'We'll favour men': French Open embroiled in ugly 'sexism' controversy

Rafael Nadal (pictured right) posing with the French Open title and Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams (pictured left) sharing a hug.
The French Open tournament director has added to the outrage after using Rafael Nadal as an example of who they would prefer to play during the new night sessions, rather than a Naomi Osaka or Serena Williams (pictured left) in case the match is short. (Getty Images)

The French Open has been embroiled in a gender inequality furore after announcing the tournament will be postponed a week due to Covid-19.

In a joint statement, the ATP and WTA confirmed the French Open will be delayed by one week, with the main draw of the tournament now set to commence on May 30.

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The delay caused uproar within the tennis community with players such as Alize Cornet clearly frustrated at the decision.

But fans have also taken aim at the tournament over the introduction of night games at Chatrier stadium.

On Tuesday, local French publication RMC alleged Roland Garros was holding night session only for men in order to improve viewership.

The roof added to the Chatrier Stadium at last year's Roland Garros allowed for matches to be held later in the evening.

This initial publication caused uproar within the tennis community and many accused the tournament of 'sexism'.

However, French Open officials quickly moved to deny the accusation, and said both women and men would play the night match.

"Following the RMC Sport article published today, The FFT would like to underscore that at Roland Garros women and men enjoy equal footing, notably when it comes to prize money," the statement read.

"In this vein, two women’s and two men’s matches are to be programmed daily on Court Phillipe-Chatrier."

“The day’s play will therefore consist of three day matches and one night match. The fourth match, the match of the day, which will be played from 9pm, could be either a men’s or women’s match depending on the order of play decided upon by the head tournament umpire.”

Backlash to French Open night change

Leading tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg led the skepticism of the idea after pointing out that prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, there was no women's semifinal matches on Chatrier.

He questioned if the French Open was seeking higher viewership, what was going to change.

To make matters worse, tournament director Guy Forget then weighed-in on the debate and failed to quell the outrage.

The tournament director spoke to L'Equipe and said while both men and women could theoretically play during the night session, the tournament could favour players such as Rafael Nadal.

"The first rounds for the seeds are often one-sided matches," Forget told the publication.

"We will rather favour men's matches; even if Rafael Nadal wins 6–1, 6–2, 6–3, he will play for 1 hour 45 minutes or 2 hours. If it's 6–1, 6–1 in women, it can last 40 minutes."

This could mean superstars such as World No.1 Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams won't feature on the showcase court in the earlier rounds because they will be expected to cruise into the next round.

Rafael Nadal poses with the winners trophy after winning the French Open final against Novak Djokovic.
Rafael Nadal with the winners trophy and Novak Djokovic with the runners up trophy during the French Open Tennis Tournament at Roland Garros on October 11th 2020 in Paris, France. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images) (Tim Clayton - Corbis via Getty Images)

Despite clearly pointing to broadcast times as a big factor, in having the average men's match lasting longer, Forget didn't ignore the women.

He said there wasn't any restriction on women playing the showcase match.

"We did not forbid ourselves to play women's matches," Forget added.

"We did not say to ourselves either that we will only play men's matches. If at some point there is a women's game that is a great showdown, it could be the game of the day, the one people want to see first. We will want to put this match in the evening session."

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