Sexism in Sport: Time's Up

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By Steph There is an overwhelming volume of source material out there right now that feeds into the discussion/ debate/twitterstorm on gender equality in sport so I’m going to start with a quick nod to the original heroine who used sport to bring the women’s rights issue to the fore over 100 years ago. Emily Davison was as badass a militant as they come, even by today’s standards. Just check out her Wikipedia page: She committed acts of arson, attacked men, was imprisoned multiple times and subjected to the torture of force-feeding but is remembered most for her final public protest on behalf of the Women’s Suffrage movement - she lost her life for the cause after rushing onto the Epsom racecourse during the Derby and being trampled under the hooves of the king’s own horse. Since that time women have gradually earned themselves greater and greater freedoms in society and I’m sure Emily would be pleased to see it but I don’t think she’d be satisfied enough to sit back with a G&T and say “my work here is done”. After all, a horse running in the Derby might well be ridden by a woman these days but it’s not VERY likely is it? So, let’s have a look at some other sports related attitudes and inequalities that need sorting out in order to put Emily’s mind at rest.

First, a little tale of my own. Even here, in the wonderfully supportive BTM community, I have encountered moments of spectacular ‘mansplaining’, off the cuff sexism and my own ideas being acted on by someone else without attribution. But I have just sucked it up and stayed silent. Why is it that I don’t speak up or complain? Conditioning I suppose. At a young age I understood that no matter what level of excellence I achieved in any field it would still not be considered as important as a lesser achievement by what might be considered an equivalent male like, let’s say for argument’s sake, my own brother. As a kid I was always a tom-boy. Competitive, sporty, never bothered with girly things like dolls and make-up, much preferring Subbuteo or riding my bike. When my Dad was doing DIY (almost always) and gardening, I was following him like a constant shadow and trying to help. I knew how to use a saw, mix cement and lay bricks by the time I was 10. One cold, dark, November evening in 1982 my Dad got in from work at the factory all excited, clutching some bits of white card. He announced to my younger brother that Worcester City were in the second round of the FA Cup and he’d got them tickets for the game! Then he saw my face. And I saw his. I can’t get over to you enough just how much it hurt. It hadn’t even crossed Dad’s mind until that point that I would want to go. In fact, I never crossed his mind when he queued for tickets and anticipated the grand moment when he told his boy he was going to the big match. Eventually, at Mum’s insistence and by way of making up for the faux pas, Dad took me to see ET on my birthday and my brother wasn’t allowed to come with us - so that made it fair! Now on the face of it that looks like a decent deal and I did love the film. However, the damage was done. Worcester only went and won that game against Wrexham! Dad promised tickets all round if we got a home tie next round but it was away at Coventry and they beat us. Even if it had been at home and I’d gone with them I’d have felt that I was only there under sufferance, an unwelcome hanger-on. My place in the pecking order was clear and it was down to possessing the wrong set of reproductive organs. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Dad and he loves me - despite his disappointment that the best one of his kids turned out to be me, the only girl*. As far as I recall I was never left out of anything again. *Covers head and waits for brothers’ responses.

Times and attitudes have changed since then. In professional sport things are progressing and I believe the momentum has picked up considerably. Looking first at my chosen area of specialism - professional cycling is beleaguered in many ways with doping scandals of recent years but during that same timeframe the women’s sport has taken off in terms of both participation and audience. All good so far. Excellent news came last week when the state government of South Australia announced (post-event) that it was to increase the prize money for the Santos Women’s Tour to the same as that for the men’s Santos Tour Down Under. The difference was huge and boosted the sum awarded to GC winner Amanda Spratt to €12,000 instead of the €1549 she’d been expecting. This brings the Aussies up to standard, equal pay wise, with the main world tour events in both the UK (OVO Tours) and the USA (Amgen Tour of California). Unfortunately, it is not reflected in the main bastions of professional cycling in Europe. Both the opportunities and the remuneration are shockingly poor for women and the organisations responsible slow to respond. The newly formed union for women’s pro cyclists published the results of a survey this month which showed 50% of the women’s pro peloton earned less than €10,000 per annum and many had to pay for their own travel and provide their own kit. Obviously, sponsors aren’t going to stump up and you can’t take home much prize money if there are no race opportunities to enter, be seen on tv and maybe even win. The only grand tour currently on offer for women is the Giro Rosa in Italy. In 2017 the winner, Anna van der Breggen, was awarded €1130 for 10 stages of racing. The men’s Giro D’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin got €115,668 after completing the 21 stages. No typo there, that really is (with a bit of rounding) 2 x the number of stages but 100 x the prize money. Go figure. Over at the daddy of all cycling races last year, Chris Froome was puffing his way around 3540km of French terrain. After many incarnations of a vaguely equivalent race to the Tour de France, the women now compete in an event called La Course which last year comprised of 2 stages totalling 90km, one an excellent mountain contest and the other an experimental pursuit/time trial hybrid which didn’t really work but was worth a try. When the 2018 route of the TdF was unveiled to great fanfare last autumn there was buried deep within it the announcement of La Course too: JUST ONE F***ING STAGE. I’m sorry but what message does that send out? To me it says we’re only doing it because we have to. The French version of a trip to see ET at some fancy Paris cinema. Here's an interesting article in Bicycling magazine about the history of women trying to get a genuine version of the Tour de France.

