Is The Serena Williams Scandal Proof Sport Is Still Sexist?

Is The Serena Williams Scandal Proof Sport Is Still Sexist?

Described as one of the “most bizarre” tennis matches in history, Sunday’s US Open final has sparked a heated debate about sexism in sport. After she was repeatedly penalised for displaying emotion on the court, Serena Williams accused umpire Carlos Ramos of having double standards – and her fellow tennis champions are flocking to support her…
Photography: Dave Shopland

What happened during the match?

Sunday night’s match was Williams’ bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title. She played against Naomi Osaka, who was aiming to become Japan's first ever Grand Slam winner. Needless to stay, the stakes were high – but instead an argument with umpire Carlos Ramos dominated the match.

Early in the second set, Ramos gave Williams a coaching violation, accusing her of receiving illegal coaching during the match through hand gestures made by her coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Williams told Ramos she would rather lose than cheat, and demanded the umpire apologise.
She was then docked a point for a second violation when she smashed her racket out of frustration for losing a serve.

Continuing her argument with Ramos at the next change of ends, Williams accused him of being a “liar” and calling him a “thief” for stealing a point from her. Following their heated exchange, he gave her a third violation, which resulted in a game penalty, putting Osaka 5-3 ahead.
A tearful Williams argued her case with tournament officials but, although she held serve in the next game, Osaka served out the victory 6-2, 6-4. Williams was also ordered to pay a total of $17,000 (approximately £13,000) in fines for the three violations.
And afterwards?

Asked in her press conference what she would have done differently in hindsight, Williams said: "I can't sit here and say I wouldn't say he's a thief, because I thought he took a game from me.

"But I've seen other men call other umpires several things. I'm here fighting for women's rights and for women's equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say 'thief' and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He's never taken a game from a man because they said 'thief'. It blows my mind.

"I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that wants to express themselves, and wants to be a strong woman. They're going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn't work out for me, but it's going to work out for the next person."

Mouratoglou admitted to ESPN that he was sending Williams a signal, but claimed every coach does it. And Williams confirmed his statement: “I want to clarify myself what he's talking about,” she said. “I wasn't being coached."

The start of the presentation ceremony was also held up because of booing from the crowd and Osaka stood on the podium in tears. "I know everyone was cheering for her and I'm sorry it had to end like this,” the Japanese tennis star told the crowd.

Williams accepted it was an unfortunate position for Osaka to be put in, and said: "This is her moment. Stop boing because she doesn't deserve it. I don't deserve it'. She played an amazing match. She deserved credit, she deserved to win."

Who has come to Williams defence?

The 23-time Grand Slam champion has received plenty of support from across the tennis world, including from fellow champions Billie Jean King, Andy Roddick, Victoria Azarenka and Sue Barker. The Chief Executive of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, also backed Williams in an official statement.

Simon hailed Osaka as a "deserving new champion" but said Williams was right to suggest that she had been on the receiving end of sexism by Ramos. "The WTA believes there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men versus women and is committed to working with the sport to ensure that all players are treated the same," he said. "We do not believe that this was done last night."

Former French Open winner Barker said: "Serena in some ways has a point in the fact that I've sat court-side watching the men ranting at umpires and (they) haven't been given a violation. Serena is saying the male players can say what they like to an umpire. Also, earlier in the tournament we saw Alize Cornet being given a code violation for changing her shirt on court.”

Roddick tweeted it was the "worst refereeing" he had ever seen, and Victoria Azarenka said she did not believe the same decisions would have been made in a men's match.

Billie Jean King, who won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career, also came to Williams’ defence. "Several things went very wrong during the @usopen Women's Finals today," she said on Twitter. "Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn't, and as a result, a player was penalised for the actions of her coach. This should not happen. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same."
Anything else to know?

This isn’t the first time the Williams family have clashed with Ramos. At the 2016 French Open, Venus Williams also disputed an illegal coaching call from the Portuguese umpire, saying, “I’m 36 years old. Never in my life have I had a coaching violation. No, I don’t do that.”

And it’s not the only battle Serena Williams has faced since her recent return to tennis, following the birth of her first child. She has faced unfair drug testing – which she labelled “discrimination” –  and a consistent stream of body-shaming comments. She was also banned from wearing her Wakanda-inspired catsuit – a reference to the Marvel Comics film Black Panther – at the French Open in August, despite it being specially designed to reduce her risk of blood clotting; the very issue that almost claimed her life during childbirth.

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