Most conventionally-attractive female players scheduled for centre court, admits Wimbledon

by Jess McCabe // 30 June 2009, 10:10

The All England Club has admitted that it schedules matches between "attractive" female players for Centre Court at Wimbledon, reports the Daily Mail.

In the men's tournament, five-times winner Roger Federer and British hope Andy Murray invariably play on Centre.

But on Friday, after Federer left the court, the next match was Victoria Azarenka of Belarus against Romania's Sorana Cirstea.

While both 19-year-olds have top form in the glamour department, Miss Cirstea was seeded 28 while Miss Azarenka, who won, is ranked and seeded eighth.

That same day, second seed Serena Williams was relegated to the new No 2 Court for her win over Italian Roberta Vinci.

The All England Club didn't even bother to deny it:

Spokesman Johnny Perkins said: 'Good looks are a factor.'

The Mail speculates that Wimbledon organisers are trying to cater to the BBC. An unnamed "BBC source" said:

'No one has heard of many of the women now, so if they are pretty it definitely gives them an edge.

'Our preference would always be a Brit or a babe as this always delivers high viewing figures.'

The tennis players have, unsurprisingly, noticed too, and are none-too-happy:

The fifth seed, who was knocked out on Saturday on No 1 Court, said: 'It's weird. If you look at the schedule, it's not only about me.

'It's about Dinara on Court No 2, Venus (Williams) on Court No 1 and the girls who are not very highly seeded they play on Centre.

'I respect them. They're great players for sure. But this is what's weird for me; what's their strategy, what's their plan of making the schedule?

'This is what surprises me a little bit.'

Twice champion Serena Williams even got lost on the way to No 2 Court on Friday.

She was nearly ten minutes late for her match.

(Of course, the Mail, champion of women, took the opportunity to illustrate the story with huge photos of the players labelling who played on centre court and who didn't, and captioning one with a reference to the "Battle of the Babes".)

UPDATE: Reader Audrey emailed in with the info on how to complain - go here for details on how to write to the All England Club.

Comments From You

Laura Woodhouse // Posted 30 June 2009 at 10:28

The full Wimbledon schedule for the first week can be found here - there are quite a few examples of this practice going on and it's really offensive.

JenniferRuth // Posted 30 June 2009 at 11:14

That is fucking appalling - I can't believe they admit to this.

MissBHave // Posted 30 June 2009 at 11:30

Oh my god - that is disgusting! Does anyone know if there's someone we could write to?

maggie // Posted 30 June 2009 at 12:20

I never watch the first week of Wimbledon. But this practise is...well JenniferRuth expressed it beautifully.

Kirsty // Posted 30 June 2009 at 12:37

I wish I could be more eloquent, but I can't: AARRGGHHH!!!

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 30 June 2009 at 13:30

MissBHave:

The All England Lawn Tennis Club, the organisation that hosts Wimbledon, has a contact page with a telephone number and postal address, and an email form. I guess writing to them would be the most direct way to express displeasure.

I'm inclined to write from a bi-male perspective asking why hot male totty isn't being highlighted in the same way, and Federer etc being relegated to courts 1 and 2 to make way for manbabes on Centre Court.

But on a serious note, this is just sickening. AAA and whoever the professional athletics body is don't schedule athletics events on this basis, so why would the AELTC?

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 30 June 2009 at 13:56

Addendum to the last comment: it seems that email comments are not always replied to; but all letters received by post will be read and receive a reply, so it's worth the expense of a postage stamp to make sure the AELTC know we're not happy.

nick // Posted 30 June 2009 at 17:52

Unfortunately, making money is more important than any ideals. If tennis+pretty makes more money than tennis-pretty then as a businessperson that is what will win out.

David Kames // Posted 30 June 2009 at 18:07

>But this is what’s weird for me; what’s their strategy, what’s their plan of making the schedule?

That should be obvious: to make the most money they can.

>Our preference would always be a Brit or a babe as this always delivers high viewing figures.

