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WIPA Launches to Empower Women in Pickleball

Led by Senior pickleball pro, Rachel Hong, the Women’s International Pickleball Association will work to give female pickleball athletes a level playing field.

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. As the landscape expands with the growth of Major League Pickleball and other professional outlets, women are core parts of the game. Unlike many other sports, the conversation about equity for women is a key part of its development and there’s a huge opportunity to ensure women become equity.

As more women enter the fray, the push is on to ensure they get every opportunity available to their peers. Enter the Women’s International Pickleball Association.

WIPA officially launched on Wednesday, led by Senior pickleball pro and CEO Rachel Hong, Sparks star Chiney Ogwumike, and Disrupt the Game president Allison Galer serving as cofounders. The goal, as stated in a release, is to “ensure women in pickleball have an ecosystem to best serve their success.”

The enthusiasm for the sport at the grassroots level was already a credit to its popularity. Now the potential of what it can produce for women can extend to the long-term.

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The most recent Major League Pickleball tournament featured squads of five players each, with teammates ranging from high school students to 40-plus year old athletes. Pickleball vet Lee Whitwell was in Ohio for the tournament and is now working with WIPA to help fortify their mission for players of all ages.

“As females, oftentimes choosing to pursue a career as a professional athlete comes at the cost of putting off your education, launching a career, and delaying starting a family,” she said in a statement. “With pickleball being so new combined with the fact that females are generally underrepresented when it comes to sponsorships, I am so grateful to have the WIPA working behind the scenes to make it more feasible for us to choose pickleball as a career.”

Part of making that happen means offering adequate prize money for each competitor. Rachel Hong explained to Boardroom other ways they’ll push for comparable earnings.

“Very rarely is there a sport that’s new enough where you can start out with equitable pay,” she said. “Sponsorship opportunities for women are also what I really want our organization to advocate for, because that’s where women are underrepresented in sports. Females are driving one of the fastest growing sports in the country, and there’s significant need for guidance to help get these women the representation they deserve.”

Athletes affiliated with WIPA will have the chance to play in the first-ever World Tour exclusively for women. WIPA, alongside its partners, will also provide players access to critical benefits during and after their careers. As conversations surrounding pickleball’s prospects as an NCAA or Olympic sport intensify, Hong says WIPA’s future objectives will reflect those advancements.

“Once those things start happening, you can kind of reverse engineer this and the pros can start bringing this to middle schools, P.E. programs, and now colleges are forming pickleball clubs,” Hong said. “[That] they’re so willing to grow the sport from the ground up is why their involvement in this is so critical. To potentially bring in another NCAA sport that gives women another opportunity to play at the collegiate level puts us on the right track to bring this sport to every community.”

For Ogwumike, she sees the potential of the sport, not only for the women playing at the professional level as it takes off, but for professional athletes like herself who are hungry for competition after they retire from their.

“I came late to the pickleball game, but it’s really the best-kept secret,” Ogwumike told Boardroom. “As someone that works in media and also currently plays at the professional level, what caught my eye was increasing representation but also, a lot of former athletes see this as a viable way to keep competing.”

Ogwumike, who is also an NBA analyst for ESPN, isn’t wrong. Retired NBA champion Dirk Nowitzki, former New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees, and USWNT legend Julie Foudy have all endorsed pickleball as their pastime of choice in their post-professional lives.

While the future of the sport begins to unfurl, WIPA will be on the frontlines ensuring the central position of women and enabling their equitable share of its success.

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About The Author
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi
Vinciane Ngomsi is a Staff Writer at Boardroom. She began her career in sports journalism with bylines at SB Nation, USA Today and, most recently, Yahoo. She received a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Truman State University and when she's not watching old clips of Serena Williams' best matches, she is likely perfecting her signature chocolate chip cookie recipe or preparing a traditional Cameroonian meal.