Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wade?

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Yesterday, along with most of the country, I celebrated Andy Murray’s historic straight-set triumph over Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon men’s final. Murray’s was a victory behind which everyone could rally, and, according to much of the UK media, he is the first British champion in 77 years.

Except, he isn’t.

According to most of the media coverage surrounding Wimbledon, the last time we had a British Wimbledon champion was when Fred Perry took the title in 1936. On the contrary, we actually had our last champion 41 years later in 1977, when 31 year-old Bournemouth-born Virginia Wade won the women’s singles tournament. In lieu of that fact, why is it that more people haven’t heard of her?

The sad truth is, Wade’s name has been all but erased from any of the coverage surrounding this year’s championships. I was alerted to the injustice of her exclusion by a handful of memes and articles, and am ashamed to admit I knew nothing of her achievement until earlier this morning. Though most reports of Murray’s win at least specify that he was the first male winner in 77 years, I haven’t seen a single one yet mention Wade. Media coverage of the qualifying rounds and Murray’s chances at the title often erroneously claimed that no Brit had won the tournament since Perry, and The Times even ran with the headline ‘Murray ends 77-year wait for British win’ (a mistake that they have since attempted to rectify in follow-up articles).

A similar headline in The Telegraph
A similar headline in The Telegraph

So why the decision to omit Wade from coverage? The cynics among you may see it as a sexist omission: the focus on men’s tennis is far greater, and Wade’s achievement has been overshadowed by Murray’s by virtue of his gender. Disturbing thought though that is, there may be some truth to it. It was only recently that women were offered the same prize money as men at Wimbledon, and comes in the wake of Southampton alumni John Inverdale suggesting that this year’s female champion Marion Bartoli “was never going to be a looker”.

Unfortunately, this wilful ignorance of female champions doesn’t end with Wade. There have, in fact, been three other British women to win Wimbledon since Perry’s victory in ’36:

  • Dorothy Round Little, a year later in 1937.
  • Angela Mortimer Barrett, in an all-UK final in 1961.
  • Ann Haydon Jones, beating US legend Billie Jean King in 1969.

Hopefully it won’t be a long time before we have another British Wimbledon champion. But if a woman gets there first, let’s hope that she gets the recognition she deserves.

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Editor and MA English student. Follow on Twitter @SamEverard1

Discussion15 Comments

  1. avatar
    dont_understand

    ‘and am ashamed to admit I knew nothing of her achievement until earlier this morning’

    If you’re allowed to be ignorant of it then why aren’t the press?

    Sam Everard
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    Because I’m not a professional sports journalist. If you’re hired to cover Wimbledon, they should know a bit about previous winners and it’s history.

    dont_understand
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    True. But i’m not, for example, a doctor, so I wouldn’t criticise one for the approach they take to their practice because I had read a CGP Biology textbook this morning

    Sam Everard
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    It’s not quite the same as that analogy. Knowing the previous winners of the most high-profile tennis tournament in the world, as someone reporting on tennis, seems fairly fundamental. And it’s the sort of thing you can Wikipedia in seconds.

  2. avatar

    Could it be simply because ”77 year wait” makes a better headline than ”41 year wait” or ”77 year wait since last male champion”. Call me a cynic, but they don’t care about the facts, they just want to sell newspapers. If Laura Robson won next year they would say ’42 year wait’.

  3. avatar

    I’m really struggling to understand the argument of this piece. The media clearly mean 77 years since a male winner…it’s not part of some sort of anti-women agenda.

    For starters, Tennis is probably the most equal sport on the planet. Secondly, the coverage would have been just as big if a British women won it. Thirdly, on your basis, we had two Wimbledon winners since 77 with Jamie Murray in the mixed doubles in 2007 and Jonathan Marray in the men’s doubles last year.

    Sam Everard
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    I’m also clearly not the only person to think it wasn’t so obvious, judging by internet reaction. And I don’t think it’s an ‘anti-woman agenda’ but it’s certainly an oversight.

    1. Fine, but I’m not disputing tennis the sport. The article was about the media coverage of Wimbledon.
    2. Really? Any way of proving that? The coverage afforded to someone like Murray is huge in comparison to, say, Laura Robson. It’s different because he’s a champion, sure, but the disparity in coverage of men and women’s tennis is definitely there.
    3. It’s not ‘on my basis’. They won whether I said they did or not. The difference is in the individual achievement. Plus, the Marray was partnered with a Dane and Murray with a Serb, so it’s hardly a GB victory.

    Zander
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    I generally don’t use the supposed popularity of an idea as a source of its legitimacy, but fair enough…

    2) Can i prove it? Well, can you prove otherwise?
    1-2) And I actually find this claim ridiculous Sam. Did you watch Wimbledon? They made a big thing of it every time Robson played, the media continually gave equal coverage of both the men’s and women’s games…yes, they focused more on Murray, but that’s nothing to do with gender…it’s purely cause he made it to the latter stages and had a realistic chance of winning it.

    3) You’ve missed my point. You are claiming there is some sort of media bias because it said 77 years since the last British winner rather than 41 years…well, in fact, its one year on your logic. As someone said above, it’s a sound bite not a source of total accuracy.

    I just think this article seems to be creating an illusion of some sort of sexist agenda in a sport which is the leading one in sexual equality.

    Sam Everard
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    Not trying to verify it’s legitimacy, just saying I’m not the only one.

    2). If neither of us can prove it, what’s the point in using a hypothetical in your argument?
    1). Yes, I did watch it. No need to patronise me. Every bit of coverage I read in print media gave a double page to Murray and reduced Robson to a sidebar. I said myself I agree that a lot of that is because he’s the champion and always stood a better chance.

    3. And you’ve missed mine. The Wimbledon winners coverage (and amount of time since the previous winner) is based on the singles tournament: individual achievement, not as part of a team as in the doubles. My argument is that the individual achievements of Wade and the others have been overlooked.

    Once again, I’m not talking about tennis a sport in any of this. I agree that it’s a leader in equality, as evidenced by the prize money hike. My point here, and my point in the article, is to do with media coverage of the sport, and not the sport itself.

  4. avatar

    To be fair, they all made a big point of making sure everyone knew that it was only the men who hadn’t won in 77 years, and Virginia Wade was actually interviewed a day or so beforehand, I think during segment before the women’s final (or semi-final), about her winning Wimbledon. Basically, they had her there and talking about it.

    Besides which, they’re kind of different competitions anyway. The men’s singles and women’s singles are pretty much separate, and to win one is not the same as winning the other. if it was a mixed competition with men and women playing together, and they still ignored Virginia Wade, then there’s be a problem.

    As it is, however, he is the first British man to win Wimbeldon in 77 years.
    That’s the truth, that’s how it was reported, and it in no way is a slight against Virginia Wade to put a little asterisk next to the headlines stating that she has won it since then.

    Chris
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    * in no way a slight against Virginia Wade NOT to put a little asterisk

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    My maths makes it 36 years ago.

    Sam Everard
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    Yes, and I said she won ’41 years after Fred Perry’. 41+36=77. Isn’t maths fun?

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