Net inequality

July 04, 2002

TRADITION ISN'T always necessarily a good thing. A case in point is that most storied and genteel of sports events -- Wimbledon -- and that most vulgar of subjects -- money.

Despite talks again this year with the Women's Tennis Association, the officials who run the sport's premier event still refuse to give female competitors prize money equal to that of the men. Inequities persist from the first-round level all the way up to the top, where this year the men's champion will collect a winner's check of 525,000 pounds (about $800,000), while the women's winner will get 486,000 pounds (about $740,000).

One of the oft-offered reasons for the difference is that the men play best 3-of-5 set matches, while women only play best 2-of-3, so the men deserve more cash for playing longer. But consider this: In track, the winner of the 5,000 meters doesn't get more prize money than the 100-meters winner for running longer. And major-league baseball's top relievers aren't docked because they don't pitch nine innings an outing.

Moreover, for the past few years the women's tour has outstripped the men's circuit in popularity and marquee athletes. At Wimbledon this year, pretty much every recognizable player and most of the top seeds on the men's side lost in the early going, while the likes of the Williams sisters and Jennifer Capriati endured into the tournament's second week.

Wimbledon can keep its verdant lawns, its strawberries and cream, its bows and curtsies to the royal box. But it's high time to end its tradition of treating women like second-class citizens when it comes to prize money.

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