And you loved Agassi for his tennis?


‘Sexist’ was the word Sarah Sands of The Independent used to describe coverage of Wimbledon last week. I’d make a joke about it, but I’m afraid she might read The Baptist Times. And might kill me.

Ms. Sands’ comments are of course, fair. There is a hideous discrepancy between how we react to women and men on the court. Men are always judged on ability, while women seem to have to deal with not only lower pay but also comments about their appearance that have little relevance to their blah blah blah… I’m sorry, I nodded off while I was writing. Who cares?! It’s tennis!

Tennis is not important. If people are being discriminated against (and I think some probably are) we need to keep in mind that these are people who play tennis for a living. If there is undue pressure on them to look pretty, let’s keep this word in mind: tennis. Inequality? Tennis. Voyeuristic exploitation? Tennis. Almost any objection or irritation whatsoever? Tennis, tennis tennis! It’s hardly the miners strike or the suffragettes. Emmeline Pankhurst would, I think, be as likely to push Ms. Sands in front of a runaway horse as one of the Russian lovelies she wishes to defend. Tennis, like most sport, is, as several commentators have pointed out, a distraction for the masses, something to put their energy into so that they’re too tired to change the world.

But even in tennis there are limits. Justin Gimelstob, a member of the Board of Tennis Professionals, was quoted last week as having said some stuff that even I think crosses the line (a foot-fault, if you will). He apparently revealed in public that he wished to serve balls at Anna Kournikova’s stomach (weird and misogynistic enough) and that was the least offensive of his lewd suggestions. If one laughs, it’s in the same way you laugh at Prince Philip abroad: ‘No. Way. He did not just say that.’ Yes he did. Unacceptable.

You see, that is the kind of attitude that gets feminists (and I imagine all thinking women) angry. And makes it difficult to say appreciative but respectful things about the likes of Maria Sharapova, who is one of the few things about being forced to watch the head-slappingly dull game by friends and family that prevents me disembowelling myself.

Because there is certainly over-sensitivity among the women’s equality movement. But you can kind of see why they become somewhat frustrated and angry about things. I, personally, am quite old-fashioned. I believe in some gender-specific sex-roles in marriage. I have no problem with wives submitting to husbands, for instance. But when I see many men who pay only lip-service to the Biblical requirements placed on them in such scripturally literalist relationships, using Scripture as a way to get out of housework and to always silence their wives’ opinions, I have to wonder. And I have to examine my own motives.

Because, as in the utterly irrelevant world of professional sports, the official line about equality often does not reflect the reality of our selfish and prejudiced hearts. So, I say to traditionalist Christian men who see themselves as custodians of unfashionable but traditional values: are you sure you’re not just a swine? And to women, angry at irrelevant sexism that only affects the privileged world of professional sports: are you really highlighting the bigger, more important issues? And to the poor C of E, debating women Bishops in the news last week? Good luck. I’m really sorry for the potential split, but I’m so glad Baptists, not being Anglicans, have no right to comment.


Equal pay for wombles?

The unthinkable has happened. As last week’s news will have informed you, Wimbledon has caved. Female athletes will now be paid as much as the men. The days of Richard Krajicek, who famously said that the difference in pay was because 80% of women playing in the big league were ‘fat lazy pigs’ are over. Krajicek of course backed down from that statement saying that only 75% were fat lazy pigs, a paradigm shift that I am sure warmed the heart of many a feminist.

The issue will no doubt be used in churches and private conversations (impossible in churches) to highlight the remaining inequalities between men and women in our society. And while I’m not sure I’m with tennis dinosaur Pat Cash who last week wrote a column in the Sunday Times arguing that male players work longer hours, I feel he has a point. The opposing argument that this is a spectator sport and therefore issues of money should obey market forces and relate to television audiences is also a good one, mainly because that might do away with boring men’s tennis altogether, as well as all female players who do not look like Anna Kournikova. At least that’s how it would work in my mind.

So does that mean I will do what so many Christian columnists must do when discussing controversial (or in fact any) issues, namely plonk my buttocks upon the nearest fence, resolving to see both sides? Hell no. When asked: ‘what do you think of women getting equal pay at Wimbledon?’ my short answer is a resounding ‘I don’t care.’ The long answer is: ‘how can I rejoice for female players getting paid more at Wimbledon when I already think that they, along with their male counterparts and all professional sportspeople everywhere are paid an obscene and unjustifiably extravagant amount of money already?’ Talk to me about real people doing real jobs and perhaps I’ll care more. Do I mind they are getting paid more? No. Would I care if the female players had their winnings docked and were forced to wear clothes ‘more becoming of their sex’ (I’m torn between bikinis and Victorian dresses—equally oppressive, equally funny)? In the words of Maria Sharapova and Alexander Volkov: ‘Nyet’. But honestly, even expressing that view is treating this ‘unthinkable’ news with more seriousness than it deserves.

Other, more relevant ‘unthinkables’ were in the news last week. One that’ll be a big hit with tabloids and knee-jerk conservatives (the ‘knee’ there is optional) is the proposal to give heroin on prescription to drug addicts. The pinko liberal proposing this was, predictably, a police chief. What? Yes, Ken Jones, President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, last week voiced this not entirely new idea, which will no doubt be denounced and campaigned against if it ever had a shot of being implemented. Which is a shame, really, since it might actually break the power of the criminal syndicates that supply illicit narcotics (by taking away their most regular customers, since before the ink was dry on any law allowing it Pfizer would no doubt already be producing ‘Heroagra’ by the truckload) and make the streets safer by being free of desperate junkies. Women selling their bodies for their next hit of crack could rather just go to the doctor, choosing another soul-destroying way to earn their money, like call-centre work or accountancy.

Obviously there are issues and potential problems associated with such an approach, like not being able to look down on addicts quite as easily as we currently do since they will be less likely to nick our wallets, or doctors at your local NHS no longer saying ‘Hi’ because they get tired of hearing ‘not yet’. But it’s an idea, like so many others, that should be considered rather than being consigned to the realms of the unthinkable. Perhaps it will be, if we could only teach those junkies a useful trade. Like tennis.