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November 6, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, a very warm welcome this afternoon to a significant announcement in relation to the continuance of a very strong and healthy relationship between the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and one of the world's most, indeed most respected organizations, and I speak of course of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.
I'd like to introduce our head table. Indeed the man who would know better than anyone, Mr. Hans d'Orville, the Assistant Director General of UNESCO. Larry Scott, Executive Officer of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. Tennis great, that's all I need say, Billie Jean King, who is here with us today, too. Great to see you, of course.
And to a player, Vera Zvonareva, who is enjoying Doha like nothing else. She's playing some beautiful tennis. We'll see her in action, of course, tomorrow.
It gives me a great deal of pleasure to introduce Mr. Larry Scott, the Chief Executive Officer of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
LARRY SCOTT: Thank you. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's very exciting for us to be here for an historic announcement. A major milestone and step forward in the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour/UNESCO partnership which was launched two years ago at this same event which was in Madrid in 2006. Where we entered into a partnership with UNESCO to align the leading global sport for women with the leading institution in the world that is fighting for gender equity around the world.
The impetus for this partnership, some of you may remember, dates back to the beginning of 2006, when the tour was right in the midst of the really last step of its campaign for equal prize money, which is particularly significant today in that sitting next to the founder of the WTA Tour, who is the original pioneer and inspiration for women's tennis and the founding of the tour and the start of the original campaign for equal prize money.
So 2006, we were in the final throes of our campaign. And Venus Williams who has been on our player council and player leader for many years contacted me after being at an awards ceremony where she had witnessed a documentary on the Afghan women's football team, soccer team, that was fighting for the opportunity to play because they weren't really allowed to play, but they had sort of under the radar screen formed a team, and they were trying to get the opportunity to be able to compete out in the open.
She contacted me to say given our role as leaders in women's sports and all the amazing opportunity that we have, it would be great if we could be more deeply involved in terms of creating more awareness for some of these other women's sports around the world who don't have quite the same opportunity that we have. And we had a lot of discussion over the ensuing months, and that's coincided with an approach we've received from the promoters of the Sony Ericsson Championships in Madrid that year.
Gerard and his wife Nathalie who have been involved with UNESCO over the years and that was the impetus for this partnership, the relationship around the Madrid event.
Venus Williams prompting us to do more to create awareness, to get more deeply involved in the fight for gender equity even beyond our own sport, and we figured it would be a great doubles team.
Our athletes who are sort of the leaders for women's sport, enjoying a lot of great opportunity around the world, teaming up with an organization that is a leader intellectually, but also at a grass roots level fighting for leadership opportunities for women and educational opportunities for women, et cetera.
So the partnership was born at the end of 2006 with two primary purposes. One, was to raise awareness for UNESCO and our program, and the challenges that women face around the world, and the second was to actually create real tangible programs in different markets around the world that would create leadership opportunity for women.
We're going about that through various awareness building efforts and also fundraising efforts. Today our program has raised over $350,000, and it's really just the beginning. We've sort of built it step by step, and we're sort of in this for the long haul.
Venus Williams had been announced as the first global ambassador for gender equality under this program, and that was followed up by a couple of our other players stepping up and saying they wanted to be part of this, Zheng Jie from China who is a regional ambassador for gender equality under this program, so is Tatiana Golovin.
We've got many more players involved, such as Vera Zvonareva representing our players here today. This is a program our players feel passionately about, are very near and dear to their heart, and we see a lot of potential for this program.
Today we're taking a major step forward in a couple of different respects, and it's really centered around tying together the role that Billie Jean King has played for women's tennis and beyond and this program.
We've been looking for an occasion to do this for quite some time, and we felt what better opportunity than our Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar, where the players are playing for the Billie Jean King trophy to announce this partnership.
Billie Jean's going to be the first global mentor for gender equality. Mentorship is something that's meant a lot to her over the years. She mentors our players regularly. Every single year. She interacts with our rookies and is involved in mentoring them in tennis and many other areas.
So Billie's going to be the first Global Mentor For Gender Equality under this program.
In addition, through some of the funds that we've raised, we're going to be supporting the creation of a joint leadership program for women under the auspices of the Women's Sports Foundation.
Unknown to many of you, the Women's Sports Foundation was also founded by Billie Jean King, a leading advocate of the role of women in sports. Fought for Title 9 in the United States, and is having a major impact in terms of opportunity for women's sports in the U.S.
