Tennis Has a Sexism Problem

Tennis’ Outdated Culture Overshadows Players and Talent

  • Graphic Kayleigh Valentine

The year is 2015, Eugenie Bouchard had just come off of the best year of her career and was well on her way to becoming a global tennis superstar.

Ensuing struggles aside, one moment after her second round victory in the Australian Open is one of only points of note in an otherwise disappointing season.

After her win, interviewer Ian Cohen commented on Bouchard’s outfit, and asked Bouchard to “give the crowd a twirl,” as if crushing an opponent in only 54 minutes was merely a secondary accomplishment.

While the controversy surrounding that particular moment died down quickly, it’s a symptom of a much larger problem in tennis as well as nearly every other major sport in the world.

Women in sport are not treated the same as men.

Another glaring example of this happened just this year in the French Open, where organizers banned Serena Williams from wearing a one-piece Nike compression suit that ended up being called a “catsuit” in the future. The decision to forbid the use of the “catsuit” was made solely to control the way female tennis players looked, with little to no regard as to how it helped them play.

This isn’t like swimming where the use of a full-body suit led to outrageously fast times and records being broken every other race. The catsuit offered no competitive advantage whatsoever and was, in fact, used for medical purposes.

Nike specifically designed the suit for Williams after she had blood clots resulting from the delivery of her baby. The suit helped her avoid reigniting the condition while playing. The all black ensemble had one red mark around her waist as an act of solidarity with all women who have had complications with their pregnancy.

If a tournament like Wimbledon enforces a dress code of all white because that’s the aesthetic they want, then they should be free to do so. However, tournaments and sports organizations that make up excuses to justify controlling what women wear by accusing players like Williams of “disrespecting the game” is not only sexist, but regressive in the fight for the equal treatment of women in sport.

Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation, is hurting the case of women’s place in sport by using this kind of justification. WIlliams, the player he accused of not respecting the game, is not only arguably the greatest tennis player—male or female—ever, but one of the most dominant athletes of all time.

Then comes the issue that was in the news during the final of the U.S. Open, where Williams was deducted an entire game for arguing with the official. Williams felt like she was judged harshly by the umpire given the fact that she was a woman. She was also fined a total of $17 000 after the match.

Carlos Ramos, the official in question, also officiated a French Open match where former world number one men’s player Novak Djokovic repeatedly protested calls over the course of the match and even went as far as telling him that he “had lost his mind.” However Djokovic wasn’t even penalized a point, let alone an entire game, in a final where the slightest change of momentum can have a massive effect on the rest of the match.

Another issue is the manner in which the final was treated by a couple of news outlets, including one horribly racist comic from Australian newspaper the Herald Sun. A comic by artist Mark Knight depicted Williams looking more like a 1920s Jim Crow caricature of a black woman rather than Williams herself.

Rather than championing Naomi Osaka, the first Japanese woman to ever win a Grand Slam tournament, press outlets all the world fed into the “angry black woman” narrative. Showing once again that even when progress is made by women in sports, there are always those that seek to paint only in a negative light.

This has been a problem in tennis as well as sport in general long before Eugenie Bouchard or Serena Williams were around. Until more women are put in charge of female sporting events and organizations, in both the pro and amateur scene, this will continue to be an unfortunately recurring case.

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