As the World Cup plays itself forward, we are again reminded how important sports really is and can be. Sports can bring people together beyond the politics, rancor and craziness of leadership. Sports is the great unifier, at least temporarily. It seems a ripe issue for some smart people to work out how to extend the time sports unification gives us.

The U.S. citizens may be pardoned for not paying that much attention to the World Cup, since there is no men’s or women’s teams which survived the early defeats, and thus this country has no real dog in the World Cup fight. Besides, our NFL and college “real” football are just starting spring/summer training.

Now also comes the Wimbledon tennis tournament, 2018—an annual event that has held our collective attention for most of the 21st century mainly because of the adroitness and skills of the Williams sisters. Serena has won the Wimbledon singles title 7 times, and Venus has won it 5 times. Together, they’ve also won the doubles title 6 times at Wimbledon, an unprecedented feat by any other sisters in the sport.

As anyone who follows tennis even a little knows, Serena Williams, winner of the Australian Open in 2017, and ranked number 1 in the world at the time, took more than a year off to give birth to her first child. She’s now back to competitive playing and is scheduled to compete in this year’s tournament, although most likely only in the singles. She tried doing doubles and singles in the recent French Open and injured herself. Too much tennis too soon.

At issue for Mrs. Williams (actually, Mrs. Ohanian) is her seeding for the Wimbledon tournament. Seedings are usually connected with worldwide tennis rankings, and Serena is currently ranked at number 183 in the world. Though she was ranked number 1 when she left the tour last year to give birth, the current rules of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), strangely, do not account for pregnancy by players. It is presently counted just as a player injury is seen. You lose your ranking until you come back healed and you play your way back into competitiveness.

But pregnancy is not an injury and should not count as one. Thus, the WTA rules committees are now trying to amend their statues for players, so that their world rankings are protected during pregnancy. In the Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, U.S. Open, French Open and Wimbledon), seedings are especially important since lower seeded players (and unseeded ones) face much tougher competition early in the tournaments. That portends an earlier defeat and exit.

Wimbledon, unlike the other three Grand Slams, makes its own rules in such cases, and can ignore world rankings and seed players however the tournament desires. Thus, even though her current rank does not call for it, the Wimbledon tournament officials have seeded Serena number 25 for this year’s contest. That means she should not have to face the best players in the first two or three rounds of the tournament.

The overall rules affecting pregnancy and absence from WTA tennis tournaments still need to change, but Serena’s plight, and that of others like Victoria Azarenka, will apparently now force such adjustments in WTA regulations. Good.

One more sharp sticker off the bush. Progress still slow, but sure.

And the Williams sisters, who have been change agents in professional tennis since they arrived in the 1990’s (Venus helped get equal prize money for men’s and women’s tournaments), have once again pushed the envelope. Long live the Williams sisters!!

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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