The finals of the US Open 2018 was filled with surprises and frustrations. It was exciting to watch Naomi Osaka beat Serena Williams, a 23 grand slam titles champion, but also disappointing to see how it went down with umpire Carlos Ramos and Williams. The umpire was accused of being sexist when he gave penalty points for Williams’s behavior on the court. Unfortunately, such an act from the umpire is rare to be seen in male tennis matches. The claim of sexism in this game is an outburst of Williams’s unfair treatment in the field of tennis and may be the very voice of women in sports.
▲ Umpire Ramos and Selena Williams at the US Open 2018. Provided by Hypebeast
It all started when umpire Ramos gave Williams a warning for receiving instructions from her coach. Although the coach admitted that he was coaching, the athlete claimed that she did not see it and would never cheat on court. After the incident, she continued to play smoothly until she smashed her racket as the game was not on her side. This resulted in a penalty point and made her call the umpire a “thief” for it, which cost her a game penalty. In the blink of an eye, the score went from two-six to three-five. Thus, she claimed she was treated unfairly and that the umpire was sexist.
What Williams Keeps on Facing
Previously this year, the grand slam tournaments have been rough for Williams. After her return from childbirth, she wore a black spandex catsuit to the French Open 2018. She said at an interview after the game “I call it, like, my Wakanda-inspired catsuit.” Moreover, she dedicated this to all the mothers who are recovering from pregnancy. Apparently, this was not inspiring to the French Tennis Federation President, Bernard Giudiclli who specifically banned her outfit in the French Open saying, “one must respect the game and the place” to the Tennis magazine. His words penetrate the core problem of women’s bodies and their proper dress code.
▲ Serena Williams at the French Open 2018. Provided by Wikimedia Commons.
Williams has been receiving hurtful comments on her body ever since giving birth. Although the suit was also designed with a medical purpose to help prevent blood clots, it is unfortunate that the aesthetical part stands out more when it comes to women and tight suits. However, Nike stood up for Williams by posting on Twitter, “You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers.” Rather than being recognized for her superpower of playing at major tournaments after shortly recovering from childbirth, her shape and size were more of a concern for others. These constant judgments of women’s bodies that Williams is facing truly ruin the integrity of women’s sports.
Fortunately, the unfair treatment experienced by Williams in the US Open has not been regarded only as her issues. Jake Blake, a retired professional tennis player, wrote on Twitter saying, “will admit I have said worse and not gotten penalized.” However, there are opposing views to this, as the International Tennis Federation (ITF) backed for Ramos. It claims the umpire has done his job according to the relevant rules. Bae Seulgi, the director of the Korean Tennis Association, said, “For me it seemed more like a racial discrimination than a gender one.” She added, “Alize Cornet, who changed her shirt on court got warned when men freely take off or switch their shirt. This is more of a sexism than Williams’s case.”
Being a “Real” Woman
There is an uncomfortable feeling risen when it comes to women’s bodies within the sports community. Female athletes are continuously judged on their bodies and looks even when their performances are outstanding. Williams has been the victim of this for a long time. After her sixth Wimbledon, she received a negative Twitter comment from an anonymous account saying her success is only due to her being built like a man. Unfortunately Williams is not the only victim, as many other women are also faced with body shaming in sports. As an athlete, it natural to be fit. Yet, having a muscular body is being less womanly and is frowned upon.
Furthermore, attractiveness matters when it comes to endorsement deals of female athletes. However, male athletes are normally judged by their performance rather than how they look. For example, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) has makeup seminars to secure sponsorship deals. Chairwoman Bae added, “Female athletes are more often commercialized than male athletes and this should be rectified.” Moreover, double standards exist not only in appearances but also in assessing their behaviors. As Bill Jean King tweeted, “When a woman is emotional, she’s hysterical” however when a man misbehaves then “he is outspoken.”
Korea is no exception from this controversy. Kim Yeon-koung, a popular volleyball player, claimed on Twitter that the salary gap between female and male athletes is too prominent. She added she would even have to “retire from the Korea league” and mourned over how nothing becomes better. In addition to payment issues, the Korean media is one of the worst platforms when portraying female athletes. According to the Korea Sport and Olympic Committee, the ratio of media coverage between male and female athletes was 91:9. Most of the media coverage on female athletes was about looks and feminine sports such as figure skating or gymnastics. The articles online would give these athletes nicknames like “beauty star” or “goddess” which clearly shows the media’s perception towards external looks.
Sports has normally been considered a male dominant field. Therefore, subtly there has been discrimination against women who love sports, but this has never been brought up seriously. However, this time Williams had the guts to speak up on the prominent problem on an international level. It is moments like these when people recognize the decency for future athletes. “It is important to wisely utilize the merits that only women have,” said Chairwoman Bae encouraging young athletes by saying, “I hope they make the best of what they have and become the assets of making a strong female society.”