Will the tradition of unequal pay fall?

Updated: January 6, 2004, 6:52 PM ET
Reuters

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.