| Sharapova: ‘Thrilled’
London, Feb. 22: Women tennis players will in future receive the same prize money as men, the authorities at Wimbledon announced today.
Last year, the women’s singles champion, Amelie Mauresmo of France, earned £625,000 — only £30,000 behind Roger Federer of Switzerland who received £655,000 for winning the men’s singles title.
For Wimbledon 2007, to be held between June 25 and July 8, the pay gap, which has been narrowing in any case in recent years, will be closed.
It now matches the US Open and the Australian Open, while the French Open only offers the same amount to the champions with the overall prize fund remaining bigger for men.
The authorities at Wimbledon had previously argued that women were required to play only three sets to men’s five. It was also pointed out that because of a less strenuous workload, women — unlike most of the men — could make additional money by playing in doubles.
But such has been the pressure both from players and the British government to concede the important principle of equal pay for men and women that the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (to give Wimbledon its formal title) finally caved in today.
Encouraged by victory at Wimbledon, women may seek equal pay in other sports, notably golf and cricket.
Announcing the change of heart, Tim Phillips, chairman of the All England Club, said the equal prize money was “in short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon”.
He explained: “Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time. 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.”
Phillips continued: “When Wimbledon pioneered Open Tennis in 1968, the men’s singles champion Rod Laver won £2,000, while Billie Jean King, the ladies’ singles champion, won £750, only 37.5 per cent of the men’s prize.”
He added: “This year, taking into account both the overall progression and the fact that broader social factors are also relevant to the decision, they (the committee members) have decided that the time is right to bring this subject to a logical conclusion and eliminate the difference.”
The prize money levels for 2007 have yet to be decided and will be announced in late April.
The culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, who wrote an open letter to the club last year expressing “deep concern” and asking for parity, “warmly welcomed” today’s decision.
“Women’s tennis has made giant strides in recent years, becoming both highly competitive and extremely entertaining and it is only right that in the 21st century, women receive equal prize money to men,” she said. “Wimbledon is the greatest tennis championship in the world and this decision will ensure it remains that way.”
Top players, including Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, have long fought for better prize money, with younger players such as Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova recently joining the campaign.
“Women tennis players are getting as many sponsors and media coverage as the men,” Sharapova said. “I understand that our TV ratings at the Grand Slams are pretty much equal to and often better than the men. So I don’t understand the rationale for paying the men more than us.”
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour has lobbied for years to get Wimbledon to drop its “Victorian-era view”.
“In the 21st century, it is morally indefensible that women competitors in a Grand Slam tournament should be receiving considerably less prize money than their male counterparts,” WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott said last year.
Three-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams has commented: “For us, it’s not about earning more money or becoming any more well-off; it’s really about an equality issue. We’re the premier sport for women. We would like to empower women around the world by showing that we are willing to fight for equality.”
The unequal pay policy goes back 123 years. When women started playing at Wimbledon in 1884, the female champion received a silver flower basket worth 20 guineas, while the man got a gold prize worth 30 guineas.
“When you’ve got men and women playing at the same tournament, it is ludicrous to have a difference in pay,” according to three-time men’s champion John McEnroe. “It would be setting an example to the rest of society in general to have equal prize money.”