THE BLOG

Bouchard's Twirl: Sexist? Or Just Another Athlete Bullied By the Camera?

22/01/2015 17:20 GMT | Updated 24/03/2015 09:59 GMT

Eugenie Bouchard celebrated her victory on court at the Australian Open by having a little pirouette for the millions of lads and lasses watching at home.

Not because she wanted to. But rather because a man asked her to. A man with a captive audience and a microphone. The kind of man she's been trained to be nice to, just as surely as she practises her backhand.

The type of man she feels powerless to say no to.

Tomas Berdych is also ranked number seven in the world right now. Any good at twirling? Entirely possible. Maybe its just the poor lad has never been asked. And if he was asked to, would he feel the need to oblige?

Probably.

Eugenie Bouchard is exceptionally talented at a sport that has managed to achieve what few others can ever boast: an almost equal footing with its male counterpart. Yes, a tennis match is still defined first and foremost by the sex of the person playing it, but tennis has an almost equal audience across the board. Equal billing with television coverage and in the sporting pages of our newspapers. Just as many people queuing to watch it live. All factors we are far from seeing in women's football or golf.

Along with this success in women's tennis comes fame. And along with fame comes media. And along with media comes presenters. People paid to push a microphone in an athletes face and get them to dissect their own performance. A presenter reporting from the sidelines of any sporting event knows that they are dealing with a person who is very, very tired. And it's quite difficult to get a tired person to talk to you.

The presenter also knows they are very pushed for time. That they need to get their precious few words from that athlete before they leave. Possibly most importantly? They are scared to ask a question so inane as to deem them totally replaceable by the countless other presenters standing in the studio wings all desperate to take their place.

The male presenter saw that Serena Williams likes to have herself a little twirl, so he quite wisely incorporated it into his own little interview with her. And it worked very well, as any truly genuine personal touch always does. But to try this same little trick with Eugenie was lazy. Its the sign of an individual who can't be bothered to do their research and find out the essence of their subject. And male or female, there is no excuse for that in our industry.

It isn't sexist to ask a woman to twirl for a camera. It's just sh*t presenting. What is worrying is the fact that this young woman with the world at her feet (and all of the power that goes with it?) felt powerless to refuse this action she clearly felt very uncomfortable doing. That this man was allowed to publicly push her to a place she truly did not want to go. That she submitted to the pressure and complied.

This pressure comes from all of us. Not just the presenters that force female and male athletes to become performing seals just because we can't be bothered to see them as individuals, but the collective pressure of millions of singular people with twitter accounts. Who share the outrage publicly, letting our sporting stars know with a simple "@" exactly what we thought of their performance on and off the court.

Public opinion matters now. In ways that it never did before. Athletes live in fear of their behaviour being misinterpreted as difficult. It affects their sponsorship and livelihood. Nobody can afford that to happen in a career that is so short. And we know it does matter. Because the same people Eugenie and her peers are so very afraid of are playing out their outrage right now in the very way she was trying to avoid by submitting to the presenters request in the first place.

If we want our athletes to be true to themselves and not feel used by the media, pressured by lazy presenters and cowed into submission by the public? We need to leave them alone a bit more. Give them a chance to feel like human beings again.

Everyone deserves that. This basic human right is a totally equal opportunity.