WNBA’s Chiney Ogwumike co-founds organization empowering women’s pickleball players

Pickleball continues to grow, and efforts are already being made early to ensure women have a level playing field in that process.

The Women’s International Pickleball Association (WIPA) officially launched Wednesday.

Co-founded by Los Angeles Sparks player and ESPN "NBA Today" talent Chiney Ogwumike, pickleball pro Rachel Hong and Disrupt the Game president Allison Galer, WIPA’s goal is to “ensure women in pickleball have an ecosystem to best serve their success,” a release said.

“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."

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JULY 04: Chiney Ogwumike #13 of the Los Angeles Sparks looks to pass the ball in the first half against the Phoenix Mercury at Arena on July 04, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Chiney Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks and ESPN is a co-founder of WIPA. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Athletes affiliated with WIPA will have the chance to play in an inaugural world tour exclusively for women. As conversations about as an NCAA or Olympic sport gain traction, Hong says WIPA will attempt to play a role in those developments.

A large part of WIPA’s work will also be advocating for equitable compensation for each competitor. Hong explained that this will include pushing for comparable prize money amounts and sponsorships.

“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.”

Though the the tennis, badminton, and ping pong hybrid was already popular at the grassroots level, pickleball has pushed into the mainstream quickly.

Partially responsible for this increase in momentum are sports stars like former NFL quarterback Drew Brees, and NBA stars LeBron James, Draymond Green, Kevin Love and Kevin Durant. Those athletes have made headlines for supporting the game and investing in Major League Pickleball teams. Adding to its appeal, former athletes like retired NBA champion Dirk Nowitzki and USWNT great Julie Foudy have cited pickleball as a way to continue competing in their post-professional lives.

To its credit, the sport is not only prioritizing involvement of female athletes and investors, but also older people. The most recent Major League Pickleball tournament featured five-player squads, with competitors ranging from high school students to athletes of 40 years and older.

Truly seeming to be a sport for all, we can expect to see more investments, initiatives, and public pickleball challenges from some unexpected athletes in the future.