For the next two weeks the eyes of the sports world will be firmly fixed on one of the world’s most enduring and remarkable sports events - The Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, known to the world simply as Wimbledon.
This is where full blooded modern professional sport meets history and heritage. The men and women who run The Championships are acutely aware of the value of their brand and go to great pains to ensure that, no matter what is happening in the world beyond London SW15, Wimbledon remains tennis played in an English country garden.
Wimbledon is all about history and progress so it is appropriate that the Women’s Tennis Association ( WTA) should be marking a famous anniversary as this year’s Championships get under way.
It was just ahead of Wimbledon 40 years ago that a group of leading women players met at the Gloucester Hotel in London to consider their future.
They had a lot to talk about. This was a time when women played for a fraction of the money earned by their male counterparts, the number of tournaments open to them was limited largely to the Slams and a cluster of events they had organised in North America, and some players were even losing endorsement deals.
It was a situation which Billie Jean King, a legend of the sport, refused to allow to continue. She locked the door to their room at the Gloucester and announced that nobody was leaving until they had formed the WTA.
It was a game changing moment. Today the WTA Tour is far and away the most successful and influential professional sport for women on the planet and its stars are some of the best known, most widely recognised and commercially valuable athletes across world sport.
The WTA ensured that the destiny of women’s tennis was in the hands of the players and current President and CEO Stacey Allaster says that successive generations have risen to the challenge.
“Today we are standing on the shoulders of Billie Jean, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and the other remarkable players across the years who have shown what women can achieve not only in tennis but in other walks of life,” she said.
“Our history is marked by women who were not only fantastic players but fantastic people. After Chris and Martina we had Monica Seles, Jennifer Capriati, Tracy Austin and Lindsay Davenport. Then, of course, we had the Williams sisters who came on the scene and raised the bar on playing performance because they were so strong.
“They also brought a new style and they brought fashion. In fact they are the whole package and 16 years after breaking onto the scene Serena is still dominating the sport.”
Today women have the same prize money as men and the WTA Tour has a truly global footprint. Its hugely successful end of season WTA Championship will be held for the third and final time in Istanbul this autumn before starting a five year sting at Singapore’s brand new sports hub.
Asia – and in particular China – has become a key market in recent years and the emergence of a local star in the form of 2011 Roland Garros winner Li Na is paying off big time.
“We really have felt the impact of her success across our business and in our potential for growth,” Stacey Allaster explained.
So whoever becomes Ladies Singles Champion at Wimbledon in a couple of weeks’ time, it is worth raising a glass to a special anniversary and to the future of a sports body which really has been a game changer.
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