A couple of days ago I talked about the concept of social justice, suggesting that, in common with most modern jargon, it means the opposite of its dictionary definition.
‘Social justice’ means the injustice of awarding something that isn’t due, and the tennis world has developed the theme by kicking up another row about equal pay for men and women.
First, the Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore caused a mighty uproar by suggesting that women players don’t deserve the same prize money as the men. Then the world’s top player Novak Djokovic said the same thing.
Both Messrs Moore and Djokovic based their statements on the commercial argument. Men, they said, attract more TV viewers and sell more tickets at higher prices. Hence, in the good tradition of sound economics, they should be paid more.
The twin bombs exploded; shards flew off in every direction. The fallout was so powerful that Mr Moore resigned, and Mr Djokovic had to offer an abject apology along the lines of his words not meaning the way they sounded.
Their opponents were scathing nonetheless. Our own Andy Murray countered that some of the women’s matches attract a wider following than some of the men’s. That’s like saying that some of my shots land in the court and some of Andy’s don’t. He could still beat me without working up a sweat.
Martina Navratilova used the occasion to reaffirm her commitment to equality between the sexes. That was redundant, for Miss Navratilova had already made her feelings on the subject abundantly clear last year, when she donned an elegant mannish suit, went down on one knee in a restaurant and proposed holy matrimony to her girlfriend.
Female players, said the advocates of equal pay, ‘deserve’ the same prize money. That’s another modern solecism: ‘deserve’ actually means ‘don’t deserve, but would like to get anyway’.
The commercial argument used by Messrs Moore and Djokovic isn’t the only one, though it’s doubtless strong. Men do attract wider audiences, and at most major tournaments the tickets for their matches do cost more.
For example, debenture tickets for the men’s quarters and semis at Wimbledon go at three to four times the price of the women’s. And in terms of TV audiences, the men’s final at last year’s Wimbledon was seen by 9.2 million viewers, while the women’s final attracted merely 4.3 million.
Yet the moral argument is, as usual, stronger. For, even as elementary decency demands that equal work command equal pay, the same admirable quality dictates that greater work should be paid better.
And awarding the same prize money to the women means they get paid more than the men per unit of time. To wit, last year’s Wimbledon winner Djokovic spent 16 hours on court, compared to his female counterpart Serena Williams’s 10.5. That means he was paid 50 per cent less per hour, which I suppose comes close to the feminist idea of equal pay for equal work.
Yet time on court is only one aspect. Why do you suppose men’s tennis attracts more viewers? After all – and I’m speaking not only for myself but for all those red-blooded men out there – few sights are more fetching than a good female body throwing itself about every which way.
The reason is that most tennis spectators play the sport themselves. For them watching the pros is tantamount to a free lesson. And they learn more from the men because the men are, not to cut too fine a point, better.
Not just stronger and faster, for these are largely physiological differences, but better technically, with a greater variety of shot, better timing, a clearer idea of how to construct a point.
Now this difference derives not from physiology but from application, time spent on the practice court, day in day out over a lifetime. Also, the men’s infinitely faster speed around the court isn’t all down to pure physiology. Much of it comes from endless work in the gym, never touching wrong foods, taking ice baths – everything it takes to become a smidgen better.
Hence one never sees a fat or unfit male player, while some of the women – I don’t know how to say this without sounding unchivalrous – are ever so slightly porcine. That’s why they are so slow around the court, and that’s why women players get injured more often than the men.
In other words, men professionals are more professional – and they probably spend at least twice as much time on their work than the women. That’s why the moral principle of equal pay for equal work should in this case mean that the men get paid twice as much.
The money thus vacated could be used to boost the prize funds in the lower echelons of the men’s game, to enable, say, a world number 200 (who could thrash any woman with his eyes closed) make enough of a living not to have to sleep rough when travelling to faraway events.
So welcome to our world of virtual reality, where justice means injustice, equality means inequality, and fairness means unfairness. That’s modernity for you.