Ah, Wimbledon … lawn tennis, strawberries, women having to wear white during their periods – The Irish Times

Ah, the great traditions of Wimbledon. Strawberries and cream. The forceful grunt of the Croatian baseliner. Cliff depressing everyone with a singalong Summer Holiday. Malcontents pretending the BBC calls Andy Murray Scottish only when he loses.

One of the most cherished traditions is being challenged more vigorously than ever before. Wimbledon has, alone among the Grand Slam tournaments, stuck reasonably close to an insistence on all-white clothing. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the United States Open becoming the first international event to permit kits of different colors. The rest followed suit. But Wimbledon stayed with the garment regulations it still shares with chefs and ice-cream men.

The apparent decision to allow players to display ribbons supporting Ukraine does not radically alter the aesthetic. More challenging is the growing unease at forcing all women players to wear white when — do the maths — a significant number will be having their period. The retired player Monica Puig addressed the issue during a Twitter conversation concerning the stubborn taboo on discussing menstruation as a factor in women’s sport. “Definitely something that affects female athletes!” she wrote. “Not to mention the mental stress of having to wear all white at Wimbledon and pray.”

It is true that the juxtaposition of pure white and sharp green lends Wimbledon a visual grace entirely missing from the clattering, multicolored flash of the US Open

It should be incredible that this has barely ever come up in mainstream Wimbledon discourse. But it’s not incredible. The recent Disney film Turning Red reminded us there is no everyday matter that causes such irrational unease. Other professionals grasped the rare opportunity. “I cannot imagine going into the biggest day of my life, with my period, and being forced to wear white,” the sports reporter Catherine Whitaker observed. “It is absolutely something the players talk about around Wimbledon because of the all-whites,” the British player Heather Watson said. “I’ll probably go on the pill just to skip my period for Wimbledon.” It could hardly be more ironic that the regulations were reportedly brought in to minimize the visibility of sweat stains. We can safely assume that the venerable nabobs of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club did not then discuss the question of menstrual blood.

The arguments against change are rooted in aesthetics and, yes, what passes for tradition. It is true that the juxtaposition of pure white and sharp green lends Wimbledon a visual grace entirely missing from the clattering, multicolored flash of the US Open. Few believe the garish pajamas worn in limited-overs international cricket are easier on the eye than the whites still required in more traditional incarnations of the game. (Women cricketers have, incidentally, recently raised similar concerns to those addressed by their sisters of the net.) Fair enough. But the comfort of the players is certainly more important than superficial appearances. Soccer survived the elimination of baggy shorts and heavy leather boots.

This slippery thing called tradition may be harder to resist. Heather Watson herself mentioned the word in her comments. “I really like the tradition of it and I wouldn’t want to change that,” she says. “My only stress is that I get my period but I just plan my period around it.”

So much of what we think of as tradition is invented. Much of it is invented recently

The assumption is that, since before the Boer War, Wimbledon has insisted on pure white from headband to sneakers. But this is not quite true. Bjorn Borg played in a white shirt with green stripes and a blue collar four decades ago. His great rival John McEnroe displayed red, white and blue sleeves in the 1980 final. It seems neither would be allowed now. The New York Times reports that, by 2001, Fila, the sportswear company that manufactured Borg’s shirt, were told a retrospective replica was no longer acceptable.

The current regulations, codified in 2014, are comically unyielding in their insistence on unblemished fabric. “White does not include off-white or cream!” they scolded (I added the exclamation point). “A single trim of color around the neckline and around the cuff of the sleeves is acceptable but must be no wider than one centimeter,” it continues. Take that, McEnroe’s sleeves.

Back in 1983, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger published an interesting volume entitled The Invention of Tradition. One contributor reminded us how many of the British royal family’s great traditions were devised in the 19th century. There is lengthy discussion of how a faux romantic version of Scotland — sometimes called tartanry — emerged at about the same time. The invention of tradition continues in more trivial fashion to this day. British football fans now refuse to believe their game was merrily called “soccer” in that country until about 40 years ago. In Ireland we pretend that pumpkins and trick-or-treating at Halloween are something other than recently imported bastardisations of domestic traditions. I tried to resist mentioning the cod-Irish spelling of “crack” as “craic”, but it seems I lack the discipline to avoid again snorting at that recent atrocity.

So much of what we think of as tradition is invented. Much of it is invented recently. As we have seen, Wimbledon was once more flexible about clothing than it pretends. SW19 will not slide into the sea if the women are allowed to wear blue skirts.

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