Novak Djokovic has clarified his controversial comments about prize money, which overshadowed his comfortable win at Indian Wells on Sunday.
The world number one sent shock-waves through the world of tennis on Sunday when he responded candidly to questions raised about prize money. At the time, the Serb said that prize money should be "fairly distributed" based on "who attracts more attention, spectators and who sells more tickets."
The fact that men statistically make far more in revenue, attract bigger audiences and harbour greater media interest insinuated that men should be paid more. Certainly, that is how Djokovic's comments were digested by the sporting elite and public alike.
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Since, the Serb felt the need to clarify his remarks, by posting on his Facebook page:
"This was never meant to be made into a fight between genders and differences in pay, but in the way all players are rewarded for their play and effort."
Djokovic's assertions were controversial and certainly an unusual stance from a man normally so impeccably versed in media relations. However, the comments are just the latest in a series of controversial incidents which have undermined the integrity of tennis.
The Serbian's comments were condemned by tennis superstars Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams. The latter commented, that his "offensive" remarks were "mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate".
Therefore, is this latest open letter from Djokovic merely a public relations stunt, aimed to appease the paying public? His comments are money motivated after all - it is within his interests to keep them on-side, is it not?
The gender equality debate was brought into sharp focus after Ray Moore (the Indian Wells Tournament Director) stirred a media frenzy with his controversial comments last week.
Whilst Moore has since resigned (or rather 'walked before being pushed'), Djokovic's admission was more surprising given his reputation as a slick diplomat. The Serb's statement has brought an immediacy to a long-term problem: sexism in sport. Maybe the latter is still a huge problem in sport, which undermines its power and credibility as a unifier?
Whilst Djokovic's comments are not directly sexist, his suggestive rhetoric will upset many.
Djokovic's comments are conceivable, in their shallowest form. You wouldn't go to a boxing event and expect the undercard to earn more than the main event, would you?
However, the Serb's presentation of such a contentious and sensitive issue was ill-advised. Djokovic has simply got this one wrong - a PR double fault, if you will.
Can this be disregarded as an embarrassing faux-pas or perhaps representative of his real opinions. Maybe Djokovic (the slick PR machine), was caught off-guard?
On his shallow premise, how will the profile of the women's game improve if there is no financial incentive for female players to attend or more worryingly, if they are not given a platform from which to grow the game and rival the men's game?
Serena Williams has single-handedly carried the woman's game over the last decade, crossing the barriers of fashion, celebrity and sport with her powerful presence, effervescence and athletic prowess.The American tennis ace has empowered woman in sport and given them a real-life role model.
Gender equality is crucial in sport and a pre-requisite to equality in a wider context. Tennis is merely a microcosm of equality in the real world and the responsibilities of athletes as role models is more relevant than ever before.
How can we expect to produce the next Serena Williams, whilst such archaic attitudes are at the forefront of what we as consumers are buying into?
Sport is a mercurial medium: incredibly influential or devastatingly destructive, depending on how it is produced or consumed.
The late Nelson Mandela once said, "Sport has the power to change the world" and he was not wrong in his confession.
Given Sharapova's latest drug controversy, the tennis community called for unity, not division.
Now the sport is currently experiencing an apartheid of its own accord: gender. Tennis now faces an uphill battle to showcase its resolve and ability to overcome adversity.
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