Gates Foundation, women’s tennis joins health issues


LONDON — All sorts of requests come to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through all sorts of methods, but it’s rare that a meaningful plea comes via a LinkedIn message. However, this is how Micky Lawler, president of the WTA Women’s Professional Tennis Tour, first approached the group about a partnership on a sleepless night of pandemic.

Eventually, the idea made its way to the foundation’s co-chair, Melinda French Gates. The origin was unusual. The idea of ​​working with sport was appealing.


“I thought, ‘God, what could be better?’ I mean, I’m always on the lookout for female gender champions, because I know the difference they make to young girls,” French Gates told The Associated Press at Wimbledon on Friday when she attended at the Grand Slam tournament for the first time. “I know the difference when they appeal to a government. I know when they have a connection with a first lady in a country, something happens.”

And so the WTA and the foundation will work together to raise awareness of women’s health and nutrition around the world and generate funds. They will also coordinate efforts to promote gender equality and female leadership.

French Gates, Lawler and 10 former players, including former Wimbledon champions Billie Jean King and Marion Bartoli, took the first concrete step towards this collaboration during a roundtable discussion lasting around an hour on Friday in the meeting room of the All England Club from the Center Court stadium.

“We know these athletes are at the top of their game. They’re role models, they’re leaders, and they can talk about these issues because they know them,” said French Gates, who noted the foundation doesn’t had ever partnered with a women’s sports league.

“I just know that from place to place it’s better when we move towards gender equality. They’re looking for women in business, they’re looking for women in entertainment, they’re looking for women in sport,” she said. “And so when this partnership started coming together, and Micky came up with this idea, she said, ‘Who better than our athletes to know the importance of nutrition, right?'”

In August 2020, during the WTA’s first tournament after a COVID-19 hiatus, Lawler found herself unable to sleep a wink in her hotel room in Lexington, Kentucky. His worries: “Are we doing the right thing? Are we coming back too soon?”

She had been struck by watching a Netflix documentary about Bill Gates and, she said on Friday, “it was Melinda’s brain that I was very interested in.”

Lawler attempted to connect with the foundation; now her initial thought becomes something real that she thinks current players will support. Lawler was planning to introduce French Gates to Wimbledon runner-up Ons Jabeur – a 27-year-old Tunisian who is the first African woman and the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam title match – on Friday afternoon.

“We’re a global organization, and we have so many passionate women who really want to make an impact in their lives,” Lawler said in a joint interview with French Gates. “It goes way beyond the numbers. We believe that if we do great things, the funding will come and grow exponentially, because our partners will want to be part of it.”

Asked how current athletes could help, French Gates mentioned the Women Deliver conference on gender equality in July 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda.

“We could have female tennis players highlighting on their social media the importance of these women’s health issues, with some of them potentially showing up on stage to help highlight the issues,” she said. , “and calling out their own governments saying, ‘I want our government to step in and put more money into “whatever the problem – maternal mortality, reproductive health”.