WIMBLEDON, England – After years of holding out against equal prize money, Wimbledon bowed to public pressure Thursday and agreed to pay women players as much as the men at the world's most prestigious tennis tournament.
The All England Club announced at a news conference that it had decided to fall into line with other Grand Slam events and offer equal pay through all rounds at this year's tournament.
"Tennis is one of the few sports in which women and men compete in the same event at the same time," club chairman Tim Phillips said. "We believe our decision to offer equal prize money provides a boost for the game as a whole and recognizes the enormous contribution that women players make to the game and to Wimbledon.
"In short, good for tennis, good for women players and good for Wimbledon."
Last year, men's champion Roger Federer received $1.170 million and women's winner Amelie Mauresmo got $1.117 million.
The U.S. Open and Australian Open have paid equal prize money for years. The French Open paid the men's and women's champions the same for the first time last year, although the overall prize fund remained bigger for the men.
The WTA Tour has lobbied for years to get Wimbledon to drop its "Victorian-era view" and pay the women the same as the men.
"In the 21st century, it is morally indefensible that women competitors in a Grand Slam tournament should be receiving considerably less prize money than their male counterparts," WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott said last year.
The top women's players have also been at the forefront of the campaign.
"For us, it's not about earning more money or becoming any more well-off; it's really about an equality issue," three-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams said at last year's tournament. "We're the premier sport for women. We would like to empower women around the world by showing that we are willing to fight for equality."
The All England Club has gradually reduced the pay gap over the years, but held out against equal prizes as a matter of principle.
Phillips had cited surveys showing that men give better value than the women. The men play best-of-five set matches, while the women play best of three. Also, the women make more money overall because they also play in doubles, while the top men usually play only singles.
"It just doesn't seem right to us that the lady players could play in three events and could take away significantly more than the men's champion who battles away through these best-of-five matches," Phillips said last year. "We don't see it as an equal rights issue."
The unequal pay policy goes back 123 years. When the women started playing at Wimbledon in 1884, the female champion received a silver flower basket worth 20 guineas, while the men's winner got a gold prize worth 30 guineas.
"When you've got men and women playing at the same tournament, it is ludicrous to have a difference in pay," three-time men's champion John McEnroe told The Daily Telegraph. "It would be setting an example to the rest of society in general to have equal prize money."