The Mixed Zone’s editor Sue Mott can name any number of feminist icons. But she never thought she would be adding a member of the opposite sex to her list. Andy Murray has proved her wrong and was rightly acknowledged for his anti-discrimination stance with a prestigious #BeAGameChanger award
We all have our feminist icons. (Well, not all. Novak Djokovic probably doesn’t have one. Nor Isis.) But a sizeable few of us do. Perhaps on the list: the Queen, Germaine Greer, Emmeline Pankhurst, Malala Yousafzai, Billie Jean King, Ronda Rousey, Serena Williams, Baroness Trumpington and – a personal favourite – Rebecca West.
For those of you who don’t know her, she is the British author and journalist who said: “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”
Traditionally, we haven’t associated the feminist icon role with hairy, testosterone-thrumming big beasts who might be preoccupied by their own competitive concerns. Andy Murray, for one. And that, it turns out, is flat wrong. A public vote for this week’s #BeAGameChangerAwards run by the Women’s Sport Trust swept him to victory in the Sporting Role Model of the Year category.
The grounds for such endorsement are compelling. Not only did he have the public decency earlier this year to challenge the view of a tournament director in the United States – supported by the world No. 1 male tennis player, Djokovic, who thought women did not deserve equal prize money – he had in 2014 taken a game-changing step in employing a female coach.
What happened next astonished and appalled him.
As he explained to the audience at the Awards (on film and in spirit, as he’s playing in Rome): “The reason I decided to speak out is that obviously I employed a female coach – Amelie Mauresmo. Basically, it was the reaction to that when I was having bad losses and stuff. I just felt like it was extremely negative. All my losses were being blamed on her, which was never the case with any of my previous coaches. I’d worked with a lot who were all men. And I just thought it was incredibly unfair.
“That’s when I started to notice – that it wasn’t normal. I didn’t feel like she deserved it. She’d been world No. 1, she’d won multiple Grand Slams and was a fantastic player and had been working with me for a few months. Immediately, every time I had a bad loss, it was her fault. But when I would win she wasn’t getting any praise. So it was very one-sided. I thought that it was unfair. That’s when I decided to speak up and speak out.”
It is significant that it doesn’t alter his view now that his employment of Mauresmo has faltered as being a mother to her baby son claims more of her time. His sense of injustice was inflamed by her treatment – and remains ever ready to scorch the dinosaur-leanings of his peers.
Obviously, there will be people who – just as they sought to blame Mauresmo for his losses – will seek to blame his mother for his feminism. Judy Murray – indefatigable coach, mentor, ambassador and occasional ringside supporter of her sons – is undoubtedly a strong female character. So is his grandmother Shirley. So is his wife Kim. So is his dog Maggie. So, one imagines, is his daughter, Sophia, if genetic inheritance counts for anything. But this isn’t a brain-washed man. It is one lively to a sense outrage in the face of discrimination.
It’s a formidable trait of his, and one that developed early, fanned by the media-bashing he received as a teenager for a) being thin; b) cramping; c) being labelled anti-English (which was a joke); d) not getting his hair cut: e) swearing audibly, and f) not being Tim Henman.
So he will not quail in the face of sport’s traditional indifference to the advancement and fair treatment of women. For all the noises, it’s still there. So there. While the business world is, in parts, embracing the notion that women on boards, in decision-making positions, is a good, bracing – even profitable – enterprise, sport has been dragging its trainers. Perhaps it is something to do with inordinate pride in brute force, or roseate schoolboy memories, or fear of a monstrous regiment of women talking about curtains. Whatever the cause, the effect is still fantastically evident.
Take Fifa. The new squeaky-clean international governing body of football, all mopped and brushed up from the corruption years (maybe century). How can you argue with this?: “Discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.”
It announces this proudly on its website, where it also names the composition of its executive board. Of one President, one Senior Vice President, six Vice Presidents and 16 board members, two are female. One, Lydia Nsekera, representing Burundi, the other, Sonia Bien-Aime, from Turks and Caicos, a group of tropical islands in the Caribbean.
Women, in this instance, form 8.33 per cent of the board, which raises the question of whether the executive should punish themselves by suspension or expulsion. Otherwise, what value in their own self-sanctifying words.
You’ve got to love Andy Murray. He sees something wrong and says so. And goes on saying so, regardless the grief he might get in the process from within his own sport and beyond. But the #BeAGameChanger public vote was a sign, an appreciation, maybe even a movement. Hey Fifa (and IOC, IRB, ICC,. IAAF etc) why shouldn’t women blast open the boardroom door bearing an agenda instead of a tray of biscuits.
*Details of the winners of the @WomenSportTrust #BeAGameChanger Awards here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles