Serena Williams catsuit ban: Praise, don’t discourage, say Indian sportswomen

Tennis champion Serena Williams wore a striking black catsuit at French Open 2018. But that outfit has now been banned for next year’s tournament on grounds of ‘respect’ for the game. We ask Indian female sports personalities for their view, and they say that talent, not clothes, should get importance.

Updated: Aug 28, 2018 17:02:42

By Shreya Mukherjee and Naina Arora

Tennis champion Serena Williams’ black catsuit grabbed eyeballs at French Open 2018. But it has now been banned. (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

What’s in a dress, ask female sports stars in India, reacting to the latest headlines around Serena Williams’ tennis costume. Serena’s black catsuit with a red waistband, which grabbed eyeballs at French Open 2018, has now been banned by the French Tennis Federation for the 2019 tournament, on grounds of “respect” for the game. Alongside being the winner of 23 Grand Slam titles, Serena is also known for her statement-making costume choices — neon crop tops and denim skirts have featured in her on-court wardrobe — but this particular catsuit has some health benefits, she now says after the ban. Inspired by the movie Black Panther, the catsuit apparently protects her from blood clots, by improving blood circulation after a difficult childbirth in late 2017.

Read| Serena Williams reveals she is suffering from postpartum emotions

Though Serena herself hasn’t reacted with anger, other sports people — including tennis great Billie Jean King — have criticised the ban. In India, we’ve asked several female sports personalities how they view this, and they all feel that there’s nothing wrong with the catsuit, more so if there’s a medical reason. India’s own tennis star Sania Mirza says, “I don’t think that there was anything wrong or hideous or vulgar about Serena’s dress at the French Open, especially since she wore it for medical reasons. I think it’s ridiculous that questions were even raised on this issue. I’m sure if we look back at some of the dresses worn by athletes in the past, we’ll find several that were far more inappropriate.”

Tennis star Sania Mirza, cricketer Jhulan Goswami, and wrestler Ritu Phogat speak in support of Serena. ( Photos:Shivam Saxena/HT; PTI )

Praising Serena’s “remarkable comeback”, wrestler Ritu Phogat says, “Not only did the catsuit address Serena’s health needs, but it was also symbolic of her triumphant return to the court. The one-piece with a single red stripe around the waist was meant to represent all the mums out there who had a tough pregnancy and have to come back and try to be fierce, in the middle of everything. For me, whether it’s men or women in sport, why prevent players from self-expression?”

Cricketer Jhulan Goswami feels that Serena should be encouraged for her fighting spirit. She says, “A mother goes through physical and emotional changes after giving birth to a baby. Serena should be praised for making a comeback like a champion. Her effort and talent should be given importance over her dress. She’s an inspiration for all young and upcoming athletes. The whole incident is unfortunate.”

Gymnast Dipa Karmakar says that complications should be taken into consideration before putting a ban and Paralympian Deepa Malik feels that arbitrary policing of women’s clothing is not fair. ( Photos:Ravi Choudhary and Kunal Patil/HT )

Gymnast Dipa Karmakar points out that an athlete’s “complications should be taken into consideration before putting a ban” on what they wear. She says, “Certain athletes in the recent Asian Games have run 100m with the entire body covered, and no such issues happened, because they hadn’t violated any dress code and their call was respected.”

Paralympian Deepa Malik feels that “every game has its rules, but arbitrary policing of women’s clothing is not fair”. She says, “As a Paralympian and an athlete in disability category sports, I know that reasonable alterations made to clothing due to various physical challenges shouldn’t be an issue, as this allows athletes to perform at their best without discomfort. I believe Serena Williams has handled the situation with the concerned authorities. Let us all focus on the game and her world-class talent.”

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First Published: Aug 28, 2018 17:02:19


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