Time to end the tennis fashion show

To say that the last fortnight has been unpredictable is an understatement. The UK voted for Brexit and Prime Minister David Cameron subsequently resigned. He will be succeeded by either Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom meaning that the UK will have its second woman Prime Minister. While at Euro 2016 England were humiliated by Iceland causing manager Roy Hodgson to resign while in contrast Wales had an amazing run to the Semi Finals and it took the genius of Cristiano Ronaldo to end their dream.

But it is nice to know that even in this crazy fortnight some things never change. Serena Williams reached yet another Wimbledon Final crushing her Russian opponent Elena Vesnina 6-2 6-0 in 48 minutes the shortest Grand Slam semi final this century. Predictably this mismatch caused the UK press to criticise the fact that women players get equal pay to men players at Wimbledon. Even BBC Sport’s Twitter account got in on the act tweeting “Her match lasted just 48 minutes…but Serena Williams says female players deserve equal pay”.Twitter user Nikita (@kyrptobanana) pointed out that when Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic won matches easily the BBC just mentioned that the players had won easily they did not imply that the male players did not deserve their prize money. BBC sport subsequently deleted the tweet but the damage had been done. And the BBC are meant to be progressive at least by UK media standards…

Now I’ve mentioned the equal pay issue before (in posts “The lesson from history that proves sexist Moore wrong” and “How to end tennis equal pay arguments”) but there are a couple of issues about this year’s Wimbledon besides the equal pay debate that shows that although tennis is more gender equal than other sports it is still a long way from true gender equality.

One example is ticket prices for the men’s final and the women’s final. If you want to buy a ticket for this year’s men’s singles final it will set you back £175. If you want a ticket for the women’s singles final you will only need to pay £145. Now as Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano point out (in “Playing with the boys, pages 239-240) tennis is by no means unique in charging more to watch men play than women play. But in the case of football, cricket, rugby and basketball the higher charges can be justified by the fact that demand for tickets to see men play is higher than to see women play so the price is set accordingly. But at Wimbledon both men’s and women’s finals could fill Centre Court several times over so there is no market logic for the price difference. Nor does the fact that the men play best of five sets and the women play the best of three justify the difference. Just because the men play best of five does not mean their match will necessarily last longer. The men’s final could end say 6-3 6-2 6-4 and the women’s could end say 7-5 6-7 8-6. In that hypothetical scenario the women’s final could last longer but no one would say the women should get paid more. The length of a match is a red herring.

Another example of sexism in tennis is so taken for granted that no one notices it. The men wear shorts while the women wear dresses or short skirts that shows off the women players underwear allows men to ogle them and hinders their athletic performance. For example at this year’s Wimbledon the clothing company Nike showed off what the Daily Telegraph called “super short baby-doll dresses”. Swedish player Rebecca Peterson said the dress would distract her by flying up when she was serving. Ridiculous – and the men don’t wear outfits like this! Peterson raises a serious point about how these outfits can hinder a player’s performance. When players are serving they like to carry a spare ball with them in case they need one for a second serve. No problem for the male players who just put the spare ball in the pocket of their shorts. Women can’t do this as dresses and skirts don’t have pockets. They have to put them up their underwear giving men another excuse to stare at them. Tennis is one of the few sports where the male and female outfits are different from each other. In football, cricket, rugby and basketball the male and female uniforms are the same. Both male baseball and female softball players wear the same uniforms. Field hockey is the only other sport where the men wear shorts and the women wear skirts but at least the skirts in field hockey are not as short as they are in tennis.

There is no reason – apart from sexism and tradition – why women tennis players cannot wear shorts. Women often practice in shorts and some women – most notably Victoria Azarenka – have worn shorts in matches. If women tennis players played matches in shorts they would be making a statement that they are equal to men and that they are elite athletes not sex objects there to be gawped at by leering men.

Unfortunately the women are not being helped by their own governing body. You would think that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) would be keen to promote their players as elite athletes not sex symbols. And you would be wrong. The WTA are actually running a best dressed player award at this year’s Wimbledon. Needless to say there is not a best dressed man award. Wimbledon is a tennis tournament not a catwalk. The women are not there to look good and be gawped at by men they are there to win tennis matches. It is time for unisex tennis outfits. It is time for grender equality. It is time to end the tennis fashion show. In fact it should have ended long before now.

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