So there is going to be a program created in Billie's name providing opportunity for women in the field of sports and professional sports where they didn't have opportunity before.
So today is the coming together of a lot of the important influences in the world of tennis. Our founder and a leader not only in women's tennis, but also in women's sports in general, and one of the leading sort of social entrepreneurs of our generation, Billie Jean King, with this great program that we've got with UNESCO and the partnership we've got with UNESCO. Which really allowed the awareness and celebrity and passion our players have to go further and have a greater impact by teaming up with such an important and incredible organization such as UNESCO that's able to deliver programs on the ground.
So I'm absolutely thrilled to see the way this program has developed over the next two years. And I'm convinced with the great team we've got and the passion our players feel and the strength of UNESCO, that every year it's going to continue to get bigger and better. Thank you.
HANS d'ORVILLE: Thank you very much. UNESCO is thrilled, I should say also exceedingly honored to share the table with Billie Jean King.
We all know what she means for sports, but we also know what she means for political life and societal life, not only in the U.S. but worldwide.
So it is entirely appropriate for us to share the objectives of promoting for gender equality, for gender equity worldwide and in the sports, but also beyond the sports. And I think the history and the track record of Billie Jean King looking into other areas and in greeting our societies helped us very well for this purpose.
The title Global Mentor For Gender Equality is a unique title which we are giving under the partnership with the Sony Ericsson WTA. Which, as Larry said, is a very young partnership, and we take particular pride that within a little bit over a year we have been able to launch projects in five countries, and now add the project together with the Women's Sports Foundation.
I think it's quite unusual, more often than not, you have public/private partnerships and activities which are just that on paper, but they don't go into the act of really delivering on the ground. So I think we are collectively quite happy and quite proud that we have already now selected these projects in China, in Cameroon, in the Dominican Republic. And all of this focuses on the role of women.
We also have Liberia and Jordan, so that you have the various regions of the world benefiting from funding which was raised by our promoters. Particularly by Venus Williams who took a very, very strong lead in this particular area.
You may ask the funding of these projects what does it help? Does it help sports people, sports women? The answer is no. It is the strengths of trying to build the capacities of women to participate in societal life, to educate them, to make a difference in education and this is where UNESCO comes from, the education as a major, major element of preparing yourself to take responsible roles in societal life. But also in scientific life.
And a little bit sports on the side. In particular in Cameroon and, I think, in the Dominican Republic we also hope that university women, for example, will be able to also sponsor and get involved into sports activities and thereby strengthen the role of the participation of women in the management of the sports as a group, which is also not too strongly represented these days in the world.
Now the future as we see it with Billie Jean King is that we will come together with her foundation. That we can see through the internship, also what UNESCO can contribute, and where we have a meeting of minds to say the least. But also a common cause which we can pursue in order to make a difference in this area of gender equality about which everybody speaks.
Not only since a year, not only since a decade, not only since two decades, but just too little happens on the ground. And this is where we have seen the pious declaration as a whole don't help us. We have to do it very concretely.
We, for UNESCO are very, how should I say, dynamically impressed by the commitment of the players. They are not only looking at what's going on on the tour, they are not only looking at equal prize money, though this is a very significant feature of gender equality, but they are committed to what is happening in the world and in the societies around them concerning women.
To this purpose we are pursuing the partnership. We have just extended it after the initial two years, and UNESCO for its part is very excited.
We are working, you may ask how were the projects selected? Let me just tell you, UNESCO has about 170 national commissions in the countries, and we have made a competitive call to the national commissions to submit proposals for such projects.
And a group between Sony Ericsson WTA and UNESCO have been selected these first five projects. So it was very open, transparent, but really competitive process to make these activities work.
You may also ask how are we sure that the money will be used for the purpose? The answer is we have field offices, UNESCO has field offices in these countries, and our colleagues in the field will work with the national commissions with these projects.
I want to stop here and express my absolute happiness that we can make common causes, Billie Jean King.
THE MODERATOR: We have a DVD presentation we'd like to show everybody now.
It has a ring to it - Global Mentor - I love it. I don't think I've ever met one before, Billie Jean, but please. The floor is yours.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Well, first of all, thank you very much. Thank you, Hans, Larry, Vera, and all of you, and also to the Director General Matsuura for those kind words. Please tell him, Hans, or I will tell him, you can tell me how to get ahold of him, how kind his words were, and how generous they were towards all of us and we appreciate that.
