January 19, 2009

Anyone for tennis?

As the Australian Open commenced this week, the question on many tennis aficionado's minds wasn't who'd dominate centre court, who'd camp out by the net, who'd remain parked by the baseline, or even whether the two-handed backhand would remain the pro's weapon of choice. It was what Alizé Cornet would be wearing — a question which touches on sport in a most minimal fashion.

The nineteen-year old current top French player, ranked fifteenth in the world, made headlines some time prior, appearing in a mixed doubles match reportedly wearing a "see-through" top (not nearly as scabrous as it was reported). Duly outraged, grand old dames of tennis issued scathing comments, while Tennis Australia let it be known that any competitor in the upcoming Grand Slam tournament not adhering to its strict dress code would be fined some A$2.000 (C$ 1.650).

Now, neither French players nor the fashion house Lacoste — presently Ms Cornet's wardrobe sponsor — are strangers to controversy. Finding ways to combine their interest in tennis with their passion for fashion, they've endeavoured to break the dominance of unadorned white, on a court where gentlemen once only wore long trousers and ladies full-length dresses, long before the emergence of flamboyant players like Andre Agassi.

La Divine Suzanne Lenglen, winner of five consecutive Wimbledon titles between 1919 and 1923 (the last French woman to win that title until Amélie Mauresmo in 2006), pioneered dresses daringly cut for the time, just above the calf, while Le Crocodile René Lacoste introduced a tennis shirt of his own design in 1927 — adding his croc logo a year later — which he went on to mass market in 1933. Today, fashion houses of all stripes lure athletes with millions of dollars annually to endorse their wares. To the point where tennis starlets no longer need to possess nor display any athletic prowess (Ms Kournikova comes to mind).

Not wearing underwear may have been a poor choice in combination with a flimsy top, but the point of a bra is — ultimately — to provide support where it's needed. As Ms Cornet clearly isn't in need of any, this then becomes a question of mere nipples preventing distracted competitors, referees, and audience alike from keeping their eyes on the ball. It's a storm in a teacup understandably whipped up by those interested in hawking something other than sport — to which the ubiquitous logos will attest. No surprises there.

More perplexing is the fact that Tennis Australia has chosen to play along with Ms Cornet and her sponsors, making sure attention was drawn to the up-and-coming player — and, one presumes, by extension to the upcoming tournament. Any true opportunity for a serious discussion about the collusion of commercial interests with sport, and the ensuing consequential sexualisation of athletes, is hence lost to the self-interest of the organizing body.

The only truly shocking aspect of this affair is Tennis Australia's insistence that it actually possesses a dress code. Anyone who's ever endured the dominance of garish getups at the Australian Open — the fifth oldest event of its kind — knows it's hardly the last sartorial bastion of tennis, like Wimbledon. Professional sport is first and foremost a business, dominated primarily by what pulls the punters in.

No amount of public ballyhooing about nipples is likely to change that — as evidenced by the fact that Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, ranked 21st in the world, sponsored by Nike, made her Monday debut Down Under in an outfit tight enough to render her entire ribcage in vivid detail, never mind her nipples. No mention of a fine yet, though; and somewhere in Oregon a vendor of sports apparel smiles.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Blog Widget by LinkWithin