The Serena Controversy

I am really quite amazed that there is any controversy at all.  I did not watch the whole match but the incident has been replayed almost constantly on 24 hour news, and also the rather petulant press conference after the match.  Let me firstly say that the Williams sisters, and Serena in particular have been incredible role models, overcoming prejudice and achieving so much in the sport; in fact they have been so dominant for over two decades that by their longevity alone they are wonderful.

But the debate has centred on Serena’s argument that she was treated badly because of sexism by the umpire in particular and by the whole tennis establishment in general.

Now, let me also say that, sadly, Serena lost her temper and abused first her racquet and then the umpire, even stating that he would never umpire another match of hers.  I am not sure if even she has the power to order that, however – it was a poor performance on this occasion.  She had done incredibly well after having a difficult pregnancy and birth only a year before to have got to the final, when women 20 years younger than her were swept aside by her brilliant tennis.  But yesterday was not a good day for her.  She was already losing, and her outburst was punished according to the rules.

Now, you could argue that the umpire was inconsistent (but not in this match – as the Japanese girl did not behave badly) – but as we know too well, referees are often inconsistent, even in the same match.  But not on this occasion.  Had Serena just accepted the point deductions, firstly for her coach attempting to advise her (he has admitted this) and then for smashing her racquet this would have all been forgotten.  But her verbal abuse and later press conference sadly made the situation far worse. Her accusations of sexism are quite ridiculous.  Many men have behaved badly and argued with the umpire and most have been punished for it.  Incidentally this all started with McEnroe and Connors who bullied umpires in order to unsettle their opponents.  It seems a particularly American lack of Sportsmanship.

In all sports the referee or umpire should be respected and any dissension should be punished.  I am also appalled in football to see players surrounding and shouting at the ref.  Send them all off – men or women, makes no difference.  I am amazed at the furore this sad incident has stirred up, with many women joining in and saying it was sexism.  None of them has even acknowledged how badly Serena behaved on this occasion; she has not apologised to the referee or to the tournament or to the public.  If we want to have a sensible discussion about institutional sexism let us at least be grown up about it and stop defending the indefensible.  This trivial storm in a teacup does nothing to promote women’s equality and in fact diminishes the real struggle many poor women face; after all Serena is incredible well-paid, even for coming second occasionally.  We should all be concentrating on real sexism, in the workplace and how it applies to women who don’t happen to be multi-millionaires.