Time for broadcasters to realise women’s sports go beyond good looks

  • Prerna Madan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 09, 2016 15:51 IST
Canada's Eugenie Bouchard plays against Dominika Cibulkova at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, Wimbledon. (Reuters Photo)

What do you love about watching a game? Do you love the exhilaration of a breakpoint that leaves your nerves tingling? Do you love railing insults at the inanimate box that projects a foul against the team you support?

Are you oblivious to your surroundings while someone, in some part of the world, hits the back of a net? Do you inadvertently bite your nails, cross your fingers or jump off your couch as a batsman scrambles to toe the line just in time?

Now, imagine if the camera shifts to the cheerleaders with pom-poms, hopping on the sidelines of a stadium with plastered smiles to match their flashy clothes and pancaked faces. Or instead of focussing on the nerve-wracking moments on the court, you see a visual emphasising sportswomen’s ballooning skirts in slow motion and not the graceful shot they just attempted.

Read | After Court 18 match, Venus demands ‘equality’ in Wimbledon schedule

If that’s the case, you’re probably watching women’s tennis. Engaged in a war of TRPs, this is how grossly commercialised tournaments sell women’s sports – not for their skills or power shots but by sexualising them.

If an era of political correctness can inspire Harry Potter’s Hermione to be played by a black woman in the broadway play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it is baffling that BBC Sports – one of the world’s most respected broadcasters – has been accused of focusing on women’s “knickers and bottoms” in its Wimbledon coverage this year.

According to Twitter users, the BBC purportedly showed “close-up vagina shots” during women’s matches at the coveted Wimbledon Championships.

Canada's Eugenie Bouchard against Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova during Wimbledon Championships, in London. (Reuters Photo)

The controversy did not end there.

BBC commentator Andrew Castle was described as “creepy” and “sexist” for talking on air about the appearance of British player Marcus Willis’ girlfriend Jennifer Bate – “It’s a pity my dentist doesn’t look like that.” Another BBC commentator John Inverdale had tactlessly belittled Marion Bartoli during 2013 Wimbledon, saying: “Do you think Bartoli’s dad ever told her when she was little – ‘You’re never going to be a looker’.”

Inverdale and Castle’s statements are just two examples of sexism prevalent in sports. How many times has a commentator casually remarked, “He doesn’t have eight-pack abs” or “he isn’t handsome enough” in the middle of a match. While men are judged on their sporting prowess, women in sports are often reduced to their body images and the viewers they can attract.

With commercial interests spearheading tournaments, profit-driven tentacles have tapped into the the public consciousness to mould sports coverage into a successful business model – one that does not shy away from limiting women to their looks.

Maybe that’s why sportswear manufacturing giant Nike created the Wimbledon ‘nightie’ – a £75 Premier Slam dress that was reportedly rejected by Serena Williams. Sabine Lisicki too refused to wear it because she “didn’t feel comfortable showing that much”.

If being perceived as commodities wasn’t sexist enough, there is a blatant disregard for sports played by women. According to media reports, 93% of men’s matches were broadcast in one day of Wimbledon coverage last year, opposed to a mere 76% of women’s games.

Ron Chakravorty, responsible for the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage, explained the reason for this disparity as a lack of “fantastic rivalries” that don’t have the “box office” appeal of men’s tennis, which is currently in its “golden era”. Evidently, Serena Williams’ upcoming final against Angelique Kerber that can clinch the US player her 22nd Grand Slam title -- equalling tennis great Steffi Graf’s record -- does not fit the tag.

US player Venus Williams reacts after losing a point to Germany's Angelique Kerber during their women's semifinal match on the eleventh day of the 2016 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London. (AFP Photo)

Fortunately, there is an easy way to deflect sexism: Bartoli did precisely that by lifting the Wimbledon’s women’s singles title in 2013.

Read | Nike’s revealing ‘baby doll’ dress for Wimbledon draws flak from players

Views expressed are personal.

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