Spotlight On Sexism in Sport

By Ben Hamill - November 02 2018

There is a lot of attention on sexual harassment and double standards experienced by women right now. These are issues that have been real and extremely problematic for years, but they are being talked about more openly and, hopefully, dealt with a little better. But things might have to get worse before they get better. The #MeToo campaign empowered women to share appalling sexual harassment stories, and the sheer number of those who have suffered is shocking. Bringing the issues into the open is important to ultimately improving the situation, but it can be really painful.

And the double standards that women have had to endure, where they have to outperform men to be thought as good or have to accept lower rewards for their efforts, need to be confronted in the same way. Sexism is still rife. We know women are paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same work, and that female representation in tech, engineering and many other industries is woefully poor. In many instances, the prejudice is much subtler than outright criticism of the fairer sex, but it’s there. Even at the highest levels of sport.

Two Sets of Rules in Tennis

 A dress code for the French Open was instituted after Serena Williams wore a black catsuit to the 2018 event. Though she said it made her feel powerful, it’s important to note that it was also intended to help safeguard against any future blood clots, a dangerous phenomenon that she faced during her pregnancy. Then she got into trouble at the 2018 US Open, earning a point penalty for smashing her racquet, and then a game penalty for berating the umpire. And, also at the US Open, Alize Cornet was slapped with a court violation when she adjusted her shirt.

Cornet came back onto the court after changing, and realised her shirt was on backwards. She stepped into the shadows, quickly removed it, turned it around and put it back on. Underneath, she was wearing a crop top far more modest than what many women choose (as is their right) to work out in. Ultimately, the United States Tennis Association apologised to Cornet, and nothing came of the violation. But all of this has created a huge public outcry, and accusations of insidious sexism. Imagining dress codes being rewritten because a man wore a tight suit is almost impossible, and male players change their shirts on the courts all the time. As for Williams’ “verbal abuse” of the umpire, it’s nothing compared to what men have been doing for years.

John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors and many other male champions have done far worse than calling their umpire a thief for stealing their point, which is what she did. All-in-all, tensions seem to be rising. If you’d rather read about sports news drama than be around when it happens, perhaps your best option for the moment is to avoid live events. You can always get your adrenaline pumping with some of the sports-themed slots games that are available online!

The Conversation is Just Starting

While these confrontations are uncomfortable, there is a growing consensus that double standards are unacceptable. Wage discrepancies between male and female athletes are also marked, and in a landmark case the United States Women’s Hockey team threatened to boycott the 2017 World Championships unless they got equal pay. Ultimately they did, and it was hard-won, but change often is. The important thing for moving on from where we are now, it seems, is to keep talking about it. And that’s just what Williams, Cornet, and the celebrities (such as Billie Jean King) and ordinary people who came out in support of them are doing.