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1999 Wimbledon

Money matters

Billie Jean King calls for equality

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Posted: Friday June 25, 1999 04:54 PM

  King: "It is a sad fact that Wimbledon remains a distant fourth among the four Grand Slams in the percentage of prize money it pays to women." Allsport UK/Allsport

LONDON (Reuters) -- Wimbledon legend Billie Jean King on Friday said it was high time the world's most famous tennis tournament gave women equal pay.

Otherwise "The Spice Girls of Tennis" -- as Martina Hingis calls them -- may stage a "girlcott" of Wimbledon.

King, who won a record 20 Wimbledon titles, said: "The money that Wimbledon is saving -- less than two percent of its profits -- is not worth the resulting ill-will and distraction."

She argued that television ratings for the exciting new generation of glamorous teenage stars consistently favored the women.

King, founder of the Women's Tennis Association and a key voice in the sport, also insisted that it was entertainment value and not length of performance that counted.

"Runners who compete at 100 and 1,500 meters get paid more than those who run 10 kilometers and most people would rather watch a great two-hour movie than a four-hour movie of any quality."

Wimbledon organizers point out that the majority of fans coming to the tournament say they prefer to watch men play.

They also argue that women end up winning more prize money than men because they play shorter singles matches and therefore are able to play more women's doubles and mixed doubles.

King, writing in The Times newspaper, retorted: "Wimbledon should be encouraging the top women to continue doing this rather than penalizing them by paying them less."

"It is a sad fact that Wimbledon remains a distant fourth among the four Grand Slams in the percentage of prize money it pays to women."

The men's champion wins $724,000, while the women's champion gets $651,000.

At the Australian Open, the women receive 94 percent of the men's prize money and at the French it is 90 percent. Only the U.S. Open gives both sexes equal prize money.

King, six times the singles champion at Wimbledon, said: "The difference is generating adverse reactions among increasing numbers of fans and commentators and it has led many of the players to consider a "girlcott" of Wimbledon."

The issue has sparked controversy at Wimbledon where British number one Tim Henman grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons Monday when he said women players were greedy to want equal pay.

Now he has gone very silent on the subject: "That's it. I've learned my lesson and no more talking about equal prize money."

Reigning women's champion Jana Novotna disagreed sharply, saying: "It is nothing to do with being greedy or that we are complaining about not being paid well enough."

Former Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek once famously said that women players were "fat pigs."

Now he is much more circumspect: "Equal payment is fine. I'm not trying to get mixed in that conversation at all."

King won support from another veteran, 1977 winner Virgina Wade of Britain, who said: "We are about to enter the 21st century and there is no reason for any discrimination."

King said that the 18-strong Wimbledon management committee has just one woman on it, and argued that now was the time to make the right decision for business reasons alone.

"Treating women as less valuable than men generates ill-will that is disproportionate to the amount of money you are saving," she concluded.

Related information
Your Take: Grand Slam Money
SI's Terry Baddoo: Wimbledon women don't merit equal pay
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