UNESCO has a birthday coming up, November 16th. It will be 62 years old, I guess. Did I count that right, or 63. So it's pretty exciting to be here in Doha, close to UNESCO's birthday. And it's wonderful that the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and UNESCO have this wonderful partnership, and I am so thrilled today to be a part of it.
Sports is a microcosm of society, so we can measure so much from sports on how we're doing worldwide. This will be the century of women and for women. This is just a part of it.
When I was 12 years old, I promised myself I would spend the rest of my life trying to help have equal rights and opportunities for men ask women, for boys and girls, and this is a part of that.
It's very important today for me personally that I, and I'm very honored that I could be a part of this. And the Women's Sports Foundation, which I did start in 1974, has helped over 500 interns.
And these interns will have six months with the Women's Sports Foundation where they will learn many different things. They will meet some of the greatest women athletes in the world. Also people in the sports industry and beyond. And what we will do after they become an intern and what we've been very instrumental in is helping them find a job after that experience, in the public and in the private sector.
Some of them have gone on to work with huge shoe companies like the Nikes or adidases of the world, PepsiCo, education, all different areas of life that they find that they would like to go to. That's very important to us to make sure that we help them beyond just being an intern. That we help them in that next stage.
This partnership will provide that, and we're very thrilled to do that. To be with UNESCO, and also with the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. It's unbelievable. So...
I think we have maybe a little visual thing we can set up here. It will give you just a little bit of insight into the Women's Sports Foundation. Maybe just one little small aspect of it. I'm not sure which tape we have here today.
THE MODERATOR: Excellent presentation.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Wow, I think it explains for itself. I just want to thank everyone for being here. It means a lot to see the women.
And also to Vera, you're doing so well this week, and it's great to see you here, too, as well. You are the future. That is for sure.
But, thank you. And as you can see, you do have to see it to be it. It's important for people, both men and women, to see women be examples of leadership in supportive roles. And it's so important to women's health and to men's health as well to be in sports.
But particularly for women, because usually, as a woman as a mother particularly, when the mother's health is not good, it really hurts the entire family. So it's important for so many different reasons. So it's been an honor to be here, and thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Billie Jean. Now, we'd invite Vera Zvonareva to say a few words.
VERA ZVONAREVA: Yeah, gender equality is an issue that we players and me personally care a lot about. And Billie Jean, she was a great voice for equality. She has been a great inspiration for the equality, and a great inspiration for all women around the world.
It means a lot to me to have your support, support here. And, hopefully, you will help women around the world to be a little bit more confident in themselves.
That's why I'm really excited about the tour's partnership with UNESCO. It's a great opportunity for us and for me. I think I'm looking forward to be a part of it.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. The two female candidates who ran in the elections in the primaries and the presidential nomination election didn't make it, but Barack Obama did. What do you feel about that, and do you feel that he will help the cause of women around the world?
BILLIE JEAN KING: Barack Obama is our new president-elect of the United States of America will make a huge difference to women throughout the world. He'll make a big difference to both men and women, but particularly to women.
First of all, he was brought up by a single mother, so he understands what that's like. Also, he has two daughters. And he's also been a tremendous advocate of Title 9 in the United States. Which, for those of you who do not know what that is, it's about June 23rd, 1972, was the first year that any Federal funding to high schools or colleges and universities had to be equally given to men and women. Before 1972, for instance, a lot of quotas particularly in law and medicine was only 5 to 10% at universities. That's the reason we didn't have many lawyers and doctors and others. So that was a huge defining moment.
Barack Obama has been so much behind Title 9. In fact, he's very much been behind the Women's Sports Foundation, so he's been very helpful to us. He understands issues of both men and women extremely well. And, of course, being biracial he has a tremendous understanding of what it means to be a man of color and also to understand, I think, both sides of how people feel and think.
He's definitely brought all of us together in the United States, and I know the rest of the world is very anxious to get to know him even beyond what they know already. But he has wanted to reach out and bring all of us together as one.
As far as history though if you go by history, he would definitely have gotten chosen before the women, because the United States, it took women 50 extra years to even get to vote before even men of color, I mean, after men of color or whatever, so. Men got to vote, all men, got to vote 50 years before women did. Women got to vote in 1920 in the United States. It was Amendment 19.
