Tennis legend King calls equal prize money row 'really sad'

Roberto Coloma
AFP

Singapore (AFP) - Tennis legend Billie Jean King slammed opposition to equal Grand Slam prize money for men and women as "really sad" Thursday and called for more men to follow Andy Murray's lead by hiring a female coach.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) founder also said men's tennis should emulate the women's game by ditching its ban on mid-match coaching, one of its key features.

King was speaking at the WTA Finals in Singapore, where the maximum prize money of $2.19 million is more than she earned in a career which included eight Open-era Grand Slam wins.

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"No. It's difficult," she told reporters, when asked if she challenges male players who oppose equal prize money in Grand Slams.

"You know, sports are a microcosm of society, so it teaches you how the world still perceives gender inequality. It's not fun. It's really sad actually.

"I find men who have daughters are much more understanding. If they have a boy and a girl, for instance, they want both of their children to have equal opportunity.

"But different cultures also prevent that. Just the way the culture is set up. The way we're brainwashed. So it's difficult. It's very, very difficult, and we've got to keep trying to change things."

Men's Grand Slam matches are played as the best of five sets while women's are best of three, leading to opposition from some players who say the men are working harder for the same money.


- 'More women coaches' -

"I would hope that since we're in this world together, men and women, that we would champion each other more. We would all win. Nobody would lose really. There would be more for everybody," King said.

"That's what I tried to explain to the men when we were starting professional tennis... They weren't interested. They just thought I was out to lunch. They still do. It's sad. I don't agree with them. I just think if we champion each other it's really important."

After King, 70, founded the WTA in 1973, players competed for a total of $309,000 in the first season -- similar to what today's stars can earn for two wins at this week's elite WTA Finals in Singapore.

This year, the WTA's 2,500 member players, representing 92 nations, competed for a record $118 million in prize money at 54 WTA events and four Grand Slams.

But King said there was much progress to be made, including in the area of coaching where Britain's Murray is unusual in hiring a woman, French former star Amelie Mauresmo.

"I just think it would be helpful if we had more women coaches. Any time you hurt that human capital, only have half of it, you're missing out on a lot. You just are," she said.

"It's like having all women coaches and no men. That wouldn't be right either."

King also said the men should follow the women's example by allowing coaching during matches, which is currently banned -- often leading to clandestine signalling from the players' boxes.

"I think they should have coaching for the men and the women. And I think they should be able to signal, because they do anyway, from the stands," she said.

"I think that's what we should do. I don't think we should have to wait even between sets. And I think the men should do it. You know why? There's more to talk about. There's more content," she added.

"I think any time we can get more content, that's good. And if we can get our coaches to have more respect in our sport, think it would really be helpful."

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