Ash Barty’s ascent to tennis stardom exposed racist trolls who tried to erase her ancestry as an aboriginal Australian. Barty is proud of her heritage, which irks some small-minded Wikipedia users. She is far from the only Aussie to face discrimination, even in her sport. Barty’s idol dealt with the same nonsense in her time but similarly succeeded in spite of her haters.
Ash Barty is a tennis star on the rise
Barty’s tennis talents were apparent from an early age. She began playing tennis when she was four, and she continued to gain notoriety as she rose up the ranks. The first achievement of her career came in 2011 when Barty won the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon, which earned her the No. 2 ranking in the world.
As a 16-year old, Barty finished as the runner-up in three Grand Slam doubles events before taking a break in 2015 to play cricket with the Brisbane Heat in the delightfully named Women’s Big Bash League. Up to this point, that hiatus is the only time her progress has slowed in any way.
Barty returned to tennis in 2016, rose to No. 17 in the world in 2017 (she wasn’t in the top 100 before her break). She won her first Grand Slam doubles tournament title in 2018. Last year, she became the first Australian to win the French Open since Margaret Court in 1973. She finished 2019 as the top player in the rankings and won the WTA Player of the Year.
Barty’s skill with the racket should make her a national hero considering Australia’s lack of pedigree in tennis. But a hateful vocal minority insists on shrinking her image to lessen her reach.
Racists kept trying to erase her diverse background
The loudest cheers for Barty at Roland Garros came from Australia’s indigenous community. This inadvertently created a flashpoint focused on the country’s messy connection to its colonialist past, reports Australians Together. Barty’s father, Robert, is a descendant of the Ngarigo tribe. This aboriginal group from New South Wales was all but wiped out by diseases brought by European settlers. (Her mother, Josie, hails from England.)
Barty takes her heritage seriously. She is currently the National Indigenous Tennis Ambassador for Tennis Australia. The goal of the organization is to promote more indigenous participation in tennis. The National Dreamtime Awards, a ceremony that honors Indigenous Australians, awarded her with Female Sportsperson of the Year in 2017 and 2018.
What should be a heartwarming story about someone’s ancestry was disfigured by an unending culture war. It even turned the intros of Wikipedia pages in battlegrounds of political theater. After Barty’s victory, the word indigenous was repeatedly removed from the first line of her Wikipedia page, reports Welcome to Country. (It’s currently in the last sentence of the paragraph just before the table of contents.)
None of these actions have changed Barty, but it is yet another example of how the history of native populations is seen as a threat to the status quo. It’s an issue bigger than any country or ethnic group, and one of the main reasons why 2020 is an exhausting nightmare. The names and faces involved may change, but the fight remains the same.
Barty’s struggles evoke a former Australian great
Barty’s sporting hero dealt with many of the same problems surrounding her ancestry during her career. Evonne Goolagong Cawley also accomplished great things on the tennis court. The indigenous athlete’s parents, Kenny and Melinda, were members of the Wiradjuri people also hailing from New South Wales.
Aboriginal people faced widespread discrimination in rural Australia during this time. But Goolagong was able to play tennis because a local man named Bill Kurtzman noticed her watching through the fence at a court in her small town of Barellan and invited her to play. Goolagong went on to win seven Grand Slam singles tournaments in the ’70s and ’80s and represented Australia in three Fed Cup competitions, winning all three.
Tennis Australia twice appointed her as an Ambassador for the Sport of Tennis in Australia. In 2018, she was named as a Companion of the Order of Australia “for eminent service to tennis as a player at the national and international level, as an ambassador, supporter and advocate for the health, education and wellbeing of young Indigenous people through participation in sport, and as a role model”.
It’s not a coincidence that Barty was compared to Goolagong as a youngster. They’re prodigious talents who represent the past and future of Australia with no shame. That’s not something any internet article can erase.