ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The WTA on Tuesday announced season-long plans to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2023, under the campaign banner WTA 50: Just Starting.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) was founded at a meeting of players called by Billie Jean King on June 21, 1973, on the eve of the Wimbledon Championships. Frustrated by sexism in the sport and an establishment that split the talent pool with competing circuits, King recognized the need for the women to formally join forces to take control of their destiny.
With Dutch player Betty Stöve standing guard at the door of a packed conference room at London’s Gloucester Hotel, King -- who had won nine of her 12 Grand Slam singles titles by that time -- was determined no one would leave until definitive agreement had been reached. She emerged from the meeting triumphant and was elected President of the new Association, with Virginia Wade as Vice President, Lesley Hunt as Assistant Vice President, Françoise Dürrand Ingrid LöfdahlBentzer as Co-Secretaries and Stöve as Treasurer.
In addition, committees were formed to work on functional areas, chaired by Rosie Casals (Rankings), Karen Krantzcke (Tournaments), Ceci Martinez (Membership), Hunt (Disciplinary) and Stöve (Finance). To facilitate member communication, regional representatives were also appointed: Ann Jones for Europe, Judy Dalton for Australia and Asia and Patricia Bostrom in the United States.
By the time the US Open rolled around two months later, the body was 64-women strong, boosting King as she successfully argued for equal prize money at a Grand Slam event for the first time. The next step was to hire executive leadership and administrative staff -- including Jerry Diamond and Peachy Kellmeyer, for whom annual WTA Player Awards are named -- and in the years that followed, the WTA evolved with circuit restructures and leading worldwide sponsors to become the global spectacle fans enjoy in 2023.
What started as a player union is now a world-leading member association between athletes and the 50-plus tournaments on six continents that make up the Hologic WTA Tour calendar each year. Heading into 2023, 32 countries are represented in the Top 100 of the WTA Rankings, and they will entertain a worldwide audience of more than 900 million.
Alongside compelling tales of victory and defeat, the WTA’s five-decade history is punctuated by a string of notable breakthroughs for women’s sports.
Among other milestones, CBS broadcast a series of finals on the Virginia Slims Circuit in 1975, under a landmark multi-tournament deal. In 1976, Chris Evert became the first female athlete to pass $1 million in career prize money, while in 1982, Martina Navratilova became the first to enjoy a million-dollar season. In 1994, Anne Worcester became the first female chief executive of a major sports league, and in 2007, decades of lobbying came to fruition when Venus Williams added her voice to the campaign for equal prize money across all four Grand Slam events. More recently, in 2017, WTA Charities was created to empower girls and women to live fully and support WTA communities globally through initiatives that focus on equality, education, leadership and health and wellness.
This in mind, WTA 50: Just Starting will pay tribute to the legends of the game and current stars but through a lens focused on the future: What more can be done to improve the sporting landscape for women around the world? How can we effectively champion equality and inclusivity for all?
“When we gathered at the Gloucester Hotel, we were at a point in our history that we needed one strong, unified voice among the players,” said King, who also managed to capture the triple crown of singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon, two weeks after founding the WTA.
“As women athletes, we needed to create a future based on equality of opportunity, and we could only do that if we presented a united front. When we formed the WTA in 1973, we came together and found promoters and sponsors and fans who wanted to be part of the journey -- inspired by champions who led by example, on and off court. We have come a long way, but there is more to be done and when I look at the current generation of game changers, I feel proud and excited for what’s to come.”
As part of commemorations, the WTA’s logo has been adapted to draw attention to five decades of captivating athleticism on the world stage. The WTA 50 brand mark will be fully integrated throughout the WTA in 2023, including on-court signage, in television graphics, print materials, tournament branding, advertising, promotion and digital and social media.
Across the season, fans will be able to engage with content that spotlights their favorite players of all time while exploring their own personal connection to the WTA, and how women’s tennis inspires them in their own lives. For example, a video series produced by WTA Media will feature archive footage and more than 150 interviews with greats of the game and other tennis experts.
A group of WTA pioneers will revisit the Gloucester Hotel in June, with a flagship gala set to take place in New York ahead of the US Open, where tennis luminaries will be joined by allies in other fields.
“The WTA was born to write a new story -- a story that continues to champion women in the sport of tennis and beyond,” said Steve Simon, Chairman and CEO of the WTA. “Billie Jean King and the players who stood with her to create this special organization were trailblazers -- and they know better than anyone that trailblazing does not stand still. It is only right that our 50th anniversary campaign pays tribute to five decades of growth and achievement, while looking forward with the fighting spirit and vision that has been part of the organization’s DNA from the start.”
Iga Swiatek, current WTA World No.1, commented: “As professional athletes, we have a platform to inspire positive change in the world and use our influence for the better. The history of the past 50 years of women’s tennis is inspiring, thanks to many players who decided to use their voice, too, when it wasn’t always easy. The impact we have now is bigger because of them. They deserve to celebrate this anniversary and I’m happy I’ll be a part of it in 2023, together with fans and other current players.”