24 January 2022
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Celebrating 40 years of the Women’s Tennis Association

July 4, 2013
WTA

A week before the 1973 Wimbledon tournament, American tennis player Billie Jean King led a group of female players to a private meeting at the Gloucester Hotel in central London, all with an unprecedented vision; to achieve equality, recognition and respect amongst their male counterparts.

“We were working together to gain recognition for the future generation and to have one voice,” reflects the twelve-time Grand Slam singles winner on her ambition for the women’s game. “Sixty three of us got in a room, we locked the door, we elected the officers and we were in business.”

From that day forward, the Women’s Tennis Association had been born and a liberation movement had begun.

WTA

For a short time everything was going well, but King had continued to feel a pressure against them from fellow American tennis player and former world number one Bobby Riggs who had continuously pursued King, he called ‘the sex leader of the revolutionary pack’, to compete in a match.

Aged 55, Riggs had become known as a ‘hustler’ amongst the senior circuit. He would approach various opponents to matches where he would handicap himself as a form of entertainment, and now his sights were set on making a mockery out of the women’s game.

After thrashing Margaret Court in May 1973, who had previously said, “I am not carrying the banner for women’s liberation,” Riggs and the media taunted the female players and the women’s game. By this time, King was determined to save their reputation in order for their vision to be taken seriously, and finally, three months after the WTA was formed, accepted his proposal.

The match, held in September 1973, was watched by over 100million people and called ‘The Battle of the Sexes’ with a ‘winner takes all’ prize of $100,000. King won comfortably in straight sets and the event has since been dubbed one of the greatest spectacles of the women’s liberation movement.

Forty years later, that meeting and that match have had a momentous impact on the business of women’s tennis throughout the world, with the WTA today being the global leader in women’s professional sport.

And during this time, one of the most prominent accomplishments the association has achieved has been significant increase in the women’s prize money.

In the years leading up to its formation, prize money for men’s tennis outstripped the women’s game by as high a ratio of 12:1, but the WTA has successfully broken down these barriers, with the four Grand Slams now offering equal prize money for both sexes.

Our vision was that any girl, anywhere in the world, could make a living from tennis if she was good enough,” says King.

“Today’s WTA players are living that dream. They’ve taken the baton and run with it, lifting the game to new heights and inspiring a whole new generation of players. I can’t believe how far we’ve come.”

The WTA now has more than 2,500 players, representing 92 nations, competing at the WTA’s 54 events and four Grand Slams in 33 countries, with total prize money this year being some $100m.

And it is in large part the success of King’s extraordinary work that tennis is now the only sport in which men and women receive equal pay, but this isn’t the legacy that she wants to leave.

It’s not about the money, it’s about the message we send. We are sending the equality message out that this is the right thing to do. Yes, the men are better than us in some ways. Yes, we’re better in some ways. It doesn’t matter. Don’t you want to share in this world? I do.

“What started as a few women and a dollar has grown to thousands, living the dream – our dream. We were athletes who wanted to compete and along the way we made history, determined to win, not just for ourselves, but for women everywhere.”

Lizzie Flint, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

 

 

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