Nothing seemed to go right for the organisers of the inaugural ATP NextGen Finals draw ceremony, held Sunday night in Milan. Against the backdrop of navy-blue lights, accompanied by unnecessarily base-heavy music, it seemed as though the ATP and co-sponsors, Red Bull, were paying tribute to a Bobby Riggs-inspired misogyny, only to be met with strong criticism from tennis fans throughout the world.
Controversy arose when future starlets of the game chose their respective round-Robin groups by selecting from a group of models, each of whom had either “A” or “B” marked somewhere on their body. They then walked down the catwalk together and posed in their respective groups, until the final model was chosen. The process was meant to pay tribute to Milan’s famous fashion industry, but against the backdrop of numerous allegations of sexual harassment in the film industry and in political circles, it was misjudged, ridiculous, and irrelevant to the kind of society that we should strive for. The ATP and Red Bull subsequently apologised for the offence that the event caused.
ATP and Red Bull statement on last night's Next Gen Finals draw… pic.twitter.com/5nyyH0Uqhs
— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) November 6, 2017
Tennis is a unique sport when it comes to setting social boundaries and inspiring diversity. Since the US Open became the first Grand Slam tournament to implement equal prize money for male and female tennis players in 1973, tennis has led the way in effectively showing that equal pay for both sexes in a professional capacity should be the norm. In light of the blatant objectification of the models in the draw ceremony, it seems as though the ATP has shown us that misogyny continues to be as much a part of tennis as many other social circles, and that more needs to be done in order to address it. Of course, the tournament itself is new, and it is not representative of the vast amount of other tournaments that tennis has to offer.
Nonetheless, the reality is that a change in perception of men’s and women’s tennis is needed in order to prevent such occurrences. For instance, for three of the four Grand Slam tournaments currently, a ticket for the men’s singles final is vastly different in price than the women’s singles final. Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam tournament where a ticket for the men’s final is only accessible as a package alongside the women’s final. Why are the other Grand Slams not following this example? It is not a matter of getting your money’s worth (let’s face it, a Grand Slam final is, and will always be, a Grand Slam final), but it is a question of principle. It is time that women are given more recognition in tennis, both on-court and off. The ATP needs to cooperate more with the WTA in ensuring that tennis becomes an equal-platform sport.
Despite its proud history of equal prize money, there is still a long way to go before tennis can legitimately brand itself as an “equal” sport. Let us hope that the public reaction to the NextGen Finals draw ceremony will prompt the sport’s governing bodies into taking swifter action to eradicating these attitudes in the future.
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