Thirty-nine years after the famed Wimbledon tennis tournament first became a professional event, women singles players will finally receive prize money equal to that of their male counterparts.
When Billie Jean King was the “ladies” singles champion at the famed British venue in 1968, she received 750 British pounds, while men’s champion Rod Layer won 2,000. As the purses grew and the gender discrepancy continued over the years, King and other players and women’s sports activists lobbied for equity to no avail, despite the fact that two of the three other Grand Slam events–the U.S. and Australian Opens–began offering equal prize money. (The French Open now pays singles’ champs the same, but overall pays women less than men.) Last year, Wimbledon women”s singles champion Amelie Mauresmo earned $53,000 less than men’s champion Roger Federer. Once again, Tim Phillips, chairman of the All England Club, which sponsors the 130-year-old tournament, insisted that the prize payments were driven by market forces and not by gender.
But powerful young women champions such as Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova began speaking out strongly for equal pay, and their viewpoint was endorsed by no less than British Prime Minister Tony Blair and even curmudgeonly former Wimbledon champ John McEnroe. Finally, the All England Club had to agree.
“This news has been a long time coming,” said Billie Jean King. “Wimbledon is one of the most respected events in all of sports and now with women and men paid on an equal scale, it demonstrates to the rest of the world that this is the right thing to do for the sport, the tournament and the world.”