LONDON (Reuters) - Wimbledon will pay women and men equal prize money for the first time at this year’s grasscourt grand slam, All England Club chairman Tim Phillips said on Thursday.
The tournament broke with its tradition to join the Australian and U.S. Opens in paying equal prize money across the board in all events and in all stages of competition.
“This year the committee decided unanimously that the time was right to move to equal prize money and bring to a close a long progression,” Phillips told a news conference.
Prize money for the 2007 Championships will be announced in April.
Wimbledon, which dates back to 1877, went “open” in 1968 but had been criticised since then for maintaining a discrepancy in the prize money offered to its male and female competitors.
Last year Roger Federer earned 655,000 pounds for winning the men’s title while women’s champion Amelie Mauresmo took home 625,000 pounds.
“It’s definitely a victory for women in general. I said it was a matter of time, and it was,” Mauresmo said in Dubai.
“I think most of the people agreed it’s not a matter of how long we (women) spend on the court. The men are always going to play longer because they play best of five sets. It’s just a matter of being equal.”
The All England Club had previously defended its stand by highlighting that women contested best-of-three-set matches while the men played best of five.
Wimbledon club chief executive Ian Ritchie said on Thursday: “We do listen to what everybody says to us. We consult with the various people involved and we’ve had discussions with the WTA, the ATP and with other partners involved in the game.
“The key thing to stress is that we’re an independent group of people on the committee who make up their own mind at the time that we feel is appropriate and we feel this is the right time.”
The French Open introduced equal pay for their men’s and women’s singles champions in 2006 but remain the only major tournament not to offer the same prize money throughout the rounds.
Wimbledon’s decision to offer women parity was welcomed by the WTA tour and players alike.
“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 in a statement.
WELCOME FROM VENUS
Venus Williams, a former triple champion at Wimbledon, added: “The greatest tennis tournament in the world has reached an even greater height today. I applaud today’s decision by Wimbledon, which recognises the value of women’s tennis.”
The battle for equal pay for women’s tennis had become a perennnial topic at Wimbledon.
Last year, Scott blasted Wimbledon for a “Victorian era view” while Britain’s Sports Minister Tessa Jowell had written to Phillips urging him to end the disparity.
Even Prime Minister Tony Blair weighed into the debate when he backed the equal pay campaign in parliament during the 2006 championships.
“When Wimbledon pioneered Open tennis in 1968, the ladies singles champion Billie Jean King got 750 pounds and Rod Laver got 2,000 pounds,” Phillips said.
“So the ladies champion got 37.5 percent of the money that the men’s champion got. By stages, that has moved up until in 2006 when Mauresmo won, the precise relativity was 95.4 percent.”
King, who changed the face of women’s sport by campaigning for equal rights, said: “This news has been a long time coming and I am thrilled Wimbledon has joined the club of grand slam events offering equal prize money for men and women.
“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.”
Phillips said 55 percent of Wimbledon’s spectators are women so he hoped the prize upgrade would resonate with them. Ritchie said the new move would not affect ticket pricing.
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