It didn’t take long for a controversy over women’s attire to erupt at the 2018 U.S. Open in New York City. Day two of the annual tournament saw a female player slapped with a code violation for briefly removing her shirt to adjust it while on the court. Meanwhile, it’s commonplace for male players to remove their shirts entirely and no such penalties are issued.
The controversy broke out after Alize Cornet of France, the No. 31-ranked player in the world, returned from taking a 10 minute break to deal with the effects of heat stroke. New York City, like much of the East Coast has been experiencing oppressive heat. Temperatures in the Big Apple topped out at 94 degrees on Tuesday. Upon returning to the court, Cornet realized she’d put her shirt on backwards while in the locker room. Before play resumed against Johanna Larsson of Sweden, quickly turned away from her opponent and the TV cameras and pulled her shirt off, then put it back on the right way. She was wearing a sports bra under her shirt.
That’s when the umpire, Christian Rask, hit her with a code violation. Cornet was nonplussed by the call. According to Deadspin, the first code violation issued to a player is only a warning, so it didn’t result in Cornet losing any points. But she went on to lose the match 6-4 3-6 2-6. Under WTA rules, women players are allowed to change their shirts during a medical timeout or at the end of a set, but they must leave the court to do so. Men routinely change their shirts while court side — often sitting shirtless, cooling off for several minutes at a time between sets.
In fact, Roger Federer of Switzerland was seen sitting shirtless court side during his first round match against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan on Tuesday. No uproar occurred about that. It’s worth noting male players are not afforded breaks to leave the court to change during a match.
Either way, many viewers were outraged by the apparent sexism at play. Even Judy Murray, the Scottish tennis coach and mother of star player Andy Murray, took umbrage with the ump’s call.
Alize Cornet came back to court after 10 minute heat break. Had her fresh shirt on back to front. Changed at back of court. Got a code violation. Unsportsmanlike conduct….. ????
But the men can change shirts on court. https://t.co/sCN4KDXYTb
— judy murray (@JudyMurray) August 28, 2018
Busted for code violation ???? #alizecornet took 10 sec to turn top right way but #novacdjokovic can sit for minutes half-naked. Same comp. Days after @serenawilliams slammed for disrespecting tennis because she wore a #catsuit. Not fair. Not right. Tell your daughters ???? pic.twitter.com/pJILnwvUvG
— Alissa Warren (@alissawarren) August 29, 2018
Cornet, who earlier this week retweeted a post by tennis great Billie Jean-King in which she said “the policing of women’s bodies must end” in the sport of tennis, told Reuters she was surprised by the uproar. “For sure, the women are treated a little bit differently. I think it gets much better, especially in the tennis. But she added that the warning didn’t impact the result of the match. “I want to be clear about it and I didn’t take it that bad. I was just maybe disturbed for 10 seconds and that was it.”
By mid-day on Wednesday, the WTA weighed in with a statement posted on Twitter, saying the umpire’s ruling was “unfair” and that “Alize did nothing wrong.”
In a subsequent statement, the WTA added, “All players can change their shirts when sitting in the player chair. This is not considered a Code Violation. We regret that a Code Violation was assessed to Ms. Cornet yesterday. We have clarified the policy to ensure this will not happen moving forward. Fortunately, she was only assessed a warning with no further penalty or fine. Female players, if they choose, may also change their shirts in a more private location close to the court, when available. They will not be assessed a bathroom break in this circumstance.”
Officials at the U.S. Open also issued an apology. “All players can change their shirts when sitting in the player chair. This is not considered Code Violation,” the statement read. “We regret that a Code violation was assessed to Ms. Cornet yesterday. We have clarified the policy to ensure this will not happen moving forward.”
US Open Statement on Change of Attire Policy pic.twitter.com/Kt7EcuPz1S
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 29, 2018
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