<
>

Will the tradition of unequal pay fall?

1/6/2004

LONDON -- First curtseying to the royal box
was axed, now Wimbledon has finally accepted that London's
summer weather means Centre Court should have a roof.

The All England Club announced on Tuesday it had bowed to
the pressures of television and would install a retractable,
translucent roof over Centre Court by 2009.

This should guarantee uninterrupted play -- and television
coverage -- on one court at least when the rain arrives in south
west London.

The decision shows a club regarded by the outside world as a
bastion of hide-bound Englishness is continuing its slow
adjustment to the modern world.

But it remains opposed to one precept of everyday life in
the 21st century -- equality between men and women.

The male players at the world's most famous tennis
tournament still receive more prize money than their female
colleagues, despite a rising chorus of complaint from the
women's dressing rooms.

The gap has narrowed over recent years -- in 2003 men's
champion Roger Federer won 575,000 pounds ($1.05 million), while
Serena Williams picked up a cheque for 535,000 for taking the
women's title.

Only the French Open and Wimbledon of the four Grand Slam
tournaments still decline to offer equal prize money.

Wimbledon organizers maintain the women receive a "fair
deal" because the men play more sets than their female
counterparts. Also surveys show that the big draw for spectators
and television viewers remain the top male players.

In 2002, the top 10 players on the men's tour made on
average $1,111 per game and the women $1,487 the organizers
say.

This is a spurious argument according to the WTA, the
women's ruling body, who says the depth, quality and rivalries
in the women's game has been the driving force of the sport over
the past few years.

Last year Wimbledon ruled players no longer had to
acknowledge members of Britain's royal family on Centre Court --
except if Queen Elizabeth or her heir Prince Charles was in
attendance.

The breaking of that 80-year-old tradition follows the
rebuilding of Court One in the mid-1990s.

This was partly undertaken to make life more pleasant for
the players and succeeded in modernizing the venue without
robbing it of its strawberries-and-cream quaintness.

The huge profits Wimbledon makes mean organizers can, unlike
every other major sporting event, continue to turn up their
noses at courtside advertising.

How long it can avoid embracing prize money equality is open
to question. Details of this year's "pay award" are due in April
and the WTA is almost certain to be disappointed again.