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Sport needs more casual feminists like Andy Murray



Martha Kelner, sports correspondent

Andy Murray came into a makeshift TV studio after midnight local time, bruised and weary following his final match at the Australian Open last week.

He’d just been beaten by the Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut over five gruelling sets.

I was struck firstly by how much of a struggle it was for him to even walk, pain searingly visible as he hoisted himself onto the high stools where we did the interview. The chronic hip injury which led him to announce impending retirement was clearly aggravated by the exertion.

This was a couple of hours after he’d walked off court and had already done a press conference and a few other interviews.

But still he managed to be thoughtful, telling me of his regret that his success has not translated into a meaningful increase in grassroots participation. He desperately wanted that to be part of his legacy but that is a cross for others to bear.

Dozens of fans praised Murray after his announcement
Dozens of fans praised Murray after he announced he would retire

Because what Murray has done has affected the sporting landscape in a manner that can’t be quantified by numbers on a spreadsheet. In a unique way, through his promotion of gender equality – both quietly and publicly – he has changed the game.

It wasn’t just what Murray said but the way he made you feel. I’ve often been in press conferences with male athletes, coaches or managers and had an innate sense they don’t respect you because you’re a woman. Or your otherness is made very apparent.

It’s sometimes well meaning, an “I better watch my language while there’s a lady present,” or a ham-fisted attempt at a joke. But it’s unhelpful when you’re simply trying to do a job like your male colleagues.

He doesn’t just promote gender equality when it suits him or might help boost his public image. He does it because it is what he believes.

Martha Kelner

This was never the case with Murray.

As the American tennis journalist Courtney Nguyen said: ‘Sometimes I’d chuckle at his penchant for giving a thoughtful answer to a question asked by a woman, which he just brushed off when asked by a guy.’

He knows female sport journalists are sometimes marginalised and was doing his bit to redress the balance. I don’t know any other high-profile male athlete so in tune with something that needn’t be their problem.

Perhaps his mother Judy being such an influential figure in his life has played its part.

In the past she has spoken of how, when Murray and younger brother Jamie were children she’d drive a camper van to tournaments and was told she was lucky to have a place on coaching courses because she was “taking the place” of men.

The Australian open in Melbourne as Andy Murray plays Roberto Bautista
The Australian open in Melbourne as Andy Murray plays Roberto Bautista

The British number one Jo Konta suggested being surrounded by strong, capable women in Judy and wife Kim may have informed his mindset. It seems a reasonable assumption.

The Labour MP Jess Philips called him a “casual feminist”. This, she explained, is “usually a man, who wears his feminism like an old beloved jumper, not like a tuxedo or showy tie. It’s just obvious to him.”

That sums up Andy Murray. He doesn’t just promote gender equality when it suits him or might help boost his public image. He does it because it’s what he believes.

From employing the Frenchwoman Amélie Mauresmo as his coach to pointedly correcting journalists when they absentmindedly overlook the achievements of women players.

Andy Murray and Amelie Mauresmo in 2016
Andy Murray with his coach Amelie Mauresmo in 2016

My own off-court Murray highlight was when he castigated the BBC for having Katarina Johnson-Thompson winning heptathlon gold as the 22nd item on their website. “Total joke,” he said. It was, but that he noticed and bothered to say anything was remarkable, too.

Women players past and present were queuing up to pay tribute to him after his announcement.

From Billie Jean-King to Pam Shriver, Chris Evert and Serena Williams, they thanked him for being a rare male voice speaking out about gender equality.

The England football manager Gareth Southgate, I think, is built in the same way. We definitely need more casual feminists like them in sport.

A young Scottish woman stopped to speak as she filed out of the Melbourne Arena after what may be Murray’s final competitive match. She was draped in the Saltire flag and still buzzing with excitement. “He’ll always be a hero,” she said. “He’s just a good man.”

As much as three grand slam titles, two Olympic golds and a Davis Cup victory, that is Andy Murray’s legacy.

Sky Views is a series of comment pieces by Sky News editors and correspondents, published every morning.

Previously on Sky Views: Adam Boulton – Are weekends still about leisure, pleasure and sex?

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