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Why sexist comments on tennis will always court controversy


Outspoken comments: Player Novak Djokovic

Outspoken comments: Player Novak Djokovic

Getty Images

Paul Merton

Paul Merton

George Osborne

George Osborne

AFP/Getty Images

Outspoken comments: Player Novak Djokovic

It's always helpful when a wise mentor can guide you towards role models. As an aspiring journalist in my teens, already finding that my gender was an obstacle in some fields, I was buoyed by those who suggested I investigate the careers of Nora Ephron, Joan Didion and Gloria Steinem for inspiration.

So I'm guessing burgeoning female tennis players were keen to hear the thoughts of Raymond Moore, CEO of the prestigious Indian Wells Open, regarding which figureheads they should be most grateful to.

"If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born," he said this week, to a room full of appreciate laughter. "Because they have carried this sport."

At the Press conference on the eve of the women's final, he explained that "lady players" had triumphed "on the coat-tails of men". Then he applauded the Women's Tennis Association for bringing on female players who were "physically attractive and competitively attractive ... very, very attractive".

How heartening to hear the powerful head of a major event congratulate young sportswoman for being physically attractive. I'd imagine Raymond would like to shake those women's hands, once they'd got up after being on their knees thanking the Lord for Roger Federer.

The tone of his argument reminded me of an exchange between The Office's David Brent and his assistant Gareth Keenan, when the former disagreed with a suggestion on an online chatroom that "Dutch girls with big boobs should be punished". "If anything, they should be rewarded," enthused Gareth.

Moore might concur with Gareth's line of reasoning. Though David Brent's later assertion that well-endowed Dutch girls should simply be "equal", puts him ahead of the less progressive Moore when it comes to the wider point.

We could wave Moore's idiotic comments away if he was an irrelevant, one-off dinosaur. But this guy was (before he resigned on Tuesday) the CEO of an event which draws the top players in the world.

This is the knuckle-dragging language he's presumably been spouting for years.

Yet top administrators in the biggest women's sport on the planet felt he was the perfect chap to head their organisation.

Even more galling, when asked to comment, rather than dismiss Moore out of hand, world number one Novak Djokovic chose to back him up.

After generously applauding the WTA for the energy they'd put into their argument for equal pay for female players, Djokovic said now that parity had been achieved, men should get back on the see-saw and "fight for more", because their matches had more spectators.

(And before you say it, most of the top women players say they'd be happy to play five set matches like the men. That one is not their call.)

Even if we put aside the crass suggestion that multi-millionaires should be fighting for even more cash in their wallets - and the fact, pointed out by an outraged Serena Williams, that last year's US Open women's final sold out before the men's - what a depressing comment this was from the usually likeable and diplomatic tennis genius.

Andy Murray, already a hero in feminist circles, stepped in to disagree.

Djokovic apologised and qualified the statement, saying it was never meant as a "fight between genders", but it's hard to see how a comment directly addressing the fight between genders was never meant to refer to the fight between genders.

Tennis was hailed as a beacon of progression when all four Grand Slams came to award equal prize money to its female superstars, of which Serena Williams is probably the all-time greatest.

Now it seems we have to battle on, even after we've won the war.

Knackering, isn't it?

Childhoods are no laughing matter

A conversation I had with comedian Paul Merton recently has given me pause for thought regarding the murky waters of parent-child relationships.

Paul said his father had been distant and "not very encouraging" his whole life. After his father died, Paul discovered towers of video tapes of all his TV appearances, and scrapbooks full of neatly cut-out newspaper articles in his study.

His dad had gone to his grave without once telling his son he was proud, without even saying "Well done". Not because he didn't care, or wasn't impressed, but because his upbringing hadn't given him the mental capacity to do it. What oppressive, life-lasting prisons our childhoods can impose.

Tory collapse just tastes so sweet

Domestic politics have given those of us in the cheap seats some wonderful theatre this week. While Budget-analysers in mainstream media were distracted by George Osborne's "sugar tax" sleight of hand, those of us interested in social justice got on with being enraged at a Budget which stole from the disabled to give to the rich.

Thankfully, the vengeful revolt by Iain Duncan Smith, the villain turned guilt-ridden repenter? Angry Judas? - has refocused hapless political journalists.

And the Tory Cabinet, along with Osborne's PM ambitions, is collapsing centre-stage. This is the stuff of Shakespeare. For those of us on the Left, it's time to grab a seat and enjoy the ride.

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