Judy Murray has been fighting for women in tennis her whole career and has now called on Serena Williams and other top players to follow her lead.
Williams is a vocal advocate of women’s rights and empowering women but Murray is concerned that the players driving through changes in the sport are male and that the women’s game could be left behind.
From Billie Jean King to Venus Williams, who was a key figure in securing equal prize money at all the grand slams, female players over the past 50 years have not been afraid to get political.
Murray was one of several to voice exasperation last week when plans to radically transform the Davis Cup made no mention of Fed Cup, a competition in dire need of reform.
Murray resigned as Great Britain Fed Cup captain two years ago partly because of her frustration at the format, and she said: “I think it needs more of the top women players to push for change on the women’s side of the game because change is always driven from the top. So, if somebody ranked 60 or a Fed Cup captain from a lower zone like myself [calls for change], of course it will have some kind of impact, but it doesn’t drive anything through. On the men’s side, if you’ve got Andy and Rafa and Roger and Novak pushing for change, whether that’s Davis Cup or better distribution of the profits from the grand slams, they’re going to sit up and take notice. But we need top women to do the same thing.
“Serena, now that she’s had a baby girl, I’m hoping as she comes towards the end of her career that she will use her voice to make things change for women. It’s not all about equal prize money, it’s about grass-roots opportunities and helping the female game across the world get stronger.”
Having been one of the few elite female coaches in Britain, in recent years Murray has focused primarily on the grass-roots and trying to attract more women into tennis.
She created two programmes: Miss Hits, a fun introduction to tennis for girls aged five to eight that has proved a success around the world, and She Rallies, which is growing the female coaching workforce in Britain as well as encouraging more women and girls to take up the sport.
Murray, mother of men’s tour stars Andy Murray and Jamie Murray, is a one-woman tour de force but she knows she cannot change things on her own and sees the lack of women in key administrative roles at the top of the game both in Britain and globally as the key obstacle.
She has been banging on the Lawn Tennis Association’s door for many years and is beginning to see change, with the appointment of Sue Lawrence in October as head of women and girls’ tennis a particularly welcome development.
“Anything that I set up, I’m trying to show the way forward,” said Murray. “I keep trying. You do get weary of it sometimes because you realise any major change is never going to come down to one person.
“This is why you need that army around you. And, if things are going to change, it has to come from the top. I’m quite hopeful now because Sue has come into a position that is all about women and girls, and we back her up in numbers.
“Over the past year or so they (the LTA) have commissioned quite a lot of research into understanding participation and what that threw up was that they have lost 30 per cent of the women and girls playing tennis since 2005. And I think that stat obviously shocked them into taking some kind of action.”
All UK companies with more than 250 employees are being compelled to make public their gender pay gaps and, of the sporting governing bodies who have so far done so, the LTA’s is the biggest.
Despite a near 50-50 split in terms of men and women and equal pay for equal roles, men are on average paid 31 per cent more, highlighting the inequality in top positions.
Murray said: “There’s nobody at the top of the game. Only one of their executive team is a woman and that’s human resources, and that’s not uncommon across other governing bodies. Where are the women’s tennis voices? Those who can influence policy and change.
“I think everything I’m trying to do in tennis is linked to trying to solve that problem because you don’t solve it quickly. We need women to be allowed to do these roles.”