You probably know by now that tennis player Andy Murray has announced he expects to retire within the next few months. Murray has been forced to admit his playing days are numbered due to pain following surgery on his right hip, after an incredible career which has seen him reach the heights of world number one and become the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years.
It’s no accident that I’ve written first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936. Although media at the time, including The Times and the Daily Mail, hailed him as ‘the first British champion in 77 years’, four British women have won a Wimbledon final since Fred Perry. This casual dismissal of women’s achievements, intended or not, is sadly par for the course in the sports industry, and most athletes of Murray’s ilk wouldn’t be expected to address it. But Andy Murray is not most athletes.
When praised by a reporter as being the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals, Murray drily responded, “I think Venus and Serena have won about four each”. His outspoken criticism of biased media reports, relentless support of his female coach and unwavering backing of his female colleagues led Serena Williams to say, “I don’t think there’s a woman player - and there really shouldn’t be a female athlete - that is not totally supportive of Andy Murray.”
Clearly, female players love Andy for his support, and rightly so, but it isn’t just athletes who benefit when a person of power steps in as an ally. Being an ally is not about ‘mansplaining’, taking the spotlight from women or using feminism to improve your public image. Being a good ally is about using your influence to elevate and support those with less power than you.
Andy Murray is a good ally because he has worked to break down barriers for every teenager who is told she can’t play football because it’s a boy’s sport, or every woman told she shouldn’t join a rugby team because it will make her seem too masculine. No sport should be the preserve of the one gender, and Murray has always been quick to correct any journalist who implies otherwise. Women like Serena and Venus are responsible for their own achievements, but by correcting that reporter about their Olympic medals, Andy put them in the spotlight and reminded a thousand girls around the world that female athletes are important too.
Research undertaken by Sport England ahead of the latest This Girl Can campaign in 2018, showed that 40% of women are still not completing the recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week, and they’re citing a lack of confidence and a worry that they will be judged as some of the reasons why. It’s hardly surprising that we’re hearing this, when less than 3% of people shown playing sport in national newspapers are women. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, and by raising the visibility of his female colleague’s achievements, Andy has helped to create role models for women and girls around the world.
Andy Murray’s retirement will be a big loss to tennis, and to feminism in sport, but no one would argue he made this decision lightly. Let’s hope his unapologetic support for women inspires future athletes to use their power as allies for women – that would be a real grand slam.
Kate Dale is campaign lead for Sport England’s This Girl Can