[Update: Raymond Moore on Monday night resigned from his post as the director of the BNP Paribas Open.]
A former tennis pro’s comments Sunday about female players and the Women’s Tennis Association have sparked a social media backlash and raised concerns about gender equality in the sport.
Raymond Moore, tournament director of the $7 million BNP Paribas Open held in the resort town of Indian Wells, Calif., said at an annual press conference that women’s pro players “ride on the coattails of the men.” His remarks quickly went viral – and spurred pundits, players, and industry leaders alike to denounce sexism and defend women’s role in professional tennis.
“As the tournament director of one of the pre-eminent events in professional tennis, the comments made today by Raymond Moore were extremely disappointing and alarming,” Steve Simon, chief executive officer of the WTA said in a statement late Sunday.
“The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment,” he continued. “Tennis as a whole is enriched by the contributions and accomplishments of every player, both male and female.”
"There is no place in this sport for antiquated, sexist or uninformed ideologies, and the comments made yesterday in no way reflect the beliefs of the vast majority of those in the tennis world," added US Tennis Association president Katrina Adams in a statement.
At the press conference on Sunday, Mr. Moore, a former touring pro from South Africa, had described top-ranked player Serena Williams as “arguably the best female player of all time,” NPR reports. He also noted that the quality of women’s tennis has greatly improved over the years.
But the compliments were drowned out by his comments on women’s place in the sport.
“In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don't make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky,” Moore said. “If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”
Ms. Williams, who won her first Indian Wells title in 1999, was quick to respond: “You know, there’s only one way to interpret that. Get on your knees, which is offensive enough, and thank a man ... we, as women, have come a long way. We shouldn't have to drop to our knees at any point.”
Moore’s remarks weren’t the only ones to draw negative attention at the tournament. Novak Djokovic, currently the world’s number one in men’s singles, said that male players should be awarded more prize money because their sport is more popular than women’s.
“I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches,” Mr. Djokovic said after winning first place in the tournament. “I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more. Women should fight for what they think they deserve and we should fight for what we think we deserve.”
He quickly added that he has great respect for women – and that if women’s tennis did become the more popular of the two, they should “absolutely” get paid more.
“I’m completely for women power,” Djokovic said.
Moore, too, has since apologized for his comments, saying they “were in extremely poor taste and erroneous. I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole."
Still, some sports commentators noted that the top names in tennis need to be more aware of such lapses.
“We can talk about the equity of equal prize money and whether the moral grounds should supersede economic grounds. (We say yes.),” writes Jon Wertheim for Sports Illustrated. “But Ray Moore’s remarks are beyond indefensible."
“Bear in mind, too: it wasn’t like he was ambushed by a journalist and spoke hastily; he was speaking at an annual “state-of-the-tournament” press conference to which he surely came armed with a some semblance of a plan,” he continues. “We say it again: Tennis, the sport that can't get out of its own way.”
This report contains material from the Associated Press.