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This Controversy Should Be An Opportunity To Look At Gender Discrimination In Sports

Tennis ace Serena Williams’ outburst in the US Open finals last week has left the tennis world in a churn. The controversy involving chair umpire Carlos Ramos’s regulation of the match—in which Williams was first issued a warning for a “coaching” violation and then docked a point for racket abuse, and finally, docked a game for calling Ramos, who has a reputation for going strictly by the rule book, a “thief” for “stealing” her point because she was a woman—has the tennis world, and indeed, public opinion at large, split down to the middle. The likes of Billie Jean King believe that women do indeed get a raw deal in tennis while many other tennis greats have pointed to Ramos’s strictness with male players to say that Williams has taken offence where none was meant. In fact, in retaliation, tennis umpires are considering forming a union and lobby to not regulate matches involving Williams.

Tennis stars Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, John McEnroe and Andre Agassi have all berated chair umpires, earning both penalties and slaps on the wrists. Retired US tennis star Andy Roddick tweeted, “I’ve regrettably said worse and I’ve never gotten a game penalty”. French tennis player Alize Cornet received a code violation a few weeks ago for briefly taking off her shirt on the court. During a 10-minute break from the blistering heat, Cornet rushed off-court to change her shirt. When she returned, she realised that she was wearing it the wrong way and fixed her top. In response to this, the US Open stated that female players have the option to change courts in a “more private location close to the court”, whereas male tennis stars such as Djokovic and Nadal regularly sit down shirtless between games without being penalised. There are, without doubt, shades of gender discrimination in most sports, but Williams and others should pay heed to what tennis legend Martina Navratilova said: The discrimination against women is real, but that doesn’t mean Williams should demand the same relaxations for women as men get. Instead, she should have demanded that men be held to equally tough standards.

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