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.

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Tennis tournament chief Moore resigns over controversial comments
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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