Until 2007, women champions at Wimbledon won a smaller cash prize than the male champions. However with determination and constant advocacy from Venus Williams, she has fought and help win the prolonged battle for female athletes everywhere.
Their names are synonymous with speed, power and a humble approach to stardom: Venus and Serena Williams. The sisters have always spurred each other to the heights of success with a combination of fierce competitiveness and mutual encouragement. Known as two of the most competitive and fiery players in the tournament, it’s their work off the court that makes them stand out from the rest.
Yet, what sets Venus Williams apart from Serena is her persistent advocacy for women — specifically, on the issue of equal prize money for equal merit, a still-contentious topic in many sports.
According to ESPN, Williams made her first public mention of the need for Grand Slam events to award equal prize money to men and women back in 1998, after a first round win at Wimbledon. At the time, the US Open was the only Grand Slam tournament that awarded equal prize money, thanks to the courageous efforts of Billie Jean King.
In 2o06, the CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Larry Scott, asked Venus Williams if she would be willing to play a central role in aggressively pursuing equal pay, a mission she embraced. In an op-ed published in the London Times, Williams argued that:
“[Wimbledon’s prize structure] devalues the principle of meritocracy and diminishes the years of hard work that women on the tour have put into becoming professional tennis players. The message I like to convey to women and girls across the globe is that there is no glass ceiling. My fear is that Wimbledon is loudly and clearly sending the opposite message.”
Her piece generated enough attention from British politicians that it was brought up during a question-and-answer session in Parliament, prompting Prime Minister Tony Blair to endorse equal pay in his response.
Finally, in 2007 William’s efforts paid off. A statement from Tim Phillips, chairman of the All England Club read,“This year, taking into account both the overall progression and the fact that broader social factors are also relevant to the decision, they [the Committee] have decided that the time is right to bring this subject to a logical conclusion and eliminate the difference.”
Venus then responded with her own statement after hearing the incredible news:
“The greatest tennis tournament in the world has reached an even greater height today. I applaud today’s decision by Wimbledon, which recognizes the value of women’s tennis.”
This victory that Venus Williams won off the court helped achieve an enduring victory for women players at the iconic tournament, as well as, by extension, for all women in the fight for equal pay.
WATCH: Director Ava DuVerny talking about her film of the film Venus VS. (2013) –