Tennis tournament chief Moore resigns over controversial comments

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March 21 (Reuters) - Raymond Moore has stepped down as CEO and tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open following controversial comments he made about women's tennis, the tournament announced on Monday.

Moore provoked outrage a day earlier when he said top-level women's players rode "on the coattails of the men" and were "very, very lucky" to have equal prize money.

The tennis world reacted strongly as world number one Serena Williams and all-time great Martina Navratilova rebuffed the statements and the ATP men's tour formally denounced them.

See photos of Serena and her sister Venus through the years:

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Venus vs. Serena Williams through the years
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Tennis tournament chief Moore resigns over controversial comments
Venus Williams, left, and sister Serena raise their arms after their center court match at the Australian Open Tennis Championships in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, January 21, 1998. Venus won the match 7-6, 6-1. (AP Photo/Rick Stevens)
American Venus Williams, left, and sister Serena of Palm Beach Gardens, Fl., confer during a women's doubles match against Erika DeLone and Liezel Horn at the Australian Open Tennis Championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, January 22, 1998. Williams won 6-4, 6-2. (AP Photo/Steve Holland)
Serena Williams of the USA lifts up the winners cup after her final match vs. sister Venus Williams at the International Tennis Grand Slam Cup in Munich s Olympic hall, Sunday, October 3, 1999. Serena defeated her sister 6-1, 3-6, 6-4. (AP Photo/Uwe Lein)
Venus Williams, left, watches her sister Serena during the winners ceremony after their final match at the International Tennis Grand Slam Cup in Munich's Olympic hall, Sunday, October 3, 1999. Serena defeated her sister Venus 6-1,3-6, 6-4. (AP Photo/Uwe Lein)
Venus Williams, of Palm Beach Ggardens, Fla., reaches for a return to her sister, Serena, during their women's singles semifinal match at Wimbledon, Thursday July 6, 2000. Venus won 6-4, 7-6 (7-3). (AP Photo/Adam Butler, Pool)
Serena Williams, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., returns to her sister, Venus, during their semi-final match on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Thursday July 6, 2000. (AP Photo/Dave Caulkin)
Venus Williams, left, reaches to shake the hand of her sister, Serena, after Venus won their semifinal match at Wimbledon Thursday July 6, 2000. Venus won 6-4, 7-6 (3). (AP Photo/Jytte Nielsen)
Venus Williams, right, poses with the women's singles championship trophy as her sister, Serena, applauds during the trophy ceremony after Venus defeated Serena in the womens singles final at the U.S. Oopen in New York Saturday Sept. 8, 2001. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Serena Williams makes a return against her sister, Venus, during the women's final at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York Saturday Sept. 7, 2002. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Serena Williams, right, holds up her trophy after defeating sister Venus Williams, left, 6-4, 6-3 in the women's final at the US Open Saturday, Sept. 7, 2002 in New York. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Venus Williams attempts a return to her sister Serena during the Women's Singles final on the Centre Court, at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, Saturday July 5, 2003. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Serena, left, and Venus Williams congratulate each other, after defeating Alicia Molik and Samantha Stosur of Austria, in their Women's Doubles, second round match, on the seventh day of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, Monday June 30, 2003.(AP Photo/Sang Tan)
Venus Williams of the United States, facing camera, celebrates with her sister Serena after their women's doubles final victory by 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 against Paola Suarez from Argentina and Virginia Ruano Pascual from Spain at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in Melbourne, Friday, Jan. 24, 2003. (AP Photo/Rick Stevens)
Venus, left, and her sister Serena Williams of the United States wave to the crowd after winning the women's doubles final against Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain and Paola Suarez of Argentina at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in Melbourne, Friday, Jan. 24, 2003. The Williams sister won the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. (AP Photo/Mike Fiala)
Venus Williams, left, walks away after winning a point as Serena Williams reacts in the background during their match at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005. Venus Williams won, 7-6 (5), 6-2. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
Serena Williams, of the United States, reacts during her match against Venus Williams, of the United States, at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Serena Williams, of the United States, returns to Venus Williams, of the United States, at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2005. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Venus Williams of the United States, right, goes to put her arm around her sister, Serena Williams of the United States, at the conclusion of their match at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Sunday Sept. 4, 2005. Venus Williams won 7-6 (5), 6-2. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
