The smell of freshly cut grass on the Center Court had barely wafted away before Wimbledon was engulfed in a sexism row.
On June 20, in an attempt to hype up audiences around the world, the tennis tournament tweeted about the “next generation of headline acts,” accompanied by an illustration of 15 players, in which the women are obscured at the back of the line.
Scottish tennis legend, Andy Murray, who is known for taking a stand against sexism in the sport, condemned the poster as a “disaster” while one social media user commented: “It's like finding Wally for the female players.”
At Wimbledon, we've witnessed epic rivalry after epic rivalry, lifting the sport to new heights ✨— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 20, 2023
Here's to the next generation of headline acts... pic.twitter.com/Lq9J2qVQEn
This isn’t the first time Wimbledon has been embroiled in affairs of gender inequality. All too often, the reporting of the women’s games has had a distinctly patriarchal slant. Take former champion Boris Becker’s comments as recently as 2021, for example, that a Wimbledon quarter-finalist’s fiancée was “very pretty” and that “if you’re a tennis player, it’s always good to have a partner called Anett.” Or the ageist fixation on the 24-year age difference between Cori Gauff and Venus Williams ahead of their much-anticipated match in 2019.
However, it’s not just the commentary at Wimbledon that’s been accused of sexism. The tennis tournament has also been grand slammed for its archaic traditions that erase women’s achievements.
Inequality and sexism in sports are part of a wider gender inequality issue that continues to persist across the globe and that impacts women and girls across every sector and in every area of life.
From 130 million girls globally being denied the right to education; to women and girls being disproportionately affected by health crises, from the pandemic to neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and yet often having limited access to medical care; to women earning on average 16% less than their male counterparts globally; to discriminatory laws that target reproductive rights.
In fact, the UN estimates it could still take almost three centuries to achieve full gender equality at the rate of current progress.
The journey to gender equality may be fraught with ups and downs, but it’s important to celebrate the wins where we see them. So here are four sexist Wimbledon traditions that we’re glad are gone for good.
1. Announcing Women Players’ Marital Status
Since the tournament began in 1877, men and women’s names on the honor roll were presented differently.
While male players were presented with the first letter of their first name and their last name (for example, “N Djokovic”), female players had their titles included on the board to denote whether or not they were married (for example, Miss. V. Williams).
Worse still, women champions were listed in the Wimbledon Compendium under their husbands’ names. In 1980, for instance, Evonne Goolagong was credited as “Mrs R Cawley,” a nod to her husband Roger Cawley.
Last time we checked, a player’s marital status had no bearing on their tennis playing performance and these players’ husbands weren’t the ones winning globally renowned tennis championships.
This Wimbledon tradition was removed in 2019.
2. Unequal Prize Money
Back in 1968, former world champion, Rod Laver, won £2,000 for winning Wimbledon, while Billie Jean King, the women's singles champion, won £750, just 37.5% of the men's prize.
The gap in prize money between men and women has been blatant from the start. Addressing this gender inequality on the tennis court, Jean King said these famous words: "Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing, and the cherry on top, too."
3. The All-White Attire
For a long time, all players, male and female, were required to wear all white, including any undergarments, according to Wimbledon's strict dress code. As any menstruating person will know, an all white dress code is not ideal when you’re on your period.
In fact, the legend herself, Venus Williams, was asked to change mid-match in 2017 when her pink bra was showing.
But the origins of the outfit policy are even more eye roll-inducing. Tennis whites became a phenomenon in the late 1800s to prevent the appearance of unseemly sweat stains as the sport became increasingly popular at social gatherings.
Women, sweating? Unthinkable.
It wasn’t until 2022 that the All England Club announced it would relax its white clothing rule to allow women players to wear dark-colored undershorts if they want to.
4. The His ‘N’ Hers Towels
His ‘N’ Hers anything is a gender binary-entrenching tradition we’ll be glad to see the back of anyway. But at one of the world’s most prestigious sporting events? It’s hard to believe it was a thing in the first place.
For the longest time, Wimbledon gave classic towels to men and seasonal towels to women. Men were given two classic green and purple “Championship” towels, while women received two towels, which in 2019 were pink and turquoise.
It wasn’t until 2021 that the gender-specific towels were ditched and all players were given the same towels.