Dipika Pallikal has made a name for herself on the squash courts, but she’s been causing quite a stir off them too. India’s first top 10 ranked female player, who won the gold medal in the women’s doubles at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, has used her status to reopen the debate about the inequality over prize money in the sport.
Unequal Prize Money
Pallikal has stoked the fire by refusing to enter India’s National Championships for the fourth year in a row. She cites the unfair nature of the men’s champion receiving Rs 120,000 (about £1,200) compared to the women’s top prize of Rs 50,000 (around £500), and states that she doesn’t “see why there should be a difference between men and women”. In the same statement, she expressed her feelings that “we [female players] deserve equal pay like most of the tournaments which are becoming equal prize money on the PSA professional circuit.” Whilst she acknowledges the advances made by the PSA in recent years, she points out that there is work still to be done to bring squash up to the level of equality that tennis is at, where the male and female winners of tournaments earn the same amount prize money.
Prestigious Squash Tournament
Her attitude has grated with some who believe that domestic tournaments are more about raising the profile of the sport on a national stage than earning money. Cyrus Poncha, India’s national coach, poured scorn on the subject by responding: “I don’t think the national championships is about money. It’s about playing the most prestigious tournament in the national calendar.” However, she has received support from other players who agree that parity is key for encouraging the next generation of girls to start playing the sport.
From Slow Start To The World Stage
Pallikal burst onto the scene as a junior, winning tournaments on the European Junior Squash Tour. She turned pro in 2006 but endured a slow start to her professional career, fully coming to the attention of the squash world in 2011 when she won a number of titles and achieved a career-high ranking, at that point, of 13. The following year she went further still by finishing as runner up in the Tournament of Champions and reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open. The result was 10th place in the rankings and in doing so she became the first ever female Indian to enter the top 10. She has represented her country a number of times on the world stage and in 2012 was granted India’s Arjuna Award for outstanding achievement, the first women’s squash player to have this bestowed upon her. Her victory at the 2014 Commonwealth Games only further cemented her status as one of the top players globally.
Maybe the 24-year old squash pro can take inspiration from tennis where Billy Jean King, alongside other top female players, set up the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 to combat inequalities in the sport surrounding prize money. Progress wasn’t smooth or quick, but the sport now has a level of fairness for both genders that few other sports can match, with the men’s and women’s Wimbledon champions in 2015 each pocketing a cool £1.88m. Football is another high-profile example of imbalance between male and female prize funds; the winning country at the men’s World Cup in 2014 took home $35m with the victorious women’s nation just $2m. So squash is by no means the only sport finding itself in a sticky situation regarding prize money, and it certainly has a fantastic opportunity to show the world how seriously it takes the subject by backing Pallikal, which would only make for positive coverage at a time when the game is fighting to be included as an Olympic sport.