DOHA // Billie Jean King, a legend of women's tennis and the founder of the WTA Tour, was yesterday appointed as a "global mentor for gender equality" under a joint initiative by Unesco and the tour sponsors Sony Ericsson. King, who will be 65 later this month, has devoted much of her life to fighting sexism in sport and society, and is relisheing the opportunity to work with Unesco (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in the pursuit of equal rights for women.
The winner of a record 39 grand slam titles (12 of them in singles) during her illustrious playing career which spanned 15 years and brought her 129 titles, she felt it was appropriate to accept the position. She promised to work tirelessly, predominantly in her expert field of tennis, to press home her view that the 21st century is "the century for women". King defends her argument that women tennis players who play the best of three sets at grand slam tournaments deserve to be paid the same as the men, who play the best of five, by claiming that women's matches are just as entertaining.
"A singer like Elton John is not paid for the length of his performance but for it's quality," she said. "What I always say about prize money, is that it is not about the amount of money it is about the message it sends out to the sporting world. "The main tournaments are now starting to send out that message. Sport is a microcosm of society, so we can measure so much from sports on how we're doing worldwide.
"When I was 12-years-old, I promised myself I would spend the rest of my life trying to help have equal rights and opportunities for men and women. "So it's pretty exciting to be here in Doha and I am so thrilled to be part of this wonderful new partnership between our tour and Unesco." The two organisations have been working together for the last two years and Larry Scott, the chief executive of the WTA, is delighted with the amount of progress that has already been made.
"Our programme has raised over US$350,000 (Dh1.29million) so far and this is really just the beginning," said Scott. "We've built it up step by step, and we are in this for the long haul." firstname.lastname@example.org