<
>

Blair backs equal pay for women at Wimbledon

LONDON -- The battle to win equal pay for women's tennis won a prominent new supporter on Wednesday -- and Wimbledon champion Venus Williams thanked British Prime Minister Tony Blair for backing the campaign.

Blair was asked in parliament whether he was aware that 30 years
after his Labor Party introduced the equal pay act, the women's
winner at Wimbledon was getting 30,000 pounds ($54,640) less
than the winner of the men's singles.

Pressed by fellow Laborite Janet Anderson, Blair said he
backed the equal pay campaign. "I endorse it fully," he told
deputies.

Britain's Sports Minister Tessa Jowell had already written
to the All England Club chairman Tim Phillips urging him to end
the disparity.

On the day that Venus stepped on court to defend her
Wimbledon crown, the American was thrilled with Blair's
endorsement.

"The fact that Mr. Blair finds this cause extremely important
really gives credence to the free world that this is something
that really makes sense and something that needs to be done,"
she said.

"It's really very exciting because this is something I feel
very strongly about," she told reporters after her bloodless 6-1, 6-0 first-round win against compatriot Bethanie Mattek.

Asked if lopsided matches like that hurt her cause, Venus
said "I like winning easy."

Wimbledon is one of two Grand Slam tournaments not to offer
equal pay.

While the Australian and U.S. Opens make no discrepancy
between the men and women, the French Open gives the same prize money to its singles champions but other women competitors are given less than their male counterparts.

At Wimbledon, the prize pot available for women, is 4.4
million pounds ($8.11 million) while the men will compete for
5.2 million pounds.

The issue has long incensed top female players, including
Williams and Billie Jean King, who won 20 Wimbledon titles.

At her post-match press conference, Williams was asked what
she felt about former champion John McEnroe agreeing with her
argument for equal pay.

"It's very nice to have a world champion like him, someone
who has a respected opinion, to speak up on the women's behalf."

"I understand he has four daughters also. I think if he were
ever to see his four daughters do anything in tennis or
secularly in the work place anywhere in the world, he'd want
them to be treated just as well as his sons."