After years of debate and criticism, the All England Club says men's and women's tennis players will earn the same amount of prize money at this year's Wimbledon Championships. As VOA's David Byrd reports, the decision leaves the French Open as the only major tennis tournament with a pay discrepancy.
All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet chief Tim Phillips announced the move at a news conference in London Thursday. Phillips said that while his organization remains a private club that decides what prizes to award, the time was right for a change.
"Obviously it is good news for the women players," he said. "And we also believe that it will serve as positive encouragement for women's sports in general but in tennis in particular and will provide the game with a boost in the crowded sporting landscape."
Until now, the All England Club had argued that men should be paid more because they had to play longer matchers. Women also had more opportunity to earn money because they often play doubles while men play mostly singles.
However, Phillips said the difference in pay had diminished to the point where equal prize money was the logical move. Last year's men's champion, Roger Federer of Switzerland, earned less than five percent more than women's champion Amelie Mauresmo of France. Federer received almost $1.2 million and women's champion Mauresmo got a little over $1.1 million.
Speaking in Dubai, Mauresmo said that the move was inevitable and she hopes the French Open will follow suit.
"They [Wimbledon] made the right decision and they had no choice for the equality of men and women in the world to make that choice. It is great that they did it. And now the French Open is going to struggle to stay back. I think they [the French] are going to have to make a step forward," she said.
Mr. Phillips said that social pressure did play a role in the decision, but that it was not based solely on outside influences. Wimbledon joins the Australian and U.S. Opens in offering equal prize money for both men and women. The French Open currently has equal pay only for its singles champions with the men's prize fund still larger than the women's.