When former Olympic tennis champion Monica Puig wrote about the “mental stress” of wearing white at Wimbledon during her period, the responses were enlightening.
Many interviewees knew what Monica Puig was talking about: that uncomfortable feeling of “oh, am I leaking?”as well as the pain and fatigue that can accompany menstruation.
The white tradition at Wimbledon
The majority of people who responded were in favor, not only of Puig speaking out, but also of a broader discussion about dress code and rules. One or two admitted they hadn’t thought about the issue until the Puerto Rican pointed it out last month.
“It’s absolutely something players talk about around Wimbledon because of the whites”, Briton Heather Watson told Eurosport. “I think people talk about it a lot – maybe not to the media but between us, that’s for sure”.
White was initially the chosen color for tennis outfits because it avoided the appearance of sweat stains as would be the case on colored clothes. The rules regarding white at Wimbledon are strict. Shorts, skirts and tracksuit bottoms must be all white except for a single stripe of color “no more than one centimeter wide” along the outseam.
For Watson, playing white is a special experience. “I really like this tradition and I wouldn’t want it to change”she says. “My only stress is that I have my period, but I plan my period around that.” Watson says she would be concerned, from a cosmetic standpoint, by bleeding through her whites. But her biggest problem is that taking the pill doesn’t stop the symptoms exploding in her game. “I am bloated, I have cramps and fatigue”she explains.
The impact of rules on athletic performance
The Briton was one of the first tennis players to speak out about the impact of her rules on her performance when she was beaten in the first round of the Australian Open in 2015. But on match day, her menstruation started. Watson a”an awful day” whenever she has little energy or strength. Seven years ago on this day she felt dizzy and lethargic as she lost 6-4 6-0 to Tsvetana Pironkova. So when that day falls in the middle of Wimbledon, Watson’s national Grand Slam and the place where she won the mixed doubles title in 2016, she takes action.
“I literally had this conversation with Daria [Saville, joueuse australienne] a few weeks ago when we went we trained together at Wimbledon,” says Watson. “I had started my period that day and you have to wear all white at Wimbledon all year round too.” I thought : “Oh, that’s boring”. “Then I figured I’d probably get my period again during the Championships, so I figured I’d probably take the pill to not get my period at Wimbledon.”
As the rules and their potential impact on the sport are increasingly discussed, the potential discomfort of wearing white has largely remained in player conversations. Not all players will want to take the pill. Just as performance can be affected by periods, some women may feel like a pill is affecting them on the court. The BBC Women’s Sport Survey 2020 found that 60% of respondents felt their performance was impacted by their periods, while 40% did not feel comfortable discussing their periods with their coaches.
Other players have spoken about the impact of the rules. Zheng Qinwen, the only player to take a set from the unstoppable Iga Swiatek at Roland Garros this year, was hampered by stomach cramps in the final two sets. She said afterwards that it was due to “girl stuff”adding: “I have to do sports and I still have so much pain on the first day. I couldn’t go against my nature.
Petra Kvitova spoke about the rules before embarking on her Wimbledon title defense in 2015, although she had no problem wearing white. “It’s never really easy to face one more difficult thing”she said. “If we have to play the game, we train or whatever, it’s difficult.”
Wimbledon has a Player Relations Team and a Player Medical Team, who work closely with athletes to discuss and discuss a range of issues, including rules. “We want to make sure we put women’s health first and provide players with everything they need based on their individual needs,” said a Wimbledon spokesperson. “The health and well-being of the players who compete at Wimbledon is of the utmost importance to us – we want everyone to feel comfortable and we make that central to everything we do.”
The problem with bathroom breaks
Players might be concerned that by saying the change for women or talking about their periods, people would assume it’s being used as an excuse for poor performance. Let’s take bathroom breaks as an example. The twists and turns of Stefanos Tsitsipas’ bathroom breaks at the 2021 US Open have sparked debate over their use as a tactical timeout. Some wish that the toilet breaks in the Grand Slam tournaments are more advantageous, both for men and for women.
But let’s imagine that a woman wakes up to take advantage of the pee break to change her tampon or towel. She only has one chance to do so during a best-of-three match, taking three minutes just for a bathroom break or five if she wants to change clothes as well. Grand Slam rules state that if this time is exceeded, the player will be penalized with consecutive time violations.
During this time, she should go to the bathroom, change pads or tampons, throw away the old one, make sure she is comfortable and there will be no leaks, possibly change clothes , then pull up the white jersey and return to the field. In practice, the timing and duration of the break will be left to the discretion of the referee. An extra bathroom break may be allowed, but this is likely to involve talking to a referee with a microphone or camera nearby, which some players may not feel comfortable doing.
Some clothing companies are age-proofing their clothing and Adidas told Eurosport it has incorporated such technology into women’s training products. Wimbledon is also keeping abreast of clothing innovations, allowing it to better support players while retaining the white clothing it says is a “fundamental” part of its traditions.
“In 2019, we changed the dress policy so that players could wear approved mid-thigh compression leggings and shorts, which was also part of a wider WTA dress code change”said a Wimbledon spokesperson. “If someone wanted to wear something underneath their whites, they have every right to do so.”
In addition to putting players at ease, this measure could also help prevent young girls from dropping out of the sport. According to a 2021 study by Adidas, one in four girls quit sports as a teenager, with fear of period leakage being the main reason. “Whether [les règles] are a reason a person doesn’t want to play sports, hearing people talk about it would probably convince them otherwise,” said Watson.
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