LOS ANGELES • Indian Wells tournament director Raymond Moore quit under heavy fire on Monday after he said women players owe their success to men, sparking a furious gender row that has divided tennis.
The South African stepped down as a backlash led by women greats Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova gathered pace, following his comments that women in tennis "ride on the coat-tails of the men".
"Ray let me know that he has decided to step down from his roles as CEO and tournament director effective immediately," the event's owner, Larry Ellison, said on the tournament website.
Moore, a 69-year-old former player, had earlier apologised for his "extremely poor taste and erroneous" remarks about the Women's Tennis Association (WTA).
But, despite his resignation, the controversy looks set to rumble on after Novak Djokovic, the men's world No. 1, said male players deserved more prize money than the women.
The Serb added that he has "tremendous respect" for women in tennis especially as they have to "go through a lot of different things that we (men) don't have to go through. You know, the hormones and different stuff".
"What a mess," tweeted Navratilova. "Moore totally blew it and Novak - really?"
GENDER PRIZE MONEY GAP
Tennis was the first sport to pay equal prize money at the US Open in 1973 after being put under pressure from reigning champion Billie Jean King, although it was not until 2007 that Wimbledon became the last of the Grand Slam tournaments to follow suit.
A 2014 BBC survey found that out of the 35 sports which have prize money, 25 pay an equal amount to men and women. Here are some which do not:
BIGGEST PURSE DIFFERENCE
Snooker World Championship
Men: £0.3m Women: £0.0015m
Cricket World Cup
Men: £2.5m Women: £0.047m
Football World Cup
Men: £22m Women: £0.63m
Golf British Open Men: £1.15m Women: £0.298m
IS MEN'S TENNIS MORE POPULAR?
Television and ticket figures appear to back up Novak Djokovic's claim.
PEAK BROADCAST AUDIENCES
Men's singles final: 9.2m Women's singles final: 4.3m
FINAL TICKET PRICING
Australian Open 2016
Men: £278 (cat 3) Women: £137 (cat 3)
French Open 2016
Men: from £103 Women's final: from £67
Men: from £160 Women: from £133
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN
Navratilova also raised the notion of a boycott of Indian Wells, which only just welcomed back women's world No. 1 Williams for the first time in 15 years after a racially charged crowd incident in 2001.
"It was really disheartening to see Ray Moore offer the extremely prejudiced and very old-fashioned statements regarding women tennis players. We have made it this far on our own, without help from male players, and will continue to do so in the future," Navratilova said.
"It would be hard to imagine any women would want to go and play at Indian Wells if Moore stays as the tournament director."
Moore had told reporters in Indian Wells: "You know, in my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coat-tails of the men.
"They don't make any decisions, and they are 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 have carried this sport."
The heads of the WTA and the men's tour, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), lined up to criticise Moore, and Williams called his remarks "offensive".
WTA Tour chief executive Steve Simon called Moore's comments "extremely disappointing and alarming", while ATP president Chris Kermode said they were "disparaging and made in poor taste".
"The ATP fully supports equality across society while at the same time acknowledging that we operate in the sports and entertainment business," added Kermode. "The ATP also respects the right of tournaments to make their own decisions relating to prize money for women's tennis."
Women receive equal prize money at top events including Indian Wells and the four Grand Slams, although they often earn less at other tournaments than comparative men's competitions.
While Williams and Djokovic both won three Grand Slams and had similar winning percentages last year, Williams was awarded US$10.6 million (S$14.4 million) in prize money while Djokovic pocketed US$21.6 million.
Wimbledon confirmed that it had no plans to re-examine its prize money distribution. A Wimbledon spokesman said: "We are fully committed to equal prize money."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN