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Unsporting Standards

This past week has seen the beginning of the Tennis U.S Open, one of the four major tennis tournaments each calendar year. The world’s best come to compete in these matches, and thus it was no surprise that the world number 38, Alize Cornet, was playing. In her first round match, heading into the third and final set, Cornet changed her shirt on court, and received a formal warning from the umpire.

Changing shirts on court is done by male tennis players all the time. It was 38 degrees Celsius. She was wearing a perfectly respectable sports bra underneath. And besides, she was only actually changing it because she’d put it on backwards. In spite of all that, she received a violation. That is ridiculous.

Temperatures have become near-unbearable at this years US Open – but that did not prevent Cornet from receiving a warning for changing shirts.

In their defence, the act has been widely condemned from all circles. The Women’s Tennis Organisation criticised the ruling as “unfair”, while the organisers of the Open also expressed their regret. However, this example is yet another demonstration that many sports are still shamefully far behind on equality between the sexes. Tennis has made significant progress in recent years, equaling the prize money awarded to both male and female athletes at every major competition, and providing good coverage of their respective tournaments. However, more insidious elements remain, such as the limit on sets at the majors. There is no functional reason as to why women play best of three sets, while men play best of five. Women are perfectly capable of playing an extra two sets, but the rule remains in place as a holdover from the belief that women just were not strong enough to play as much. Example such as these need to be changed.

Furthermore, tennis is far from the biggest sinner here. In ice hockey, women aren’t allowed to ‘check’ opponents – the traditional full body hit that ice hockey is well known for – because it is understood that their petite bodies wouldn’t be able to handle it. In athletics, women perform the heptathlon, not the decathlon like their male counterparts, because men naturally can complete more events. In chess, women and men compete separately, because women clearly are not smart enough to keep up. Even setting aside the further issues of unbalanced coverage and pay, there are far too many examples in sports where women are blatantly disparaged for no reason other than sexist holdovers from the past. This has to change.

Female ice hockey players are talented professionals, and yet are barred from a key part of their sport.

Progress is being made. As stated, tennis has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and other sports are making slow but real progress too. Women’s football in the UK is finally receiving reasonable coverage in the UK, with regular BBC reports and live matches on TV through BT Sport. Women’s rugby too has seen improvement, with the British first league slowly pushing towards being fully professionalised. And these developments have paid off too, with more girls getting involved in these sports than ever before, and record turnouts to matches. All this is proving that women’s sports can be popular if given the chance. But many problems remain, and there is still much work to be done.

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