U.S. Venus Williams celebrates after she beats her sister Serena Williams 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 during the third day of Sony Ericsson WTA Tennis Championship in Doha, Qatar, Thursday Nov. 6, 2008. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Venus Williams, left, and her sister Serena from the USA are seen during their first round double match against Daniela Hantuchova from Slovakia and Agnes Szavay from Hungary at the Porsche Grand Prix tennis tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, Monday, Sept. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)
Serena Williams, left, and her sister Venus from the USA are seen during their first round double match against Daniela Hantuchova from Slovakia and Agnes Szavay from Hungary at the Porsche Grand Prix tennis tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, Monday, Sept. 29, 2008. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)
Venus Williams of the U.S. in action in the women's singles final against her sister Serena on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 5 , 2008. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Serena Williams returns to her sister Venus, during the Women's Singles final on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Venus Williams of the US in action in the women's singles final against her sister Serena on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 5 , 2008. (AP Photo/Glyn Kirk,pool)
Venus Williams embraces her sister Serena, after defeating her to win the Women's Singles Championship on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Venus Williams of the US reacts after winning the women's singles final against her sister Serena on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 5 , 2008. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Serena Williams holds her head during the Women's Singles final against her sister Venus on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Saturday, July 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
Venus Williams of the United States returns to Serena Williams of the United States during their singles final at the WTA Tennis Championships, in Doha, Qatar Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Serena Williams of the United States reacts during her singles match against sister Venus Williams of the United States at the WTA Tennis Championships, in Doha, Qatar Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Serena Williams of the United States, left, shakes hands with her sister Venus Williams of the United States, right, after Serena won their singles match at the WTA Tennis Championships, in Doha, Qatar Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Serena Williams hits a forehand shot during a semifinal match against her sister Venus Williams at the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament in Charleston, S.C., Saturday, April 6, 2013. Serena won 6-1, 6-2. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)
Venus Williams hits a forehand shot during a semifinal match against her sister Serena Williams at the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament in Charleston, S.C., Saturday, April 6, 2013. Serena won 6-1, 6-2. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: Serena Williams of the United States serves in her Ladies' Singles Fourth Round match against Venus Williams of the United States during day seven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: Venus Williams of the United States plays a forehand in her Ladies' Singles Fourth Round match against Serena Williams of the United States during day seven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: Serena Williams of the United States serves in her Ladies' Singles Fourth Round match against Venus Williams of the United States during day seven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 06: Serena Williams of the United States hugs Venus Williams of the United States after their Ladies' Singles Fourth Round match during day seven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 6, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Tournament owner Larry Ellison revealed the departure with a statement that both announced Moore's resignation and championed the sport's efforts toward equality.

"Nearly half a century ago, Billie Jean King began her historic campaign for the equal treatment of women in tennis," Ellison said. "What followed is an ongoing, multi-generational, progressive movement to treat women and men in sports equally.

"I'm proud to say that it is now a decade long tradition at our tournament at Indian Wells, and all the major tennis tournaments, to pay equal prize money to both the women and the men."

Among his comments, the 69-year-old South African also highlighted Canada's Eugenie Bouchard and Spaniard Garbine Muguruza as being among the "very attractive prospects" on the WTA circuit, before explaining that they were "physically attractive and competitively attractive."

"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," he said.

When reaction to his remarks flooded in, the former ATP Tour player quickly offered an apology but the damage had already been done.

Moore had only taken over as tournament director late last year when Steve Simon resigned to become chief executive of the WTA Tour.

"I would like to personally thank all the great women athletes who fought so hard for so many years in the pursuit of equal prize money in professional tennis," Ellison added.

"All of us here at the BNP Paribas Open promise to continue working with everyone to make tennis a better sport for everybody."

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