Tennis: Wimbledon snub women

THE PRIZE-MONEY for Wimbledon (21 June to 4 July) will total a record pounds 7,595,330, an increase of 5.4 per cent, with the women players falling pounds 720,770 short in their campaign for parity with the men. Whether this would make a suffragette's heart bleed is open to question.

Women competitors, whose matches are decided over the best of three sets, will receive pounds 3,098,000 (a 6.2 per cent increase). The men, who play best- of-five-sets, will be paid pounds 3,819,670 (a 4.9 per cent raise). The men's singles champion will get pounds 45,500 more than his female counterpart: pounds 455,000 against pounds 409,500.

Announcing the figures yesterday, John Curry, due to retire as the All England Club's chairman this year, pre-empted criticism from the Women's Tennis Association. "We've had representations from the WTA, and there's supposed to be a petition signed by 90 players, which we've heard about but haven't seen, in which they say they deserve and demand equal prize money at the Grand Slams," Curry said.

"I'm sure what we've done will not meet that need, but it seems strange they're demanding 100 per cent prize money in these tournaments but they [the WTA Tour] pay 50 per cent less prize-money [to women] than is paid [to men] in ATP Tour tournaments.

"Seventy per cent of people say they want to watch men's singles. It's not commercially reasonable to be demanding equal prize-money. They have every right to request increases, but to demand them is hurtful to the championships. I don't think the players are that concerned. Prize-money is a small proportion of their income."

Curry's views contradict Billie Jean King, winner of a record 20 Wimbledon titles (singles, doubles, mixed doubles), a prime force in the development of women's professional tennis, and captain of the United States Fed Cup team. "I think the women today are the best we've ever been, and this is their window of opportunity, to ask for what they want. And I think they could get it," King said recently.

When tennis went open in 1968, King received pounds 750 for winning the Wimbledon women's singles title. Rod Laver, the men's singles champion, was paid pounds 2,000. This year, first round losers in the qualifying tournament for the Wimbledon women's singles will receive pounds 840 (first round losers in the men's singles qualifying event get pounds 1,080). In 1968, a place in the quarter-finals of the Wimbledon women's singles was worth pounds 150, the sum all competitors this year will receive as a daily allowance to help with the cost of accommodation and travel.

Leaps in the amount of prize-money - pounds 26,150 in 1968; pounds 277,066 in 1979; pounds 3.133m in 1989 - have been matched by pre-tax profits, which are passed on to the Lawn Tennis Association for the development of the sport. Last year's profit was pounds 33m.

The total prize-money for the next Grand Slam tournament, the French Open (24 May to 6 June) will be pounds 6.8m.