Missing Tennis Champ Ash Barty: The Athlete And Symbol

Giulia Sirignani
on 7 April 2022

I was driving in the car, listening to the radio, when Ash Barty informed the world that at 25 years old, she was hanging up her racket. I flicked up the volume in disbelief, thinking I must have misheard the newsreader’s delivery of the word retirement.

Alas, not so.

Not only will I miss Ash Barty’s on court vigour and tenacity, but I’ll miss what she stood for, what she represented and how she proudly animated an arena with her gritty and real authentic self, her indigenous pride and her family and sporting values. I’ll miss Ash showing us, through her example, how to break the bias for women in sport.

Ash Barty
PARIS, FRANCE – MAY 31: Ashleigh Barty of Ausralia plays a forehand during the ladies singles second round match against Serena Williams of The United States during day five of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on May 31, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Ash Barty paved the way for many underrepresented voices. While she wowed us with her strokes and stamina, her presence on the circuit highlighted the growing need for inclusive sport visuals to break unconscious biases and stereotypes. 

A report from leading photo agency Getty Images points to a bias in the visual representation of women in sport. The Getty Images’ Visual GPS report reveals how people want to see the sentiment of inclusion expressed by the companies and brands they buy from and do business with. Over two-thirds of survey respondents (68%) say that it’s important to them that companies celebrate diversity of all kinds.

Ash Barty takes a breath
TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 25: Ashleigh Barty of Team Australia shows her frustration during her Women’s Singles First Round match against Sara Sorribes Tormo of Team Spain on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Tennis Park on July 25, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Getty Images and its partners, including the National Disability Leadership Alliance, stress how brands need to make sure that all visual content they select is a true reflection of the audience. People want to see themselves reflected in images and not some glossy and stereotypical ideal. Gone are the days of “touching up”. Consumers want truth not artifice. This helps them feel accepted for who they are and therefore connected to the brand.

Ash Barty in Adelaide
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 08: Ashleigh Barty of Australia hits a forehand in her match against Iga Swiatek of Polandduring day seven of the 2022 Adelaide International at Memorial Drive on January 08, 2022 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

One of the key areas the report identifies is realness – it’s all about keeping it real these days. Images that strike a chord are candid and, in the moment, with people especially relating to pics that capture diversity, inclusion and body positivity. The “ideal” of a white, thin, able‑bodied young woman was created by a white, patriarchal culture; therefore, true body positivity must be intersectional. But there’s still a long way to go in terms of wholly including all types of bodies in body‑positive ad campaigns—for example, people with disabilities are too often left out.

Ash Barty on court
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 26: Ashleigh Barty of Australia celebrates after winning match point during her Women’s Singles fourth round match against Alison Riske of the United States on day seven of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 26, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

It’s little wonder Ash Barty proved to be a champion among champions. She’s real, diverse, inclusive – an elite female athlete determined to win and do it her way.

Ash Barty triumph
WOLLONGONG, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 21: Ashleigh Barty of Australia serves in her match against Quirine Lemoine of the Netherlands during the World Group Play-Off Fed Cup tie between Australia and the Netherlands at the Wollongong Entertainment Centre on April 21, 2018 in Wollongong, Australia. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

By keeping it real, Ash achieved the status of a sporting and cultural symbol. With her retirement, there is much to miss.


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