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Lesson from Wimbledon—A Reminder about the Importance of Equal Access

Though Pebble Beach has hosted other women's golf tournaments, the inaugural U.S. Women's Open at the iconic, majestic course took place July 3-6, 2023. So many people asked me if I was there. Others expected I would make the (short) trek to Monterey. Despite the fact I had an alibi, I felt badly I missed out. Why? Just a few weeks earlier, I traveled to Los Angeles for the Men's U.S. Open. I believe our pocketbooks and our calendars reveal what we value. I didn't want anyone to infer that I am not supportive of the women's game. 

My mom thinks men and women should receive the same trophy.
I find beauty in both. Thoughts?

I wasn't at the 78th US Women's Open because 
I was traveling to London for the Wimbledon Championships. This tourney offered me many insights, memorable moments, ideas and observations. And one of the most important is rooted in the fact I was able to see both men and women competing in the same sport. 

Sitting in a ticketed seat on Court One, my friends Bill, Mary, Liam and I saw three matches in a row. Daniil Medvedev won in just two sets because Jiri Lehecka withdrew, due to injury. This match on Court One was followed by Aryana Sabalenka defeating Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-4, 6-0. I saw but one set of the Rune vs. Dimitrov match because Liam and I left to hit the Resale line to purchase a ticket Centre Court. 

Though I checked in on a number of matches on the outer courts throughout the day, the Sabalenaka match was my favorite. I love her game. An incredibly talented and emotional player, her athleticism and style of play speaks to me. Having watched "Break Point," I learned more about her personal story; I can't help but cheer for the Belarusian.

This experience at Wimbledon allowed me to see both the men's and women's game. One was not at the expense of the other. The simultaneous play of both draws extended equal access and visibility of the players/for the fans. NB:
 the semifinal and final matches take place on different days but for the majority of the tournament fans are privy to both. Furthermore, the men's doubles championship follows the women's on Saturday and the women's doubles championship follows the men's on Sunday—allowing for equal visibility as it's a singular ticketed event.

For quite some time, proponents of women's sport have called for much more than equal pay, access, resources and opportunity. Women's sports ought to have equal coverage, publicity and viewing opportunity. Though much has improved for women in sport, coverage remains limited.

In the article The disparity in women’s and men’s sports, Jennifer Bubel writes,

According to a study conducted by Purdue University in March 2021, coverage of women’s sports in the media has barely changed since the 1980s. The study found that in 2019, women’s sports coverage only totaled to 5.4% of airtime, as compared to the 5% in 1989 and 5.1% in 1993 - quite a small percentage of change. The Women’s World Cup accounted for a huge chunk of that percentage, as it drops to 3.5% when removed that year. The study also found that digital media coverage had the same disparity, despite the lack of time constraints.

Coverage and publicity is important because not only does it bring attention and awareness to the feat of women in sport, it affirms the athletes, promotes achievements, celebrates excellence and endears fans to players and teams. To see Ons Jabeur play tennis is to love her. To watch Ajla Tomljanovic defeat Serena Williams at the 2022 U.S. Open proves how valuable a good mentor can be (Chris Evert has stepped into this role for several female tennis players).

I believe one of the most important arguments for exposure to women's sports is that it shapes us—our eye, our understanding and our ears. Women's tennis is indeed different than men's tennis. Women's basketball, golf, gymnastics is too. While all fans have a preference for their favorite sport, team and athlete, I would argue we can all grow in our knowledge, understanding and appreciation of each game. One need not be at the expense of the other. This is not an either/or proposition...I see it as both/and.

Furthermore, I don't need women to hit as far, serve as fast, or jump as high. Maybe you do, but over time I have learned to value to nuances, differences and beauty of each game for what it is and who is playing it. For the record, the average speed for a first serve in men's tennis is 115 mph vs. 105 for women.

Wimbledon is no different than other Grand Slam events in tennis that host both men and women. The timing of this tourney and the U.S. Women's Open (one of the four majors in golf) only reminded me of what I already knew, but it also made me wonder: Why can't things can different? Shouldn't they? Here are a few ideas.

Why not have *some* golf tournaments that feature half the field of male players to include the other half of female golfers. The women and the men can tee off from the appropriate tee box and still play against their own gender. There would still be a male champion and a female champion. The integration of men and women in a tourney would allow for fans to see both. 

Why not have the women and men's March Madness include both teams in the same locations in the early rounds? A fan could see San Diego State men tip off at 5:00 p.m. with the Notre Dame women to follow. 

Please note, I am not in favor of eliminating gender from competition. I do however want to think creatively about how we can celebrate and have access to both. Some people might not want to ever see men's sports. Others might not woman to see women's. While many sports fan will make the argument for a preference of one game vs. the other, my time at Wimbledon only allowed me to engage with two sides of the draw and cheer for my favorite players from each.

If you need a reason or an excuse to go to Wimbledon, this is just one of 100 I am happy to provide. More to come!

Photo Credits
Both Winners
Ajla and Chrissie
Both Leaderboards




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