You said it BBC.
Tennis isn't a very widely followed game in Britain - the only time it gets major coverage is when Wimbledon is on. If there was a real mass audience for professional tennis for it's own sake, one hopes there would be less of this kind of thing. As it is, organisers and media will do what they can to draw a crowd.

All in all, it's is offensive - but only to be expected.

Angela // Posted 30 June 2009 at 21:09

Just sent off my complaint- how is the women's Championship ever going to be judged on par with the men's when even the competition's ORGANISERS are undermining its integrity as a serious athletic event

Karen // Posted 30 June 2009 at 22:10

Just complained, ta for the link, what on earth? I would say I can't believe it (my partner couldn't) but sadly I do. Probably the most misquoted but truthful line from the Bible probably applies here I think: "the love of money is the root of all evil"

Jess McCabe // Posted 30 June 2009 at 23:55

@David Kames @nick

Yes, it's as clear as day that's the reason. So?

David Kames // Posted 01 July 2009 at 00:13

@Jess
So? It's yet another example of women's good looks being regarded as a "commodity" that can be sold.

If you want suggestions for solutions:
1.We should stop watching professional tennis. In fact, we stop watching professional sport all together, and instead play sport ourselves.
(I think this is a good idea myself - others may disagree)
2.Have the women play in men's tennis whites (re-sized, of course) in the hope that less sexy outfits lead to less selling sexiness.
(I honestly don't see why they don't - perhaps they could be persuaded to as part of a campaign to be taken seriously as sports people? No more knickers flashing on Centre court? The end of tennis as we know it....)
3.Violent Anti-capitalist insurrection - followed by your choice of a Centrally Planned Economy (much easier to run with modern computing power) or a federation of workers and consumers co-operatives.
4.We keep our present economic and sporting structures and the great mass of men somehow becoming un-willing to pay to see people they find attractive play tennis, pose naked or have sex...

I'm afraid this last option seems the most unlikely.

Qubit // Posted 01 July 2009 at 01:19

How come it is inevitable in the women's game but completely unimaginable in the men's game? I find it a nice coincidence Laura's post above this is on how she feels women are constantly presented for men. I am not surprised but maybe that is the problem. I would be incredibly surprised if the same thing happened to men.

Aimee // Posted 01 July 2009 at 07:57

*sigh*... I've noticed it's only men who maintain the 'it's not perfect, but it's the way it is' attitude. I wonder if they would be so dismissive if it was an issue directly discriminating against men?

Lisa // Posted 01 July 2009 at 20:38

1.Complain to the BBC (who funnily enough like to portray themselves as the guardians of Human Rights, ethnic minorities but obviously not the female majority) and ask for specific quality players to be filmed.

2. Watch more female sport and turn off male sport (and obviously female eye candy disguised as sport).

and/or

3. Don't watch TV anyway - you'll feel so much better for it !

Fuddy Duddy // Posted 01 July 2009 at 22:34

Just gone through the list and could only see 3 examples one of which was Sharapove who is a former champion. The Americans suggested that the Williams sisters were not on enough but they have both been on centre and once the odd schedule was to make room for their doubles match. Plus the Williams sisters beat some opponents so quickly that it is not much of a spectacle.

Wisrutta Atthakor // Posted 01 July 2009 at 23:12

Yet another thing that annoys me about Wimbledon! (One of the others being: Why is it that on the scoreboards the male players' names are just shown as First Initial + Surname whereas the female players have to be defined by their marital status, i.e. with Miss or Mrs in front of their names? And don't get me started on the differences in attire!)

Wisrutta Atthakor // Posted 01 July 2009 at 23:13

OK, scratch the names on scoreboards comment! I've just been informed that it was ditched this year. Hmmm, at least *some* progress (about time, too)! ... Not taking back the attire bit, though.

Hazel // Posted 02 July 2009 at 13:00

Wisrutta, they are still referred to as Miss or Mrs by the umpires though.

