Copy of my #TheSafeSpace Column published in the Times Of Swaziland on the 23rd of March 2016:
Tennis is a fantastic sport. The path to be the best in game is conquered through sheer stamina, endurance, perseverance and talent. I am hardly the biggest fan of the sport but I keep enough tabs on it to know ‘who’s who in the zoo’. As with all major sports nowadays, men and women compete in their own separate tournaments, guided by different organisational bodies. The men’s tours are run by the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) whilst women fall under WTA (Women’s Tennis Association).
For as long as I can remember, there has been on-going debates about the men’s game versus the women’s. In a majority of the instances, the conversation is sexist and centres on how ‘the men’s game is more attractive and competitive’ or the perception that ‘no woman who can survive in the ATP circuit’. This kind of talk is baffling considering that players like Serena can mop the floor with a highly rated male counterpart if given the chance.
This past Sunday, Indian Wells’ CEO and tournament director took it the next level with comments that were downright disturbing, disgusting and derogatory. Speaking ahead of the women’s final, Ray Moore said that the women’s game rides on the ‘coat tails of the men’. He then went on to say, ‘if I was a lady player, I would go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have’.
The madness did not end there. After winning the men’s final, world number 1, Novak Djokovic was asked about the issue of equal pay and recognition (for men and women) in Tennis. The usually composed and sensible Djokovic went off the rails and in many ways echoed Moore’s sentiments. Firstly, he described the issue as ‘delicate’. Come on Novak, what is so delicate about women getting the same prize money when we can all see that their game is at par with men?!
Djokovic then decided on the route of diplomacy and once again go it painfully wrong. He applauded the strides that the women’s game has made but called for the men to receive more money since ‘statistics show that the men’s game attracts more spectators’. As Serena pointed out when she spoke on the issue, the argument of statistics does not hold water considering that the women’s final at the 2015 US Open sold out before the men’s. Djokovic’s comments then turned bizarre when he talked about the ‘tremendous respect’ he has for women’s tennis since they go through things that men don’t go through, like ‘hormones and different stuff’’. What?!
The only thing that women go through in Tennis is the constantly belittling. Men like Moore and Djokovic act like women are in the sport due to favour not merit. They act like women don’t spend years doing 12 hour shifts on the court perfecting their forehand. This type of behaviour is simply unacceptable, not only in Tennis but also in society. Personally, I have lost all respect for Djokovic because in my view, a champion is not just a winner on the court. An athlete must also use his platform to champion causes like equality, not only in his professional realm, but in society as a whole.
Feel free to share your comments with me through Twitter (@chr1sfleming), blog (www.chr1sfleming.wordpress.com) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org. Until we meet again, goodbye.
Cover image source: www.vocativ.com