Billie Jean King: Amol Rajan Interviews – BBC 2

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This was an absolutely fascinating interview about a wide range of hot topics – equal pay in tennis, equal rights for women generally and LGBTQ rights, probably the subjects most closely associated with Billie Jean King, but also a number of other subjects including abortion rights – this was filmed before yesterday’s unfortunate decision to overturn Roe vs Wade – and mental health.  It was very interesting to hear her say that tennis, far from being a goldfish bowl, felt like a sanctuary in which she could escape her personal problems.  And it was particularly interesting to hear her talk about her struggles with binge-eating disorder, something with which I’ve long struggled myself.

She could well have used this interview to try to plug her recently-published book, but she didn’t: she let Amol lead the interview and she answered what he asked.  She did say that she thinks she’d have won a lot more titles had she not been so active off court.  I’m not sure that a British person would have said that, even if they thought it 🙂 , but she’s probably right.  (And Marcus Rashford has been bang off-form since he got involved with the school dinners’ campaign – I hope he gets back on track on the pitch.)

The issue of equal pay in tennis and of the treatment of women’s matches vis-a-vis men’s matches came up very early on.  This was a big subject at the French Open, because of the dreadful scheduling of the night matches – several five set matches didn’t start until gone 8:45pm local time, but there was a reluctance to schedule women’s matches for the night session in case a match was something like 6-1 6-2 and people complained that they’d had no value for their night session ticket.  Billie Jean’s answer was to make men’s matches best of three at Grand Slams.  I have to disagree there: the best-of-five matches are thrilling.  Just not in the wee small hours of the morning.

The establishment of the WTA and the Battle of the Sexes are interesting topics, but have been discussed at length before.   However, I hadn’t known that Billie Jean testified to Congress regarding the need for federal legislation about equal rights for women in education, the Title IX Act passed 50 years ago, and that Harvard Medical School only allotted 5% of places to women prior to that.

Regarding whether or not trans women should be allowed to play in women’s sporting events, which is a very controversial subject at the moment, she said that she didn’t want to see anyone excluded from tennis or other sports, but that she also didn’t want to see anyone put at an unfair advantage or disadvantage.  Her opinion was that more answers are needed from the scientific community about whether or not trans women who’ve gone through male puberty have an unfair advantage over cisgender women, and that, if so, maybe there should be a separate category of competition for transgender athletes.

Another controversial subject is the banning of Russian and Belarusian athletes from Wimbledon.  She opposed it.  I can see both sides.  I don’t think it’ll achieve anything, TBH.  Did banning South African athletes all those years achieve anything?  But I can also see what a huge propaganda opportunity it’d be for Putin to have a photo of, say, the Duchess of Cambridge presenting the men’s singles’ trophy to Daniil Medvedev or Andrey Rublev.  I don’t know what the answer is.  I just wish that the LTA, ATP and WTA had been able to reach agreement on the subject.

For such a public person, it’s quite strange that she didn’t reveal that she and her long-term partner Ilana Kloss had married in 2018 until the book came out (no pun intended) in 2021.  Maybe that stems back to when she was publicly outed by her former lover Marilyn Barnett, which must have been extremely hurtful.  She also talked about losing all her endorsements as a result.  Thankfully, times have changed since then, and she’s been one of the people who’s helped to change them.

All in all, this was a fascinating hour’s TV – a great interviewer and a great interviewee.