WTA founder King promotes gender equality in Qatar

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Billie Jean King is in the conservative Muslim sheikdom of Qatar to promote gender equality in sport, but the WTA Tour founder says change is difficult and takes time.
"That's actually one of the big reasons I wanted to come here, was to learn," said King, who is attending the WTA's season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha. "I really want to listen this week more than anything."
King, a vocal proponent of equal prize money for male and female professional tennis players, said a shift toward gender parity in sport is a gradual process that requires respect for all cultures and religions.
"Human rights is very important. But it is going to take generations to have a shift. Things do not happen quickly, but we have to start someplace," King said. "Just like we began in the United States, standing out in the street and stopping cars to give them tickets" to women's tennis events.
Two years ago, the WTA Tour and UNESCO started a program to promote women's equality in sport, and King was declared "global mentor" of the program at a news conference in Doha on Thursday.
King, who won a total of 39 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, formed the Women's Tennis Association in 1973. That year, the exhibition match she won against Bobby Riggs was dubbed "The Battle of the Sexes."
Players Venus Williams, Tatiana Golovin and Zheng Jie are also involved in the WTA/UNESCO program.
Women have fewer opportunities than men in sports and other fields in Qatar, which sent an all-male team to the Beijing Olympics this year.
King noted that Doha has hosted a WTA event since 2001, and WTA head Larry Scott said 2008 was the first year the season-ending championships for female tennis players was putting up the same prize money as the end-of-year championships for the men in Shanghai.
"The barriers have broken down pretty quickly, with Wimbledon and Roland Garros putting equal prize money on in 2007," Scott said. "And Doha said, 'we want to be the first championships to offer equal prize money for the women.' So I think that speaks volumes in itself."
The WTA also notes that Shahar Peer became the first Israeli to compete in a WTA Tour event in the Arabian Gulf when she played in the Qatar Open earlier this year.
"I think it's a huge step already bringing our competition here, because I don't think people have seen many competitions, women's competitions, in this country before," said Vera Zvonareva of Russia.