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Women players to earn equal pay at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England -- After years of holding out against
equal prize money, Wimbledon yielded to public pressure Thursday
and agreed to pay female players as much as male players at the
world's most prestigious tennis tournament.

The All England Club fell in line with other Grand Slam events
and offered equal pay through all rounds at this year's tournament.

"Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete
in the same event at the same time," club chairman Tim Phillips
said at a news conference. "We believe our decision to offer equal
prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognizes
the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and
to Wimbledon.

"In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for
Wimbledon."

Last year, men's champion Roger Federer received $1.170 million
and women's winner Amelie Mauresmo got $1.117 million.

"It is a victory for women's tennis, and a victory for women in
general," Mauresmo said Thursday after reaching the semifinals of
the Dubai Open. "It was really a matter of principle. It is a
question of equality."

The U.S. Open and Australian Open have paid equal prize money
for years. The French Open paid the men's and women's champions the
same for the first time last year, although the overall prize fund
remained bigger for the men.

The WTA Tour lobbied for years to get Wimbledon to drop its
"Victorian-era view" and pay the women the same as the men.


"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. "We
commend the leadership of Wimbledon for its decisive action in
recognizing the progress that women's tennis has made."

The general director of the French Tennis Federation,
Jean-Francois Vilotte, said the French Open could follow
Wimbledon's example in offering equal money for all rounds. No
decision is expected before the federation's next meeting March 16.

The federation "doesn't plan to sit on the decisions of 2006,"
Vilotte told The Associated Press.

Equal pay "is an important recognition of the quality and
exemplarity of women's tennis," Vilotte said.

Phillips said the Wimbledon committee met Wednesday and agreed
unanimously "that the time is right to bring this subject to a
logical conclusion and eliminate the difference."

The All England Club had gradually reduced the pay gap over the
years, but previously held out against equal prizes as a matter of
principle.

Phillips had cited that men play best-of-five set matches, while
the women play best of three. Also, some women can potentially make
more money overall because they also play doubles, while the top
men usually play only singles.

Phillips said "broader social factors" played a part in the
decision to offer equal pay.

"This is a private tennis club," he said. "We don't have
public funds given to us each year. We have to justify the
decisions we make. This year we've made our judgment and judged it
on what we believe to be the best for Wimbledon."

This year's prize fund will be released in April, but Wimbledon
said the money will be equal "across the board" for the June
25-July 8 grass-court championships, not just in the later rounds
or final.

It will cost Wimbledon about $1.1 million to ensure equal pay
throughout the draw. The increase will be funded through tournament
operating costs rather than a reduction in the overall purse.

"The greatest tennis tournament in the world has reached an
even greater height today," three-time champion Venus Williams
said. "I applaud today's decision by Wimbledon, which recognizes
the value of women's tennis. The 2007 Championships will have even
greater meaning and significance to me and my fellow players."

Among others welcoming the move was former six-time singles
champion Billie Jean King, a pioneer for women's sports.

"This news has been a long time coming," she said. "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."

International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti,
whose organization runs the four Grand Slams, said the decision
"recognizes the growing depth in women's tennis and the changing
market forces in our sport."

The unequal pay policy had gone back 123 years. When the women
started playing at Wimbledon in 1884, the female champion received
a silver flower basket worth 20 guineas, while the men's winner got
a gold prize worth 30 guineas.

"When you've got men and women playing at the same tournament,
it is ludicrous to have a difference in pay," three-time men's
champion John McEnroe told The Daily Telegraph. "It would be
setting an example to the rest of society in general to have equal
prize money."