Simon Barnes wrote a provocative article in the Times, U.K., today, about the difference between male and female athletes and men’s and women’s sports. This tends to be one of those toxic, hot-potato topics, and one tennis-folk often tip-toe around while discussing the ATP vs. the WTA tours. So I give Mr. Barnes credit for even trying – and I think he raises some interesting points.
This isn’t entirely tennis related, but definitely worth a read (please click here for the full article). Here are some excerpts to get the conversation going:
On an athlete’s sex vs. an athlete’s sexuality (no, not sex with athletes):
Neither Paula Radcliffe nor Martina Navratilova has traded on their sexiness, in the Anna Kournikova sense of the term. Nevertheless, Navratilova, until her post-championship days at any rate, always wore a dress, while Radcliffe wears knickers and crop top. The clear implication is that both are asking to be judged as exceptional female athletes, exceptional female performers, exceptional female champions.
On Sharapova vs. Nadal, ballgowns vs. bikinis:
It is not a question of whether or not Sharapova would beat Nadal, or whether Radcliffe could win the men’s marathon. Rather, it is that in these two sports, men and women have an equal validity because men and women are clearly different. This essential point is rammed home by clothes that emphasise sexual differences.
So what would happen if they went mad for gender-specific clothing in other sports? I don’t suppose that if women footballers and cricketers started to play in bikinis or ballgowns that their superstars would instantly be as recognisable as the Williams sisters, or Kevin Pietersen or Cristiano Ronaldo.
I’ve often thought this, but haven’t been able to put my argument so succinctly:
Women are not athletically inferior to men. In most sports, women operate to different kinds — different standards if you must — of performance. But it is a physiological fact that in many ways women are physically superior to men. When it comes to extreme endurance, tolerance of pain, coping with extremes of temperature and sense of balance, women beat men every time. But most sporting events – being invented by men – are not tough enough to reach the point at which female superiority kicks in.
All right, girls so what sporting event do you want to dream up? How about a race across the Sahara desert, in stilettos and a crop top, followed by giving birth to triplets with only a doula and two aspirin? I’d like to see Rafa and the boys try that.