Even in my younger days it made me seethe that Chris Evert (then married to John LLoyd) was called Mrs J. M. Lloyd on the scoreboard even though she was Chris Evert Lloyd everywhere else.

David Kames // Posted 02 July 2009 at 15:02

@Aimee - I'd like to think I'm being cynical rather than dismissive, I find it hard not to be in this case.
As an ex-Marxist I find I'm rarely surprised when firms make perfectly sensible commercial decisions that conflict with the rights or dignity of the people working for them - their first duty is to make a profit, it's how the system works.
After some time spent reading about feminism (and 20-odd years living in this society) I'm not surprised when people regard women's attractiveness as an "asset" in all senses of the word.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't complain, but I doubt that written complaints will be effective against something so systemic. Will I be so cynical next time something comes up that discriminates against men? Well let's wait and see...

@Wisrutta Atthakor - I'm with you on the attire bit - I wonder, does Wimbeldon have a dress-code the specifies those very short skirts/dresses on women? A bit of google searching suggests it's only that they must wear white - however if female players did start playing in t-shirt and shorts I'm pretty sure that sponsors and organisers would quickly find a problem with it.

Melanie // Posted 02 July 2009 at 15:57

@ David Kames

"Have the women play in men's tennis whites (re-sized, of course) in the hope that less sexy outfits lead to less selling sexiness.
(I honestly don't see why they don't - perhaps they could be persuaded to as part of a campaign to be taken seriously as sports people? "

Why is it women's responsibility not to be too sexy before they are "taken seriously"?

David Kames // Posted 02 July 2009 at 23:59

@Melanie
>Why is it women's responsibility not to be too sexy before they are "taken seriously"?

Well obviously you should be able to jump up and down in your very very short dress and tight white underpants and still be taken seriously as a human being - and not pitted against your fellow women in a beauty competition:
BUT knowing the culture and economy that we live in, how likely do you think that is?

It's a simple top-of-my head suggestion - I don't claim it's morally perfect (I don't like the implications of it very much either) but hey, at least it could remove some of the overt sexualisation of women's tennis.

Sal // Posted 03 July 2009 at 10:27

I'm broadly in agreement with David Kames' overall point of view. I don't think he's apologizing for the way things are, but more saying that, if this is how the capitalist economy treats women and their appearance, what practical changes can be made to change things?
Please can we stop attacking him? It's coming across to me like it's just because he's male, and I don't think this is helpful.

Jess McCabe // Posted 03 July 2009 at 10:46

@Sal I don't think anyone's really attacking David, personally.

It's just somewhat frustrating when you point out some incidence of sexism or discrimination or whatever, and there's always the inevitable "ah, that's business for you", "they're doing it because it makes money", comments.

I'm sympathetic to David's critiques of the capitalist system, but agree that given that there's no imminent signs of a revolution, more interested in what can be done now to address the situation.

I also don't agree that capitalism has to be dismantled before this situation can be addressed at all - women pay their license fee to the BBC too, and play and watch tennis. The market economy is relegating women's tennis to the status of eye-candy in response to the sexism of the individuals making decisions, their perceptions of sexism of the audience and actual sexism of the audience. Also, neither the tennis club nor the BBC are (theoretically) commercially-driven organisations, they both will have in their charters other commitments, so there's even more room to challenge their decision-making.

There's plenty of leverage for change, such as through David's and Lisa's suggestions of actually watching women's sports and turning off men's sports, lobbying for the same uniforms regardless of sex, playing sport ourselves, writing into the BBC.

Sal // Posted 03 July 2009 at 10:58

No, there is no imminent sign of revolution. But he makes other useful and practical suggestions, one being to change the women's outfits. And then he gets criticised for that too...

Plus, the 'that's business' line as he puts it doesn't sound like 'that's business, deal with it', but more like 'yes, that's business and it's wrong'.

