Wimbledon, Tennis and Sexism

14 July 2013



Marion Bartoli , this year's Women's Singles Champion at Wimbledon 





John Inverdale, the BBC broadcaster , is not the first man to offer a post-event apology for sexist comments about a female performer.

His comments about Marion Bartoli  earned a put-down from the women’s singles champion at Wimbledon, made all the more effective by its graceful dismissal  of his egregious remark that some women have to toil for success because of a “lack” of “looks”.

She replied :

"I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I'm sorry."

"But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.

 “And to share this moment with my dad was absolutely amazing and I am so proud of it."

 Women continue to be judged by their appearance rather than by their ability.

Tennis is not the only sport afflicted by sexism.

 What makes it special is that professional tennis can be a big-money sport for some.

 A win at Wimbledon is not an event but part of a process that leads to lucrative earnings from not just fashion shoots, endorsing cosmetic cosmetics or having your own range for those judged to be “photogenic”

Last year’s Forbes magazine’s 100 highest-paid athletes included two female tennis stars. -

Maria Sharapova with career earnings of over £18 million.

Her sponsors include Nike, Samsung, and Evian.

Forbes report that “ Her ballet flat is the best selling female shoe for Cole Haan.”

- and Li Na who has amassed career earnings of over £12 million

Her sponsors include Mercedes.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired from the men’s singles competition at Wimbledon following an injury during the contest this year.

In January he had speculated , supposedly jokingly, as to why a consistently successful group of women had not emerged in women’s tennis comparable with the “Big Four” of Federer,  Nadal, Djokovic, and Andy Murray in the men’s game.

Australian news outlets reported him saying :

"The girls they are more unstable emotionally than us,'' Tsonga said with a smile, when asked why there were more upsets in the women's draw.

"I'm sure everybody will say it's true, even the girls.”

“Tsonga looked, smiling, across the room and saw surprised smiling faces and a few shaking heads. ‘No? No, you don't think? But, I mean, it’s just about hormones and all this stuff. We [men] don't have all these bad things, so we are physically in a good shape every time, and you are not. That's it,’ he said.”

So women’s consistency in performance  is supposedly dependent on a whim of hormonal variations.

Men’s performance , therefore, sets the criteria by which women are judged.

Some men congratulate women on playing tennis “like a man” with former Wimbledon winner Pat Cash complimenting Samantha Stosur, saying,

“She’s got the perfect game for clay: big, powerful.

“She plays like a man. Big serve and brings a lot of pressure.”

However, complimenting male players by saying that they play “like a woman” has few adherents.

The implication is that all men are superior players than women, which is mistaken.

Women may play a different style of tennis than men do, but this does make not make their game inferior.

Women may also be judged by their oral utterances.

Grunting noises made by female players as they make strokes may ruffle the expectations of some that women must sound polite, proper and well-mannered at all times.  

The Australian journalist, Richard Hinds, writing in The Age earlier this year  made this contemptible attack  at the Australian Women’s Open ,

“Tickets for the Australian Open have been on sale for almost four months. Yet, as of Thursday afternoon, the women's final was not sold out.

“Perhaps that was because the $294.90 adult tickets did not come with complimentary ear plugs.

“An oversight given the ''Decibelles'', Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, had proven last year that if rock'n'roll ain't noise pollution, women's tennis often is.

“Why pay for a sensory experience you can get for nothing standing outside an open window at a brothel?”

Badminton has never been considered as the equal of tennis for professional careers , popularity , and well-known name stars.

Despite this, sexism gripped the World Badminton Federation in the run –up to the 2012 London Olympics.

The New York Times related the story :

“In an attempt to revive flagging interest in women’s badminton as the 2012 London Olympics approach, officials governing the sport have decided that its female athletes need to appear more, how to put it, womanly

“To create a more ‘attractive presentation,’ the Badminton World Federation has decreed that women must wear skirts or dresses to play at the elite level, beginning Wednesday.

“Many now compete in shorts or tracksuit pants.

 “The dress code would make female players appear more feminine and appealing to fans and corporate sponsors, officials said.

“Male players are required only to dress in ‘proper attire,’ officials said.”

Huge protests saw the proposed new dress code quickly scrapped as “a blatant attempt to sexualize women”

It was one more episode in the long struggle to change out-of-date and denigrating  attitudes and bring them into alignment with how women today see themselves so that they are recognised for their ability, and not for their body form.

If one size does not fit all, then neither does one shape fit all.

In Greek mythology, one type of female face may have launched a thousand ships, but today one type of female face will not determine who wins female sporting championships.


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