Wimbledon serves up equal pay for women
LONDON: Wimbledon chiefs announced on Thursday that they will pay men and women equal prize money for the first time at the prestigious tennis championships this year.
The decision overturns more than a century of deliberate inequality in pay and brings the tournament more into line with the other three annual grand slam tennis events. “We will be paying equal prize money this year at Wimbledon, through all the rounds in both singles and doubles,” said Tim Phillips, the chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which runs Wimbledon. He said the club’s committee unanimously agreed that “the time is right to bring this subject to a logical conclusion and eliminate the difference.”
Phillips said that social and marketing factors had made Wimbledon chiefs decide to do a U-turn to end the anomaly and hoped it would send out a positive message about tennis to young sportswomen. And he defiantly insisted that the club had not caved in to pressure from politicians, female tennis players and women’s rights campaigners. “Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time,” he said.
“We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognises the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and to Wimbledon. We hope it will also encourage girls who want a career in sport to choose tennis as their best option. In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon. We think it’s exciting news for tennis and will provide a boost in the crowded sports landscape.”
The last remaining Grand Slam tournament played on grass, Wimbledon had been the only one of tennis’s four majors which made no concession whatsoever to gender equality in prize money. The Australian and US Opens offer equal pay through all rounds, while the French Open pays its champions the same amount. The decision is a complete vote-face for Wimbledon, which held out on unequal pay on a point of principle. The All England Club consistently pointed out that men were required to play the best of five sets and women only the best of three.
Last year, Phillips said ending the pay gap was something they “fundamentally don’t think would be fair on the men.” Top female players such as Venus Williams and other influential figures outside tennis repeatedly slammed the club for its stance. Phillips said the concept of making female players play the best of five sets was “not on the agenda.” But though he denied that the previous stand had been morally indefensible, he did give a nod to the likes of Williams. “We always want the top players to enjoy coming here. It’s been a problem in that we don’t want them to feel bad about things,” he said. In 2006, Switzerland’s Roger Federer, the Wimbledon men’s singles champion, earned £655,000 while his female counterpart, France’s Amelie Mauresmo, was paid £625,000. Prize money for this year’s event will be announced in April, though the new arrangements will cost the club around £600,000 out of their surplus and the men’s prize money will not be reduced. The championships generate an annual profit of some £25 million.
Wimbledon hosted the tennis events at the 1908 Olympics and will do so again when the Games return to London in 2012. Phillips said the decision was felt “somehow appropriate” in the run-up to the Olympiad. Wimbledon is widely regarded as a “stuffy” event and the most traditionalist tennis tournament, with players still obliged to wear “predominately white” clothing on court. However, Wimbledon, in southwest London, was the first of the grand slams to go “Open” in 1968 and so allow previously banned professional players to compete alongside amateurs. This year’s Wimbledon runs from June 25 to July 8. afp