Wimbledon urged to equalize prize money

Updated: June 23, 2006, 11:05 AM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- Opponents of Wimbledon's unequal prize money cranked up the debate Friday, enlisting a charity organization, a new survey, tycoon Richard Branson and defending champion Venus Williams to back the case for equality.

The men's singles champion will receive $1.170 million to $1.117 million for the women's singles champion, a $53,000 difference. There are also differences in prize money between men's and women's doubles in the tournament beginning Monday.

On Friday, the Fawcett Society, a charity which campaigns for equality between women and men, accused the All England Club of being out of touch with public opinion after it released surveys showing Britain was against Wimbledon's unequal prize money.

It said a survey carried out by ICM Research found 80 percent of people felt the club was wrong to treat players unequally when it came to prize money.

It also said over 67 percent of respondents to a separate poll said Wimbledon organizers would send out a more positive message to women if the purse money was equal.

The ICM poll interviewed a random sample of 1,012 adults aged over 18 across Britain by telephone on June 14-15. The second poll interviewed a random sample of 2,239 adults through the Internet in early June.

Society director Dr. Katherine Rake said the All England Club should "play fair" and listen to the views of the British public.

"It's outrageous that they reward male and female tennis players so differently. But sadly, it's not surprising, as we've still got a terrible pay gap problem in this country," she said.

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam that does not offer equal prize money. The French Open this year joined the Australian Open and the U.S. Open in offering the same amount to men and women.

Wimbledon officials have said in the past that because top men rarely play in Grand Slam doubles events, they earn less overall than women. And men play best-of-five sets matches while the women play best-of-three.

The Women's Tennis Association, which issued the survey results by e-mail Friday, also called on Wimbledon to award equal prize money.

Branson, a member of the WTA's global advisory council, criticized the policy.

"The outdated position adopted by the All England Club tarnishes the good name of the world's greatest tennis tournament and sends a completely negative signal to women everywhere," the billionaire entrepreneur said.

Williams said she was pleased that the poll showed Britain wanted a change.

"With the British public clearly sharing our principles on equality, I truly hope that Wimbledon ... listens to the views of the public and the players, and does the right thing next year by awarding equal prize money," Williams said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press