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Venus Williams at Wimbledon: Show women the money

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However, tennis may in fact be among the more enlightened sports, paying its women far more than counterparts in other professional sports like soccer, snooker, and basketball.

The Wimbledon authorities explain their discrepancy by pointing to the differing lengths of the male and female game. Women's best-of-three matches are generally over more quickly than the five-setters endured by men. Since women play fewer games than men within a match, their per game earnings are actually higher. Last year, this meant that the top women players earned on average £1,432 ($2,600) per game compared with £993 ($1,803) for the men.

The shorter matches also leave women freer than men to play in other events – doubles or mixed doubles.

"If you take the amount of potential prize money women can win, it could actually be more because they can enter the doubles and the mixed doubles, whereas men don't tend to do that because they play longer games," notes Sara Jackson, a spokeswoman for the tournament. According to Wimbledon figures, the Top 10 women last year earned 4 percent more prize money than the Top 10 men because of this.

Wimbledon also argues that it is only following established trends in the entertainment industry to let "box office appeal" dictate prize money. It says men's tennis is still the biggest draw, and cites corporate hospitality rates for men's events in its defense.

The argument is not finding favor in political circles, however. Before the championship started, British culture secretary Tessa Jowell wrote to the Wimbledon authorities saying she was "deeply concerned" at the disparity.

"The media attention and levels of global sponsorship are now on a par with the men's game," she said, warning that the anomaly was "tarnishing the image of the Championship."

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