At least two other tennis stars drank beer on TV during the Australian Open, but only Ash Barty sparked a heated debate.
Over the past two weeks, four Australian champions have had a beer or encouraged other Aussies to do so on our television screens during the Australian Open, but only one was dragged into a national debate about the glorification of alcohol.
When Dylan Alcott told viewers the water bottle he was drinking from during his final post-match interview on Channel 9 was filled with beer, it was seen as confirmation he had the right character for Australian of the Year.
When Thanasi Kokkinakis told a packed stadium and fans at home to “sink piss and come here” after his semi-finals doubles win with Nick Kyrgios, it was part of the doubles pair’s entertaining double act.
And when Nick Kyrgios drank a fan’s beer after his first-round singles win, it seemed to make the controversial star more endearing.
But on Saturday night, when Ash Barty took one drink of a Corona after her historic Australian Open win, she somehow became the face of Australian sports’ drinking problem.
Former Australian Idol host James Mathison started the online debate by slamming the “bizarre” Channel 9 moment on Twitter, saying alcohol was normalised to the point where we couldn’t even celebrate success without booze on live TV.
He drew comparison to an imaginary scenario where a Canadian broadcaster “hoisted a joint onto their new champion”.
Mathison faced backlash after he questioned the appropriateness of the situation, and later clarified that his statement was not an attack on Barty, who he thinks is an incredible role model, but took issue with the idea that “Channel 9 foisted the beer on her”.
One thing I have observed spending two weeks at the Australian Open and watching Barty speak to the press after every match is how strong and mature she is.
There is no doubt the world No. 1 holds her ground both on and off the court. She is arguably the most controlled, well-spoken player when it comes to handling the media and is known for her straightforward, firm responses even under pressure.
So when host and ex-tennis player Alicia Molik said “Ash, you’re very welcome to (have a beer)” and Barty took a Corona with a smile, I was convinced she wanted to.
Let’s not pretend Barty couldn’t have made the decision for herself.
The 25-year-old had vowed to hold off enjoying a beer until after the final. A victory that made her the first Aussie woman to be crowned Australian Open champion in 44 years – certainly something to celebrate.
It’s also worth noting her interview was aired at about 9.30pm on a Saturday – a time when MA15+ content with sex scenes, violence and drug use can be shown on our screens.
Mathison, who copped both backlash and praise for calling out the moment, went on to say he knew adults could drink responsibly.
“But we can also have a conversation about it’s all pervasive role in society,” he added.
It is certainly a valid conversation to have when 70 per cent of Australians were consuming alcohol in an average four-weeks last year, an increase from the year before after what had been years of decline.
But let’s not single out and take away from a woman’s extraordinary achievement to do it.
At 25-years-old, Barty had the weight of the country’s hopes on her shoulders and she pulled it off by giving her all.
Don’t surround her choice to celebrate (quite tamely) in controversy.