vulnerable communities. So, we can always see the glass half empty, but from my perspective I’d rather look at all the progress we’ve made and to continue working.