By The Rex Factor
There was a lot going on last weekend in the sports landscape, so it was easy for a seemingly innocuous comment made by an old executive of one of the more popular events on the tennis tours to get lost in the wash.
That is, until you actually read what he said.
The BNP Paribas Open is the first event since the Australian Open two months ago where both the top men and women in the world compete together. It’s a two-week event that has long served as one of the most important non-major events of the tennis season at Indian Wells, Calif.
Tourney director Raymond Moore mentioned to reporters on Sunday that women’s pro tennis players “ride on the coattails of the men”, among other not-so-flattering comments. He clearly didn’t understand the gravity in his words, as Moore had no intention of leaving his post when asked Sunday until the backlash came. Moore was the CEO and tournament director since 2012 but has been involved at Indian Wells for 29 years (former owner and managing partner) until he resigned Tuesday.
Moore was criticized far and wide by both women and men’s players for that comment and a couple of others. The 69-year old former touring pro from South Africa also said women’s players were “physically attractive and competitively attractive”.
“In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore said. “They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”
The comments are notable for several reasons. Firstly, for about 10 years now, all major tennis tournaments pay the women equal amounts of prize money to the men. It would be tough for anyone to argue about the skyrocketing popularity of the men’s game helping the women. Alongside the prominence of Federer and Nadal came the emergence of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Brit Andy Murray. Those four have spearheaded a furious rivalry amongst themselves and forced others below them to elevate their games to try and compete.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams has largely dominated when she’s been healthy and the list of her rivals comes and goes seemingly by the year. Maria Sharapova is embroiled in a performance-enhancing drug controversy and is currently out. Victoria Azarenka was 3-17 against Serena in her career before beating her in straight sets in Sunday’s BNP Paribas final.
That said, women’s tennis players would be among the highest-compensated female athletes in the world without the help of the men because of the extraordinary talent it takes to play at that highest level. Unlike in any other sport, women earn equal to the men – even before endorsements – and don’t have to share the revenues with teammates. Sharapova was the top earner of 2015 based largely on $23 million in endorsement money.
There was just one female golfer in the top 10 (Stacy Lewis), one NASCAR driver (Danica Patrick) and one fighter (Ronda Rousey). The other seven were all tennis players or athletes in non-team sports, so Moore’s comments weren’t totally baseless and he almost surely meant no harm to anyone specifically (otherwise, you don’t say stuff like that to the media on the record).
Yet the comments are noteworthy because tennis is the most popular women’s individual sport in the world. If guys like Moore still continue to view them as lucky to be around the men in the big tourneys, when will that view ever change?
The Rex Factor has followed ATP and WTA tennis since the 1990s and has been betting the majors for more than 15 years.