Meet the tennis executive whose comments have triggered outrage
The head of Indian Wells, a major venue in professional tennis, has set off a war of words—and of the sexes—that has drawn the best players in the country to weigh in with their own controversial statements.
In an interview on Sunday morning before No. 1 seeded Serena Williams lost the BNP Paribas Open to Victoria Azarenka in the women’s final, Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore was asked about the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which Indian Wells works with to put on events like the BNP Paribas Open. “In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA,” he said. “Because they ride on the coattails of the men, they don’t make any decision, and they’re lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they’ve carried this sport. They really have.”
Williams was none too happy with the remarks, and said so in her post-match interview. “I don’t think any woman should be down on their knees thanking anybody like that,” she said. “If I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister, I couldn’t even bring up that number. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement.” Williams invoked Billie Jean King, adding: “I feel like that is such a disservice to her and every female, not only a female athlete but every woman on this planet, that has ever tried to stand up for what they believed in.” King herself commented on Twitter: “He is wrong on so many levels.”
Moore’s comments angered plenty others. Patrick McEnroe, while broadcasting the men’s final, said, “I’m absolutely livid.” He called for Moore to step down. Steve Simon, who held Moore’s position until he became CEO of the WTA last year, said, “The WTA stands on its own and was founded on the principles of equality and empowerment… Tennis as a whole is enriched by the contributions and accomplishments of every player, both female and male.”
Still, Simon avoided condemning Moore specifically, and for now Indian Wells has merely issued this apology statement from Moore: “I made comments about the WTA that were in extremely poor taste and erroneous. I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole. We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA.”
Who is Raymond Moore?
The 69-year-old Moore is a former pro tennis player from South Africa. As a pro, he won two singles titles and eight doubles titles. He also played in the Davis Cup, representing South Africa, 12 times. His highest pro ranking was in 1976, when he hit No. 34 in the world, according to the ATP website.
Moore actually helped build Indian Wells Tennis Garden, in the town of Indian Wells, Calif., with his business partner Charlie Pasarell, the chairman of the BNP Paribas Open tournament and a fellow former pro player. Moore and Pasarell had a business together, PM Sports Management, and partnered with IMG founder Mark McCormack to come up with $77 million in funding for the site. It opened in 2000. The tournament itself has been around since 1974, under many differet names, but is now held annually at Indian Wells, which is why many now call it the Indian Wells Masters.
Indian Wells hosts other tennis events, though the BNP Paribas Open is its prime jewel. The site is home to one main stadium, which seats 16,000, and a second stadium half the size. It also boasts three restaurants, including the high-end Nobu. In 2006, Moore was part of the large group of investors that bought out IMG, and in 2009 Moore and Pasarell sold Indian Wells and the tournament to Larry Ellison, co-founder and then-CEO of Oracle (ORCL). Ellison and Oracle did not respond to requests for comment on Moore’s statements.
A bad time for tennis
Moore’s comments could not have come at a worse time for women’s tennis. For starters, the sport is reeling from two recent scandals: Maria Sharapova’s positive drug test for meldonium and her suspension from competition, and reports of widespread match-fixing by unnamed players.
Moore’s comments also stoke the fire over an ongoing debate in tennis about equal pay. Novak Djokovic, current men’s No. 1, appeared to complicate matters when he was asked about what Moore said. Djokovic called the comments “not politically correct,” but continued: “Women deserve respect and admiration for what they are doing. You know, equal prize money was the main subject of the tennis world in the last seven, eight years… On the other hand, I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches.” Djokovic dug himself deeper by saying about female players, “Their bodies are much different to men’s bodies. They have to go through a lot of different things that we don’t have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff, we don’t need to go into details.”
In her own response to Moore, Serena Williams aptly pointed out that at last year’s U.S. Open, her historic run toward achieving a Grand Slam caused the women’s final to sell out before the men’s final for the first time in history. “I’m sorry,” she said, “did Roger play in that final? Or Rafa, or any man, play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not.” Williams isn’t wrong. The same star power and success on the court that led tickets to sell out also ignited a debate over whether it was fair that Sharapova makes almost twice as much money in endorsement deals as Williams. Many pundits suggested that the reason was plain and simple: racism.
For an outspoken player like Williams, controversy—regardless of the source—is old hat. But Moore’s comments are unquestionably bad for business. Between a betting scandal, a doping scandal, ongoing disputes over pay, and some obviously dated thinking among certain executives and players, tennis is on the cusp of crisis.