In the week where English graduate and artist Kim Sears has received escalating levels of online abuse as a result of her use of some rather creative court-side language, once again the partners of sports stars are held to a higher plain by the media. By simultaneously expecting of them the behaviour of a traditionally doting partner yet demanding the headline grabbing flair of the traditional ‘WAG’, little space is left for those who don’t conform to their pre-determined expectations. Not only is this damaging to women’s self-expression but also to sport as a whole.
The pressure to comply with the expectations of the media, and in many ways the sporting world, leaves those who define themselves outside the stereotype of the ‘WAG’ tarred by an unfair pre-conception of what they should be, whilst those who conform to this convention are left scrutinised and criticised for doing so.
We need to start seeing the partners of sportsmen as women with agency, not defining their behaviour by their relationship with their sporting partner. Even the label ‘WAG’ defines the woman by who they are with, as opposed to who they are, leaving them a mere appendage.
Ultimately, there is something enormously jarring that where the sports world is allegedly meritocratic, celebrity culture ensures that such an appreciation of individual talents isn’t extended to those in relationships with sports stars. Instead it is met by a crippling pressure to conform to a set of flagrantly contradictory norms.
If lip reading is to be believed, there is certainly an argument to suggest that nobody should tell Tomas Berdych to “fucking have that, you Czech flash fuck”. Yet, equally, there are doubtless many people, male or female, who would react in the same way whilst being involved in such a tension-filled situation.
Not unsurprisingly, it is not the slight to Berdych’s nationality that has been the focus of the media’s attention but Sears’ particular choice of vocabulary whilst watching fiancé Andy Murray’s Australian Open semi-final win.
Suddenly unable to categorise her as either demure and ladylike or brash and colourful, the media seems to have reverted to its default position of criticism. Frankly, good on her. The more the expected idea of what the partner of a sports star should look, act or even speak like is challenged, the better.
Ultimately, once people move beyond such preconceived notions life will become much easier for those people who chose partners who just happen to also play sport for a living. Everyone has a basic right to self-determination which ought to be more widely respected by the media as a whole. But if that argument is not persuasive enough, such a change would almost certainly benefit sports fans.
If partners were able to pursue their own ideals of who they would like to be without a barrage of media pressure, the quality of the sport we enjoy would most likely improve. In any relationship, let alone one which is under the pressure that sportspeople face, mutual support is crucial to success. If one or both of that pairing perpetually faces the unpleasantness of a hugely judgemental media then their ability to support one another is reduced.
According to BBC tennis analyst John Lloyd, Murray ‘loves it when those in his supporters’ box are very involved’. It would be a terrible shame if pressure placed on Kim Sears impacted upon Murray’s performance during the Australian Open finals.
However, ultimately the only way the stereotype of what sportsmen’s partners should be like will be destroyed will be through people’s active rejection of it. So thank fuck for Kim Sears. Now lets return to watching sports, rather than those who love the people that play it.