Melanie // Posted 03 July 2009 at 16:41

@ Sal

(a) I wasn't "attacking" DavidKames, merely taking issue with one of his points, which I presume is allowed?
(b) It had nothing to do with his being a man. I would have taken issue with that particular point whoever said it.
(c) Just because you personally found his suggestions regarding women's tennis kit "useful and practical" doesn't mean that everybody else has to agree and render any criticism of those suggestions illegitimate.

@DavidKames

I certainly didn't mean my comment as any kind of attack on you. I respect the fact that you were making pragmatic suggestions based on the world as it is, not ideological suggestions based on the world as it should be.

I also recognise the fact that some women in sport dress "sexily" because they are pressurised into it by sponsors and by media expectation, and that they might find a "uniform" similar to the men's kit, of the kind that you have suggested, liberating.

But I hate the way that women in the public eye in any field seem perpetually stuck in a vicious circle, whereby if they don't look sexy, they are deemed unworthy of media coverage, but if they do look sexy, they are not taken seriously and it is assumed that they have only got to the position they have on looks, not talent.

And, maybe it's just me, but I don't feel comfortable with the suggestion of compulsorily changing women's kit to make it less overtly sexy, even on a purely pragmatic level, because, while it does start to address the first part of the vicious circle, on some level it seems to me to be endorsing the latter part and the male gaze assumption that sexy women are "distracting" (while sexy men are not) and it's their responsibility to do what they can to reduce that distraction if they want to be taken seriously on any level as professionals and human beings.

Sorry, I haven't posted here before and I'm probably not expressing myself very well.


David Kames // Posted 03 July 2009 at 17:37

@Sal Aw Thank you, you're very chivalrous.

More general question that I hope wont be called de-railing:
It's not just "that's business" of course - but "that's sexism." If we are trying to end the creeping sexualisation that makes every part of life into a beauty pageant, and all the other evils of patriarchy - do we want to attack/change the structure in one go, or do we want to make small changes - like improving the coverage of women's sport, and preventing/reversing the sexualisation of it?
are we Spartacists or Social Democrats?

@Melanie - I do understand where your objection is coming from (or I think I do.) In all seriousness, I too fear that I am getting onto the thin end of the wedge that leads to veils and blaming rape-victims because they wore mini-skirts - I'm not sure what my defence of the idea could be, except that I don't ask for women players to cover more flesh than the men, only the same amount.
I'd also wonder why there seems to be more sexualisation of women in tennis than in other sports - I'm happy to admit that this might not be the case, but (leaving beach volley ball aside) I'd put this down to two factors
1.Top class tennis players can still maintain a conventionally attractive body shape (contrast with athletics stars - if we can do it without unnecessary objectification) and
2. the very short skirts/dresses and the resultant constant knickers flashing (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gertrude_Moran) which attract a certain "dirty old (and not so old) man" audience and attitude to women's tennis.

Sal // Posted 06 July 2009 at 01:29

Melanie, there is no need to respond at me so furiously. I was just saying I thought the responses to David Kames were unfair (several of them, not especially yours).

I didn't say your criticisms were 'illegitimate', but then, seen as this is a debate, I am allowed to challenge them. They are not automatically valid/ justified/ indisputable just by virtue of being your opinion.

I said it 'comes across to me as ...' - I didn't say there was any specific and conscious intention to pick on him for being male, just maybe a need to question if that could possibly ever contribute to the way he is being responded to.

As I read this section, some of the responses to David Kames seemed a little unnecessarily hostile. This is all I meant when I say 'attack'. Maybe my bad choice of word.

David Kames // Posted 06 July 2009 at 01:30

I seem to be inadvertently hi-jacking this thread - for which I apologise.

@Melanie - all part of the cut and thrust my friend, and you express yourself very well, I think; and with no offence or ingratitude to Sal, I think we can learn more from disagreeing with one another than agreeing.