Q. Do you envision in our lifetimes women competing against men in top international sporting events?
BILLIE JEAN KING: One of the studies and many of the studies that have come. Men are much stronger than we are. You have androgens that we don't have. That's very scientific. So you are stronger and faster. You have bigger hearts.
So, I think it depends on the sport. What it is. But most sports were developed around power, and men are more powerful in general than women. There is no question.
One of the things, when we started the women's professional tennis back in the old days it was called the Virginia Slim Series, we never said we were better than the men. We said that we were just as entertaining, and I think that's what we've always said.
If our top players played against the top men, they would beat us. There is no question. But scientifically, the reason is the androgens that men have, that women do not have.
Q. I am coming from a smaller place, which is not so big like America, and I truly hope that one man will change things in America as everybody hopes.
BILLIE JEAN KING: He will.
Q. But at the same time I know what America is in a better situation than other countries, much better situation even for women. And you know because you are a very smart and clever person. And we are in a place as Mr. D'Orville said, we never have an athlete, women athlete competing at the Olympics. So I think it's interesting to understand more this situation and to do something in this place where sport for women is nothing. Thank you.
VERA ZVONAREVA: 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. So I think it's a huge step already.
Like we said before, if we can help, if players can do something and Billie Jean has a strong voice, she can help a little bit. She can give a little bit more confidence to women here in this country, and they can believe in themselves more. Then it's going to be up to them to help themselves to play the sports as well.
Nobody's going to decide for them what to do unless they feel confident enough to step up for themselves and try to do it.
So I think it's very important what our competition here is very important for this, and also, me, as a player, I will try to do my best to help in this matter as much as I can.
BILLIE JEAN KING: I think to your question, it's very good. Because that's actually one of the big reasons I wanted to come here was to learn. And I know change is difficult. Change takes time. And we should always respect each other, always.
We know that women make up 70% of the poverty of this world, and that's why micro-financing is so important. That's why having the Sony Ericsson Championships is important here. As I said earlier when I started to speak, I talked about you have to see it to be it. You either have to see it in your mind because it's never happened and visualize it, or you have to see it.
So when young girls and women see the players playing, maybe it will inspire them in their own lives to think about things. But it also inspires both men and women to listen to each other, to see each other sometimes in a different way.
But we should always respect each other no matter what religion or what culture. So it takes time. But each person has to be respected as a human being first.
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 some place.
Doha seven years ago, being the first Middle East city and Qatar being the first country to have women professional tennis players here was a beginning.
Just like we began in the United States standing out in the street and stopping cars to give them tickets. It just doesn't happen quickly. It's what we must change one by one, one person at a time. Maybe one interview at a time, one phone call, one person. But it takes so much time to change.
And life is difficult, there's no question. And you're right about the United States, we have it better than most. But Italy's pretty nice, too (smiling).
HANS d'ORVILLE: Can I just say that Billie Jean doesn't only speak like a diplomat, she speaks like an activist, and that makes it attractive. And I totally agree with her, that change takes time. But sometimes change goes faster, and I think we are accelerating a little bit.
One of my colleagues told me here in Doha about ten years ago, I think Qatar was one of the first countries which had a female minister in the Arab world where there were very few female ministers. Today, I think, every government in the Gulf has female ministers, and that is a change which cannot be reversed in a sense.
So I think since sports is not a breed apart, but it's part of everything which goes on in our societies. So there will be mutual cross-fertilization, I'm pretty sure, and maybe change accelerates. Who knows, we'll have to see.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Liberia has a woman president, Johnson, right .
HANS d'ORVILLE: And Chile.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Germany's had one, Iceland. We can go on. But it takes time.
THE MODERATOR: Well done.
Q. Perhaps this is a question for anybody at the table, but have you had or do you plan to have conversations with government or tennis officials here to discuss your concerns? And what sort of concrete steps would you propose or have you proposed?
LARRY SCOTT: We've been playing women's professional tennis here as was mentioned earlier, since 2001. So women's tennis has been here for quite some time. We've seen it develop very well.
Our role here is not to respond directly to the way you asked the question. Our role is not to discuss concerns we have about society. We play in a lot of different countries around the world. The tour today is the most global sports circuit in the world. 60 events in 30 countries around the world. And our role as a sporting organization is not to discuss with governments or leaders, political or social issues in their country as a sporting organization here to play sport.
