There was a point in my childhood when I wanted to play tennis. My reason? The skirts, duh! And this oversized, hot pink-and-purple tennis racket I had my eye on at Sportmart. I soon found that it’s quite easy for a young woman to exploit her looks without being even remotely athletic, however, and subsequently forgot about the flippy white skirts as I pursued much racer ventures…and outfits.
But we all know, looks still take center court when it comes to tennis. Anna K taught us that. And a new hubbub at Wimbledon is driving it home even harder.
According to a flurry of media reports, when it comes to choosing which women play on W’s Center Court, a nice rack and long locks matter more than a strong backhand. To wit: The unseeded world No 45, Gisela Dulko of Argentina, played on Centre Court last week; World No 59 Maria Kirilenko of Russia did, too. But No 5 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia was relegated to Court 1; No 2 seed Serena Williams of the U.S. was on Court 2.
Can you say “WFT?”
Of course, sex appeal is part of the game. We’re only women, after all, and the big men in charge need some way to get men to watch. But tennis stars – be they conventionally attractive or not – deserve to be ranked according to their skill and accomplishment, not their facial symmetry.
Those in charge of the scheduling aren’t even attempting to cover up the disparity: "Good looks are a factor," All England Club spokesman Johnny Perkins (the Wimbledon Championships are held at the All England Club) told London's Daily Mail. "It's not a coincidence that those [on Centre Court] are attractive."
I mean, kudos and all for manning up and telling the truth, but the truth really sucks. It’s revolting, misogynistic and downright embarrassing.
Charlotte at The Great Fitness Experiment recently attacked the controversy, noting,“Of course no similar trend has been noticed among the men. Apparently the tennis officials are just giving the people want they want - and they think we would rather see pretty-but-weaker-players rather than the strong athletes that would show the best athletic competitions.”
She also touches on the stick topic of blame – are the female athletes themselves somehow to blame for buying into a sport that has, for years, had the reputation of promoting the sexy over the strong? “…It also makes me wonder if the ‘pretty’ center court girls worry more about which custom Nike tennis dress they will be wearing than if their backhand is stellar,” Charlotte blogs. “Or, even worse, that they might avoid lifting weights or training hard because they don't want to ‘bulk up’ and look more like the muscular athletes they are than catwalk models.”
I don’t blame the women for what’s happening at Wimbledon. Sure, some of them make more money through sponsorships and starring in racy commercials than winning a Grand Slam, but they’re playing The Game and making bank while doing it. And even though some, like Maria Sharapova, complain about the focus on their looks, they nonetheless seem to enjoy the attention – after all, Sharapova agreed to pose for this month’s ESPN the Magazine in this, but in the interview, she says comments, “The players' lounge isn't a nightclub, either. It's hard to get ready for a match when there's a bleached-out blonde in six-inch stilettos and a denim miniskirt hanging out. Who is this person, and why is she here?" Yet click back and take a look at her ESPN pic. Blonde. Stilettos. Minskirt. Check, check, check.
This Wimbledon placement thing seems like a clear-cut issue of “sex sells” and as a result, powerhouses like Serena Williams are being shoved off to the side like some ugly stepchild. I do wish the players who are ranked low but placed on the center courts would speak out in defense of their stronger sisters, kind of like I wish the person who found the $20 I lost the other day would bend over, pick up the bill and walk around my neighborhood asking, “Does this money belong to you?” until he found me, the rightful owner. Not. Gonna. Happen.