I don't have a desire to see a compulsory uniform changes, as you say, it's merely a pragmatic suggestion, and I have every desire to see Andy Murray play in a tennis kilt - I wonder if the Scottish Tennis Assoc. has it's own Tartan? ;-)

I agree with your last two paragraphs I find it hard to make a pragmatic, reformist suggestion to deal with these issues in Tennis, and I wonder what real life action or changes could happen to deal with them?
I'd like to think that more women in senior positions in the WTA, and LTA, the BBC and newspaper sports journalism, would solve the problem - but I'm afraid of the effect that sexualisation of the general culture expressed through commercial pressure may still have.

Found this while googling: - Deborah Orr on Wimbledon's 'tennis totty'
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/deborah-orr-wimbledons-tennis-totty-serves-up-a-tabloid-treat-676383.html

I also found this from the Torygraph while looking for quotes from women players on the subject:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/tennis/wimbledon/5639849/Wimbledon-2009-Gisela-Dulko-caused-mixed-emotions-in-the-glamour-stakes.html
including a quote from the (male) head of the Women's Tennis Assoc.: "These are amazing athletes on the court, and amazing, feminine and glamorous women off the court,"

Makes me wonder, I'd be very pleased in the (likely) event that the same thing happens next year if one of these Women players who have been award "Babe" status without being consulted turned around and said:
"I will not play on Centre Court while higher ranked women are playing on smaller courts. I'm not ashamed of my body, I wont cover it up any more than a man would, but I wont have the tournament organisers exploiting it for their gain. I'm here to play tennis, I'm here to be judged on my game, and when I earn a place on Centre court I'll take it - but I wont be degraded or have my sport damaged like this."
Which is obviously more than anyone should ever have to say, and I don't judge the women that don't do this, but I think it would be a positive thing.

Tamasine // Posted 06 July 2009 at 09:36

A complimentary article to the orignal post here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/jul/05/wimbledon-coverage-women

As usual just don't read the comments afterwards ;-)

Rob Marrs // Posted 07 July 2009 at 08:27

But whoever said sport/sports coverage/Wimbledon was fair? Brits are on the BBC more than their talent suggests they should be for instance. We probably also focus on previous favourites (Hewitt) over up and coming players (Djokovic). Is that fair? Probably not although I acknowledge the difference between the examples.

As you know, the champions of both the Men's Tournament and Women's Tournament earn the same amount of money - despite the men being more commercially lucrative, generally more popular in terms of viewing figures and greater amounts of sets played. Fair? I'm not sure, to be honest. Maybe there is an element here that sometimes in life some things go in your favour, sometimes they don't.

Secondly, surely, it is up to Wimbledon to put whoever they want on centre court? Or up to the paying public?

If the female players feel strongly enough about this, they should boycott Wimbledon... that would change things pretty quickly. I'd guess that ranking points, earnings and glory would come above principles but that is just a hunch.

Victoria // Posted 07 July 2009 at 10:22

"As you know, the champions of both the Men's Tournament and Women's Tournament earn the same amount of money - despite the men being more commercially lucrative, generally more popular in terms of viewing figures and greater amounts of sets played. Fair? I'm not sure, to be honest."

The reason why women's tennis is not as popular or lucrative as men's tennis is not because there is something inherently more interesting about men's tennis. It's because women's sport is routinely trivialised. There are plenty of passionate, dedicated sportswomen in all fields - football, martial arts, fencing, rugby - but how often do you see a women's rugby match on TV? The recent success of England's female cricket team was also completely ignored by the press. If the press doesn't pick up on it, if TV broadcasters choose not to show it, then the prevalent attitude remains unchallenged: that women in sport are only worth watching if they meet the 'Brit or babe' criteria. Suggesting that it is unfair that female tennis players receive the same pay as men because they just aren't as lucrative or popular is to suggest that none of this has anything to do with sexism and that consequently it's fine to penalise female players over it.

"Secondly, surely, it is up to Wimbledon to put whoever they want on centre court? Or up to the paying public?"

In other words, "If Wimbledon and the paying public choose to be sexist, surely that's their right?"

Unfortunately I think that the right of the female tennis players to be taken seriously as professional sportswomen trumps the right of armchair tennis enthusiasts to gawk at 'conventionally attractive' breasts.

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