Judy Murray, tennis hero, is the new coach for Soccer Aid. The criticism exposes a lot about the sexism professional sportswomen face.
This morning, Judy Murray was revealed as the new coach for the World XI team in the 2021 Soccer Aid competition. Talking on Good Morning Britain, the tennis coach beamed as she spoke about how excited she was to get involved. “I’m thrilled to bits – wildly excited to be part of a major event,” she said. “It’s something that raises money for charity, it brings people from entertainment and sport together, and it’s a real showcase. It’s going to be a whole lot of fun.”
Twitter was less excited. Her name was trending, but the top tweets were all from people asking what Murray knows about sport, why she continues to “piggyback” off of her children’s success, and calling her a “pushy mum”.
Yep, they’re talking about the same Judy Murray who has had a successful career as a tennis player and coach. She herself was a tennis champion, winning 64 Scottish titles during her career. After she left university in 1981, she channelled her experience into coaching. Naturally, she brought her sons up playing tennis, and under her guidance they became two of Great Britain’s biggest stars: Andy and Jamie Murray. She’s also mentored the best female players in Great Britain as captain of the British Fed Cup team, and has long been a spokesperson for other women in sport.
While Murray herself said on GMB that she isn’t “a huge football fan”, she knows how to coach better than most, explaining that her game plan for getting the team ready was to focus on “team building and tactics and motivation”. Things that any coach with world-title winning players knows how to do. So why is the assumption that she isn’t fit for the job? To put it bluntly, women in sport just aren’t seen with the same respect or legitimacy, no matter how much they’ve proven their worth.
Of course, Murray is used to sexist comments being fired at her. Throughout her time next to the court cheering on her sons, she’s been accused of being too loud, too brash and too much. On Kate Thornton’s White Wine Question Time podcast back in December, Murray said: “I always reckon if I had been a dad, I wouldn’t have been picked out [by the media] the same way. I would probably have been applauded for being the competitive dad.
She went on to add: “I have always loved sports – and sport is competitive and I am competitive! I enjoy being competitive. I find myself almost apologising for being competitive and what’s wrong with being ambitious? Why shouldn’t we be ambitious within sport?”
Female competitiveness is so often seen as vulgar or unfeminine. Consider Serena Williams, another female tennis hero, who has been accused of aggression for her passion, despite male players literally breaking rackets on court without being criticised. Both of these women face other elements of prejudice: Williams deals with misogynoir, adding to her ‘aggressive’ portrayal. Still-working Murray, 52, is also seen as incapable due to ageism, despite retired, 74-year-old Harry Redknapp taking up the role of manager in Soccer Aid without any backlash.
The criticism of Murray, and other sportswomen, is sexist, baseless and little professional sporting experience themselves. Yet it’s people like them who give essential opportunities and voices to women. Just a few months ago, she signed up to become a shareholder for Lewes FC due to the fact that they’re the only football club who pay their professional men and women’s team the same amount.
Finally, let’s remember that this is a charity game, with profits from this year’s game helping to buy Covid vaccines for children around the world. Why do we need to turn that into a game of sexism?
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).