Wimbledon wipes away gender inequality with unisex towels for 2021 Championships

His and hers: equality champion Andy Murray with both towel designs for 2021 – for use by men and women at Wimbledon this year

Credit: GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

Having once lagged behind other tennis tournaments on equal prize money, Wimbledon has learned through bitter experience to sense when a sexism row is looming.

Now, after "progression" talks involving organisers at SW17, one of the last bastions of genderism has gone – with men and women players handed the same towels for the first time.

In previous years, the women competitors have always been handed the latest "seasonal" collection range, which have most recently been pink and turquoise. The men, in contrast, were given a set from the "classic" collection, which were generally the trademark Wimbledon colours of purple and green.

Sources close to the All England Club on Tuesday said there had been no pressure from the players to change towel policy. 

However, organisers had decided the change was made in the interests of "progression". Insiders said that this was one of the last male-female distinctions to go, having committed to equal pay in 2007 and, more recently, equal tweets between the sexes. "It was simply decided that men and women wouldn’t necessarily choose the towels they were given in previous years," the source added.

'Seasonal': Venus Williams and Pierre-Hugues Herbert put the 2021 Ochre & Turqoise towel to the test

Credit: AP/GETTY IMAGES

All England classic: Roger Federer with the familiar Championships colours on Tuesday

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Wimbledon had been the last of the four major tournaments to award equal prize money, with the US Open rolling out pay parity in 1973, the Australian Open in 2001 and the French Open in 2006.

However, in more recent years, the competition has been swift in clamping down on any sexism concerns. The competition agreed in 2017 that it should enforce a new rule that men and women players are promoted in equal numbers on its social media channels.

Both Serena Williams and Sir Andy Murray have spoken passionately against sexism in the sport in recent years. Amid heightened awareness, umpires were instructed in 2019 to stop using the courtesy titles ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ for female players. Since then, women have no longer been identified by their marital status, with match officials simply saying ‘game’ or ‘game, set, match’, followed by a player’s surname.

The bad old days: Danish star Caroline Wozniacki with the 2009 women's edition

Credit: AP Photo/Alastair Grant

The latest move from Wimbledon around the two types of towels is unlikely to affect the typical huge demand in club shops this week and next. Organisers admitted on Tuesday that a run on supply was likely after they ordered around 75 per cent of typical stock due to Covid crowd uncertainty. Towel supply could run out by the middle of next week, although more will be available online.

The towels, priced at £34, are made in Britain and sold in huge numbers across the fortnight. In 2019 Wimbledon sold 27,419 within the tournament alone.

Earlier on Tuesday, a spillage of oil from a cleaning vehicle caused delays for fans arriving early for another day of rain-delayed action. Antony Marquez, 36, from Canberra, was among those facing a 30 minute delay at gate one. “It’s a bit annoying, but everyone was pretty relaxed as we were early,” he said. “We were held up for about half an hour. A guy from the council came down to declare the spillage safe.”

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