When it was first announced that Serena Williams’ “catsuit” Roland Garros outfit would be banned in the future I couldn’t help but question why. Three days on and I’m still questioning it, how did Roland Garros even allow this to happen?
The answer is we don’t really know; all we do know is the President of the French Federation Tennis, Bernard Giudicelli, has called for players to “respect the game” whilst sharing the decision to ban similar outfits in the future.
A lot doesn’t add up though. Let’s just hypothetically say this outfit was “disrespectful” (whatever that means), how was it even approved in the first place? Even then, why wasn’t anything done to rectify the situation before her second-round match? In 2013 after his first round match at Wimbledon, Roger Federer was asked by Wimbledon officials to not wear orange soled shoes. A similar thing should have happened here. Instead, Serena Williams went on to make the second week without a word being said, until now, three months later out of the blue.
But here’s where the bigger issue lies: how exactly was Serena Williams not respecting the game? Sure, the outfit was different, but what part of it wasn’t respecting the sport? If we look at other sports, we see very similar women’s outfits which cover the whole body in many such as swimming and cycling, just to name a few.
Even if we look at other outfits in tennis it’s not too hard to find a whole bunch of others which raise far more eyebrows than Williams’ Roland Garros outfit ever did. I mean, this isn’t even the most different outfit she has ever even worn. You just have to look at something like her 2004 US Open outfit to get that. A black Nike top outlined in studs combined with denim shorts and football socks. If we’re talking about disrespectful then maybe that’s something an outfit that’s closer to the word given the extremeness of its casual nature.
We’ve even had American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who’s known for extravagant outfits, play with a fedora hat and a leopard print dress. These are items and designs you wouldn’t see in any sport, not just tennis. Yet time and time again she’s got away with most never being banned.
Serena Williams’ own sister Venus has worn a number of outfits that have caused a stir over the years. Given all of this controversy is over Roland Garros banning the outfit, I’ll mention Venus Williams’ 2010 attire for that very same tournament. It featured a black see-through lace dress and to many was very revealing; it even prompted cat calls. The dress was even described as “lingerie-inspired,” not a sports attire. So the question is, like the other outfits I’ve just mentioned, why weren’t any of these banned?
Perhaps the answer lies in sexism. Tennis is by far the biggest women’s sport worldwide, and whilst many of us wish that sex appeal wouldn’t play a part, we all know it does. It was only a few years ago Wimbledon got accused of putting “more attractive” female players on the bigger show courts.
In the modern game pretty much every female tennis player is wearing outfits which show a lot of skin, whether it be through sleeveless tops or miniskirts. Seemingly, no one has ever had an issue with this though; even when you take it up a notch, like the Venus Williams outfit I mentioned, tennis authorities don’t seem to care.
Now when you do the opposite and cover up, like Serena Williams did this year, there is an issue. It almost gives the impression that they don’t want women covering up. You can be as “disrespectful” as you want with your tennis outfit, but as long as you’re revealing your body, all is good. It sort of comes across like beach volleyball used to be for the women, where long pants were banned as the sport is one of the major female sports which relies on selling itself on sex appeal.
If tennis wants to prove that this is not the case, the French Open better give a good explanation for this decision. Or, better yet, just reverse the decision altogether.
Update:It is also worth noting that in 1985, Anne White wore a similar “catsuit” at Wimbledon. Given the tournament’s somewhat extreme dress code, there’s no surprise it didn’t last very long. In fact, it didn’t even last a complete match, during her first round match where play was suspended due to rain she was told to wear something else at the resumption of the match. Whilst it’s somewhat understandable given the rules Wimbledon possesses, it’s still unclear why exactly the outfit was banned. Could it be for the same reason, this sexism–that tennis doesn’t want women covering up their bodies entirely?