It's our firm belief that as a sporting organization our athletes and our sport serve as a positive catalyst for social change. And, obviously, equality by being here.
The fact that women's tennis is here and we were the first big international women's sport to take place in the Gulf in 2001, made a big statement. And as Billie said, tennis being here is a reflection of society and where it's at. It's almost a mirror for the world in terms of where it's at.
This event could not have taken place ten years ago here. So the fact that we are here represents some very significant political and social change. And by our athletes being here, we'll inspire the next generation, and promote more openness and understanding, tolerance, different ways of looking at things.
So I think the fact that this sport is here, the role that our athletes are playing is playing a very significant role in and of itself, but we don't have a political or social agenda, specifically.
Q. If you're talking to officials here and the issue of gender equality comes up, what is discussed or how do they react to that?
LARRY SCOTT: Well, in our discussions about bringing the event here, you know, our goal for equality with the men and in the form of prize money and standards was a very important issue, a central issue. We discussed with the Qatar Tennis Federation, the support they received from the government very supportive of that and wanted to be a part of that.
This is, in fact, the first year. We are breaking new ground this year here in Doha. The Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha is the first year ever that the end-of-the-year Championships for women is putting up the same purse as the end-of-the-year Championships for men.
So the barriers have broken down pretty quickly with Wimbledon and Roland Garros putting equal prize money on 2007. 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.
BILLIE JEAN KING: Can I say one thing about prize money? One thing I keep trying to explain about the equal prize money, it's not just about the money, it's about the message that it sends. It makes people just stop and think about that. And they go, Wow.
You never know who might see it or think about it or look at themselves in a different light because of it. You just don't know how you're going to touch another person's life or how they're going to touch yours. So you keep trying, and that's all we can do.
I'm just here this week, mostly, I really want to listen this week more than anything. We're going to try to do a mentoring get together with maybe some of the young people here this week if we can. We're trying to do that on Saturday, I think.
HANS d'ORVILLE: Can I just say as far as UNESCO's concerned, we have a very close relationship with the first lady of the country, Sheikha Mozah ,who is special envoy for basic education. She has been very strong in arguing for basic education about a month ago at the U.N. There was this high level event of the millennium development goals. And one of the millennium development goals is to get equal enrollment and equal completion in basic education for boys and girls.
So she's been very, very active on the international scale with UNESCO in pursuing this goal. And I know also in Qatar, of course, she is a major actor in promoting girls education, particularly also at the high education university level.
LARRY SCOTT: Just one other follow-up, just to sort of reinforce how we see our role and the influence that sport can play.
Many of you were here six months ago when we had the regular tour stop here, the Total Qatar Open. And you probably recall that Shahar Peer, the Israeli player, played here. It was the first time an Israeli athlete had played in one of our competitions in the Gulf.
To me it's just another example, I think, there is an enormous amount of change happening in the world and in this region. Stigmas and attitudes and perceptions are breaking down. I think sport does play an important role in terms of allowing the outside world to see sort of what's going on in society. By a government and a Tennis Federation welcoming and inviting us to play in this country, they're associating themselves with our values.
Our values are a meritocracy, no player can be denied an opportunity to play based on race, religion, nationality. It's open to everybody. So the fact an Israeli player wanted to play here and was allowed to play here without incident and warmly welcomed, I think, made a very important statement.
The fact that one thing our organization stands for is equality and women being able to play for the same prize money as men and the government of Qatar inviting us in. In fact, bidding to win the right to host the tournament, they're associating themselves with those values.
So in that way I think it does make a very strong statement in terms of where we play and who invites us to come play that they want to be associated with these things.
VERA ZVONAREVA: I just wanted to add something. As tennis players we travel around the world a lot. I think we see lots of different cultures. I don't want to misunderstand us. I think we respect all the cultures. It's very important.
But I think what we're here for is just, for me, it makes me happy to see if a little girl -- I've seen lots of little girls here running around. And if they want to just grab a racquet and go to play tennis, I feel very happy that they feel free to do so.
Yeah, and I want all girls around the world to feel free to do the same things as all other kids.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Vera, very well said. Thank you Global Mentor Extraordinare, Billie Jean King. Larry and Hans, thank you for a wonderful partnership with UNESCO and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
End of FastScripts