It’s hard to conceive of what Channel Seven’s rationale was last night, when it chose to air nearly all of Nick Kyrgios’ match against Jordan Thompson rather than Ash Barty’s first round shellacking of China’s Saisai Zheng.
It certainly had nothing to do with talent. After all, Barty is the newly crowned women’s world No.1– the only other Australian woman to achieve the ranking since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976. Her game is both technical and exciting, and last night was no exception. She artfully eased her way into the second round, sealing victory with straight sets 6-4, 6-2. (If only we’d been able to watch live).
Kyrgios on the other hand, is currently ranked world number 43. When in form, he’s incredible to watch. But so often, put simply, he’s not. He won the match last night, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 7-6 (12-10), 0-6, 6-1– but after 3 hours and 26 minutes viewers weren’t watching with bated breath, we were willing the often erratic match to come to an end so we could go to bed.
And Channel Seven’s contentious call surely had nothing to do with Australians’ preferred watching. For the past few months, the whole country’s been in heavy celebration over at the ‘Barty Party’. No one’s leaving, and a new keg’s just been wheeled in.
Sport has always had a remarkable way of uniting this nation– even during times of deep division. Barty is the poster child for that unity. Her power even more omnipresent and potent as a result of her deep love and pride for her family and Indigenous heritage.
Everyone’s behind her.
So why did Channel Seven make this call?
Are we simply so used to seeing men’s sport prioritised that we fear a new normal? One in which women’s sport– now proven to be widely enjoyed and supported– regularly makes it to the front of the line because it deserves to be there. Channel Seven had the opportunity to set a new precedent last night, and they well and truly missed the boat.
Good broadcasters (like good sponsors) understand now that professional women’s sport is no gimmick. Australians love sport, we love competition and we love celebrating exciting home-grown talent we can feel proud of–irrespective of gender. It’s that simple.
Unlike Nick Kyrgios (who very often gives us a lot to feel embarrassed about), Ash Barty epitomises this. She continues to be all class when she plays and is equally humble and gracious off court.
Kyrgios is often excused for being a petulant, cocky brat because of his age. A 24-year old locked into life on the professional tennis circuit? No wonder he acts out. But Ash Barty is a year younger than Kyrgios. When she felt overwhelmed by the pressure, she took herself out of the game to try her hand at cricket before returning when she was ready; with a new resolve and fire in her belly.
She did not hurl abuse at umpires, routinely swear at ball boys and lines-people or make sexist innuendos. She acted like an autonomous adult and gave herself a breather.
But apparently, according to the producers at Channel Seven, bad behaviour is to be rewarded. How else do you explain why our 43rd ranked, male tennis star was given preference last night over a young woman who has so far delivered everything our sport-obsessed hearts could ever want.
Hopefully Seven reflects on public dissatisfaction in time for next round. It’s not too late to make good and show us what we want.