(Reuters) - BNP Paribas Open chief executive and tournament director Raymond Moore provoked outrage on Sunday with controversial comments he made before the women’s and men’s finals at Indian Wells, and later issued an official apology.
The 69-year-old South African had earlier told reporters that top-level women’s players rode “on the coattails of the men”, did not make any decisions and were “very, very lucky” to have equal prize money, sparking a firestorm on social media.
Moore also singled out Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza as being among the “very attractive prospects” on the WTA circuit tour, before explaining that they were “physically attractive and competitively attractive”.
World number one Novak Djokovic said Moore’s comments were “not politically correct” and that women players had “fought for what they deserve, and they got it”.
However, he also suggested the men’s tour should receive more money as it draws more fans.
“On the other hand, I think that our men’s tennis world ... should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more.”
Moore, in a statement which he issued later in the day, said: “At my morning breakfast with the media, I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous.
“I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole.
“We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks.”
Moore, a former ATP Tour player who won eight doubles titles during the 1970s and early 1980s, issued his apology after former world number one Victoria Azarenka had beaten an error-prone Serena Williams 6-4 6-4 in the women’s final.
Williams, when asked in her post-match news conference about Moore’s initial comments, replied: “Those remarks are very much mistaken and very, very, very inaccurate.”
Moore landed himself in hot water when he said during his annual breakfast with media covering the Indian Wells event: “You know, in my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA, because they ride on the coattails of the men.
“They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”
Moore went on to say that Muguruza and Bouchard were among a “handful of very attractive prospects” who could take up the mantle in the women’s game.
When asked what he meant by attractive, he replied: “They are physically attractive and competitively attractive. They can assume the mantle of leadership once Serena decides to stop.”
Billie Jean King, who co-founded the WTA Tour and has long been a pioneer in the women’s game, tweeted: “Disappointed in #RaymondMoore comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success.”
Fellow American Chris Evert, an 18-time grand slam champion, tweeted: “Now is the Golden Era 4 men, no doubt, but women have worked, fought harder, and have been bigger draws many times.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Both/Peter Rutherford
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