You might think that being ranked world number one on eight separate occasions, winning 23 grand slam titles (including one on every surface, grass, clay and hard), holding eight olympic gold medals and not to mention triumphing at the Australian Open while growing a human being, might get a woman the right to wear whatever she wants.
But you’d be wrong.
Serena Williams made headlines this summer for her performance at the French Open. But it was not her return to the tennis tournament scene after the birth of her daughter Olympia that caught attention. Nor was it her dedicating the match to all mums who experienced complicated pregnancies. It was not even her 7-6, 6-4 first-round victory against Kristyna Pliskova, proving that her 14 month break hadn’t dulled her skills a jot, that generated a stir.
It was her outfit.
We admit, the sleek black catsuit cinched with a wide red belt was a great look. The suit, designed to protect against blood clots, was both fashionable and functional. But for those of us who have followed Serena’s ascent with awe, marvelled at her determination and grit and cheered for her as she showed the world exactly what women are made of, that catsuit made her look nothing short of a superhero.
It’s a pity then, that the president of the French Tennis Association, Bernard Giudicelli, has banned the piece, saying it went to far and would “no longer be accepted”.
This laser focus on what women wear has marred the professional sports scene for too long, and for muslim athletes it often stands in the way of them compet competing, but there have been improvements in recent years. The International Weightlifting Federation changed its rules in 2012 to allow athletes to wear islamic dress and in 2014 FIFA finally lifted the ban on wearing head coverings for religious reasons after Iran pulled out of a match in protest at not being allowed to wear their headscarves. The basketball govening body FIBA overturned a similar ban in 2017. With the release of the Nike pro-hijab last year opening the door to sportswear that is both modest, functional and safe, it may the tide is turning. As hijabis such as Ibtihaj Muhammad, the US olympic fencer, and Zahra Lari, international figures skater for the UAE, start to ascend the ranks of professional athletes, muslim athletes are better placed than ever to demand change.
As to whether Serena was concerned by the ban, her response was characteristically classy: “We talked yesterday, so, everything’s fine guys,” she said during a press conference, adding: “When it comes to fashion, you don’t want to be a repeat offender! It’ll be a while before this even has to come up again.” A pity for those of us keen to see the catsuit return, but perhaps the best indication of her attitude is her outfit choice for the US open. In the last few weeks she has been playing fantastic tennis while wearing a one shoulder, custom designed dress with a tiered, frilled skirt.
Catsuit banned? No problem. Ms Williams rocked up in a tutu.