/ 1 March 2005

Women tennis stars demand equal money

World number one Lindsay Davenport launched into a criticism of Wimbledon on Monday, the day that equal prize money for women was unexpectedly announced at a Middle East tournament.

The Dubai Open, thanks to its sponsors, has seen its women’s prize fund rise from $585 000 to $1-million starting from Monday, triggering some sharp words from Davenport about attitudes elsewhere.

”I think it is highly insulting if prize money is taken away. And somebody, I think it was Mr [Tim] Phillips, [the chairperson of the All-England club], said they won’t have money for flowers at Wimbledon. That’s insulting,” Davenport alleged.

Dubai is only the third tournament on the world circuit that has equal prize money — the others are the US Open and the Australian Open — with the two other grand slams, Wimbledon and the French Open, maintaining the women’s prize funds fractionally below those of the men.

”We hear all the different reasons for that,” said Davenport. ”People believe what they believe. You hear about women playing only three sets while men play five.

”And the best women are never going to beat the best men. But it’s a different game you go to watch with the women — it doesn’t make it better or worse.”

But the All-England club denies that Phillips ever made the remarks about flowers.

”He definitely didn’t say it,” said an All-England club spokesperson. ”It was said by someone else and was a humorous aside at the end of a radio interview when the conversation had moved to talking about the Wimbledon grounds.”

Nevertheless, Davenport’s criticisms go beyond disputes over alleged remarks.

”Hopefully we will be able to change people’s minds who are against it [equal prize money]. We will try to persuade them,” she said. ”We still have to get women’s tennis more popular and we have the players to do that.”

Serena Williams, the world number two, supported Davenport’s comments.

”I’m obviously for equal prize money,” she said. ”Women’s tennis is exciting. Men’s tennis is exciting as well, but the women have it right now. If you are bringing in the spectators, you should be able to reap what everyone else is able to reap.”

Larry Scott, the chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, which recently signed an $88-million sponsorship with Sony Ericsson for its tour, declined to comment on the reasons why Wimbledon and the French Open do not have equal prize money.

But he offered an optimistic outlook for the women’s campaign for equality.

”I am confident that in the next year or two there will be several other tournaments [which will have equal prize money]. What’s happened here [Dubai] is helpful for our global effort.” — Sapa-AFP