SERENA WILLIAMS has never been one to bite her lip when she has got something to say. In a world in which athletes are, all too often, media trained to within an inch of their lives, Williams’ frankness is a refreshing change.

And she was at it again in recent days.

Following world No.3 Alex Zverev’s assault on an umpire’s chair at the recent Mexican Open, smashing his racket against it only narrowly missing the umpire’s legs, Williams talked about the double standards in tennis.

Had she behaved in a similar way to the German, she said she would have been “in jail”, compared to Zverev’s punishment of a $40,000 fine plus a suspended eight-week ban and further fine if he re-offends within a year.

I find it impossible to disagree.

The first issue is the softness of Zverev’s punishment. It makes one wonder what would need to happen for an actual ban to be handed out.

The second issue, however, is about the double standards not just Williams, but female athletes in general, must endure.

Williams has not always behaved perfectly throughout her career but regardless, there is no doubt that male and female athletes are held to very different standards.

When a female athlete is emotional, she’s called “hysterical”, but when it’s a male athlete, they are “passionate”.

Similarly, when Naomi Osaka took time away from tennis to protect her mental health, she was called fragile and precious whereas, almost without exception, when male athletes talk about their mental health they are called brave.

There remains an overwhelmingly critical reaction when female athletes show their anger, whether that be smashing their racket or directing dissent towards the umpire. 

On the other hand, there is a feeling of “boys will be boys” when male players act in such a manner.

And there are, of course, the double standards when it comes to the running commentary on how female athletes look, whether or not they smile enough, and if they are “likeable”.

Williams is at a stage in her career where she can say whatever she wants. She has more money than she knows what to do with, a family and successful business interests away from tennis and is nearing the end of her playing career. She, therefore, does not have to worry about offending anyone.

However, few female athletes are in the privileged position of being able to say exactly what they think. Most have to silently accept the double standards; this is, after all, the way things have always been.

This is, clearly, much more than a sport problem. Sport only mirrors the double standards in daily life.

That things have been like this for quite so long suggest it would be optimistic to believe there will be an overnight solution and until there are fewer double standards in play in society as a whole, there is unlikely to be a sweeping answer to solve the problem within sport.

However, every time Williams, or someone of her lofty standing, calls out these double standards, it brings that little bit more awareness to the problem.

And maybe, slowly but surely, there will be a shift away from treating female athletes so differently.


The announcement last week that Ian John-Lewis, the judge whose controversial scorecard helped Josh Taylor to the win against Jack Catterall a fortnight ago, has been downgraded came as little surprise to anyone who watched the fight.

John-Lewis scored the bout 114-111 in Taylor’s favour, prompting a review by the BBBoC, the result of which found that the official’s scorecard did not affect the “overall result of the contest”, but it did take “issue with his margin” of victory for Taylor.

As expected by most observers, John-Lewis’ scoring was not thought to be anything other than someone having a bad day at the office. While boxing is rife with allegations of corruption, it was good to put to bed the suggestion that there was anything more behind his decision.

Many, including a raft of pro boxers, called Taylor’s win the worst decision they had seen and it prompted calls for a change to boxing’s judging system.

However, to remove the way winners are decided removes the essence of boxing.

Yes, there are mistakes made, in the same way mistakes are always made when human judgment comes into play.

But removing judges brings with it another whole series of problems.

Boxing, in the main, remains a subjective sport. There is no technology that can judge a bout.

So, while having judges at ringside remains an, at times, fallible system, it is far better than anything else on offer.

Taylor, meanwhile, now has another huge dollop of pressure on his shoulders the next time he steps into the ring.

There is almost no one outside he and his team who believe he was the rightful winner in his bout with Catterall. And so, more than ever, he needs a good performance on his next outing.