In 2007, Wimbledon became the final of tennis’s four major tournaments to offer equal prize money to its men’s and women’s champions. But more than a decade later, pay equality is still a long way off in the broadcast booth.
In an interview for BBC Panorama: Britain’s Equal Pay Scandal, Martina Navratilova — who won a combined 59 major titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles — revealed she is paid £15,000 by the BBC to provide commentary during broadcasts at Wimbledon, while her colleague John McEnroe (17 combined major titles) was paid between £150,000 and £199,999 for a similar role.
That means McEnroe, who won the Wimbledon singles title three times in his career, was paid 10 times as much as Navratilova, who won the Wimbledon singles title nine times in her career. Awesome. To make matters worse, Navratilova told BBC Panorama that BBC executives told her directly that she was making a comparable amount to McEnroe, and she didn’t find out the truth until the yearly salaries of top BBC stars was revealed last year.
“It’s extremely unfair and it makes me angry for the other women that I think go through this,” Navratilova said in the interview.
The BBC’s reasoning behind this is unsurprisingly defensive, and it also completely misses the point.
“Along with Sue Barker, John is regarded as the face of our Wimbledon coverage. He is a defining voice within the BBC’s coverage,” the BBC spokesperson said. “He is widely considered to be the best expert/commentator in the sport, highly valued by our audiences and his contract means he cannot work for another UK broadcaster without our permission. His pay reflects all of this – gender isn’t a factor.”
To say “gender isn’t a factor” when explaining why McEnroe (who won 77 singles titles in his career) gets paid ten times more than Navratilova, (167 singles titles), is downright ridiculous. This pay gap speaks directly to what qualities are valued in society. Men such as John McEnroe (No. 1 in singles for 170 weeks) are celebrated for being loud, unpredictable, and bold. Meanwhile, the voices of women such as Martina Navratilova (No. 1 in singles for 332 weeks) are talked over, questioned, criticized and generally ignored.
The BBC also stressed that McEnroe gets more commentating assignments than Navratilova, as if that was fully responsible for the discrepancy. To quote Navratilova, “Ten times more? I don’t think so.” Plus, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The BBC makes the assignments — Navratilova is no doubt available and capable of working more than she is, and yet the network still assigns McEnroe matches, even when he has a blatant conflict of interest — such as the 2016 Wimbledon semifinal between Roger Federer and Milos Raonic, which McEnroe commentated for the network despite the fact that he was serving as Raonic’s coach at the time.
Recently, McEnroe has become a vocal advocate for equal pay for players, so hopefully he will carry that advocacy off the court as well. Navratilova is certainly not going to let this go — she’s always ready to fight for social justice, and knows that this problem is much bigger than herself.
“It’s shocking, if really, this happens to me then, you know, for me it’s a part-time job, it’s two weeks of my life,” Navratilova said. “But for the women that work there full time, maybe the discrepancy’s not that large, but it adds up over a lifetime, it adds up to an amazing amount of money.”