Sat, Feb 24, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Wimbledon opts to change pay policy

'RIGHT TIME'The move to pay both sexes equally at this year's tournament was a result of commercial, political and sporting factors, the All England Club said

AP , WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND

Genteel, old-fashioned Wimbledon is steeped in tradition. There's one custom, however, that has finally been discarded.

Women, at last, will be paid as much as the men.

After years of holding out against equal pay, the All England Club yielded to 21st century realities on Thursday and agreed to offer the same prize money to both sexes at the world's most prestigious tennis tournament.

"I knew it was just a matter of time," defending Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo said. "They resisted the longest they could. They have made the right decision and they really had no choice."

The move puts Wimbledon in line with the other Grand Slams. The US Open and Australian Open have paid equal prize money for years. The French Open paid the men's and women's champions the same for the first time last year, although the overall prize fund remained bigger for the men.

Wimbledon will pay equal money from the first round through the final at the June 25 to July 8 grass-court championships.

"It's good news for all the women players, and recognizes their major contribution to Wimbledon and we also believe it will serve as a positive encouragement for women in sports," club chairman Tim Phillips said. "In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon."

Wimbledon cited a combination of commercial, political and sporting factors for the decision.

"We think now is absolutely the right time to make this move," Phillips said. "We have a reputation both for the championships and for the All England Club and we have to look after that."

Wimbledon had gradually narrowed the pay gap.

When Wimbledon started paying players in 1968, Billie Jean King won 37.5 percent of the check earned by men's champion Rod Laver. Last year, Mauresmo got ?625,000 (US$1.117 million) -- 95.4 percent of what Roger Federer received for winning the men's title ?655,000).

The WTA Tour had lobbied for years to get Wimbledon to adopt equal pay.

"This is an historic and defining moment for women in the sport of tennis, and a significant step forward for the equality of women in our society," WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott said.

The French Tennis Federation will discuss overall pay parity for the French Open at a meeting on March 16.

"Now the French Open is going to struggle to stay back," Mauresmo said at the Dubai Open.

The All England Club previously held out against equal prizes as a matter of principle.

Phillips had cited surveys showing that men give better value than the women. The men play best-of-five set matches, while the women play best of three. Also, the women make more money overall because they also play in doubles, while the top men usually play only singles.

That thinking has changed.

"I don't think that the amount of time that somebody spends on the court or the closeness of the matches is the pre-eminent factor in reaching a conclusion on this," club chief executive Ian Ritchie said.

"We looked at the commercial factors very much in the past, as much as the political ones. We look at it on the whole," he said.

Phillips said "broader social factors" played a part, noting that 55 percent of Wimbledon's spectators were women and that the club will host the 2012 Olympic tennis tournament.

"The greatest tennis tournament in the world has reached an even greater height today," three-time champion Venus Williams said.

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