Friday, July 15, 2005

World Team Tennis and "Equality"

I caught some of the World Team Tennis contest between the Boston Lobsters and the New York Sportimes yesterday while I was at the gym. I have never seen a WTT match in person but it looks like fun. (Though Bright Arena at Harvard where the matches were held was a good deal less than full despite headliners like Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis.) And I was impressed when WTT founder, Billie Jean King, and long-time player Navratilova both commented about the equality of the format: men's and women's matches count the same (because WTT score is based on number of games, not matches, won). Everyone is equally important. They both noted their belief that sports can influence society and so having a format that promotes equality is good for all. Just warms the cockles of sports and cultural studies scholars' hearts everywhere (or at least my own).
But wait--what is this? In the mixed doubles matches when the game gets tied at deuce (WTT does plays no-ad tennis which means next point wins) instead of the receiving team choosing who gets the ball (as they do in single-sex doubles matches) it goes man-to-man or woman-to-woman depending on who the server is. Now this is the way it works in USTA and all the recreational tennis I have ever played. But I think it's a lousy rule. Tennis, like most sports, relies on strategy just as much as strength. If the male server has a weaker serve on the ad court and the opposing team female plays the ad court and has been successful in returning then why not let her take it?
I think equality it often misconstrued which is why most discussion around Title IX now focuses on equity and not equality. Equality looks different depending on where you're standing; equity is more nuanced. But semantics (though important) aside, it seems like equality/equity means the right to choose. I think the man-to-man/woman-to-woman rule in mixed doubles precludes choice; and I think choice is a key element in equality/equity in sports. WTT has been innovative in so many ways and I hope it continues to regain its popularity but I also think they can reevaluate their policies of 30 years ago to create a format that is 21st-century radical and not 1970s radical.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hi..I'm just testing this out. I'll read more about tennis later...jen