Women’s football has hit the headlines again this week. As usual it is not because of anything remotely sport related though, oh no, it’s the FA handling things like the utter incompetents they always are and Phil Neville being a bit of an idiot. Now I don’t want to rake over old ground regarding how the FA handled the whole Mark Sampson affair but I mention it because it was an epic cock-up that they promised to learn lessons from. But that’s just empty words isn’t it? Evidenced by the announcement of Phil Neville’s appointment as coach of the England women’s team on the men’s team twitter feed. They don’t really give a sh*t about the women. As for Neville himself, his old tweets were stupid and he needed to be called out for them but I don’t think it’s anywhere near a hanging offence. It seems clear to me that they were tongue in cheek remarks. Ill-advised sexist remarks that overstep the mark in this day and age but let them stand as an example of where the line is drawn. Plus, we want him to keep his job so he's not bothering us by trying to do commentary.

Over in the tennis world and the row about equal prize money rages on despite all 4 slams now paying the same to the men’s and women’s singles champions and many lesser tournaments following suit. Billie Jean King is rightly lauded for her part in bringing this about as documented in a recent movie. Still many men harp on about the number of sets and you just wonder if they’ll ever get over it. I mean what does it matter to them anyway? It’s the sponsors that are paying guys, it’s not like it’s coming out of your own pockets is it? So why do you persist with your petty argument that the Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Champion is of less value than the male version? I think deep down they’re scared of us. Fortunately, it’s a minority viewpoint these days I think and players such as our own Andy Murray are great at calling out those entrenched in the unenlightened past. Here’s a wonderful Twitter take down by James Blake just this week.

The absurdly named Tennys Sandgren has had the rug pulled from under him this week. Largely unknown until a half decent run in the Aussie Open (except possibly being the author in a bad Batty Book joke) he had a Twitter timeline packed to the gills with seriously unpleasant opinions and RTs. Who should turn up with sage advice for his fellow American? Why it’s only that bastion of political correctness, Mac himself! Lol. Just shows you though, people can change. Respect for that.

Anna Logue

So impressed with JMac's video, putting his opinionated tendencies to good use!

This very morning BBC Radio 5 Live journalist Sonja McLaughlan tweeted news that the PDC (darts) will no longer use ‘walk-on girls’. Now to me that’s a no brainer, a gazillion years too late but I welcome the fact that its happening. However, the replies were (as expected I suppose) mainly men saying things like “what next?”, “hen night’s will be banned soon”, “well done on making the world evermore bland puritans”, etc, etc. Some even saying it’s unfair on the girls! Give me a break. It is a pretty poor advert for your sport if you think it’s devalued by not parading a bit of totty to get the crowd excited and those girls are surely not pinning their career hopes on a couple of weeks a year of being leered at? I don’t watch much boxing; do they still have the girls parading round in skimpy outfits with the number cards? I do hope not. I remember feeling incredibly uncomfortable about that when watching wrestling on World of Sport as a kid. At that age I didn’t really understand why but I instinctively knew it wasn’t right. Then there’s the F1 grid girls and the podium girls in cycling. In my opinion there is little difference between these and the women hired to keep men ‘happy’ at the Presidents Club dinner/auction event. They are there for decoration and to behave as if in awe of the heroic males. It never was unacceptable but here and now in 2018 it makes sports look ridiculous.

Alistair Sargent

Yea they do still parade round cards in boxing. I'm waiting on someone being brave enough to send a man in Y-fronts to do the job. But not holding my breath!

Alan Wilson

I think you've hit the nail on the head there - the President's Club debacle and the walk-on women are all part of the same problem. It hardly seems credible that a sport in 21st century needs objectified women in order to function, it's even worse that the women involved somehow feel that their situation is so bad that this seems like a good idea.

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A good news story from perhaps an unexpected source: Cricket. Famously stuffy, with backwards ways like not allowing women to be members of the MCC or to set foot in the Pavillion at Lords, that all changed in 1999 and now the 2018 volume of Wisden Almanack has England bowling ace Anya Shrubsole on the cover. Boom!

In closing, I think we can now sense an almost tangible shift in attitudes and a tidal wave of change happening, in sport just as in all other aspects of society such as with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. There remain dinosaur voices of some men (and let’s face it, a few women) who are determined to keep women’s sport “in its place” but they are being drowned out by the progress of brave pioneers (both elite sportswomen and grass roots participants) and those who, like me in many ways, have had their eyes opened and their minds changed. I am grateful to those men who are willing to stand up and say “hey, that’s not alright” and I’m proud that here at you will find that women’s sport is rightly given due respect and is as welcome as the men’s sports. That’s not the case everywhere though. Here’s a quote from an article about Kelly Cates on Football365: Full article here

Thanks to the team of BTM ladies - Hannah, Anna, Olivia, Sue, Caroline and Mel who shared their thoughts, experiences and some pointers to help me with this article, you’re all fab and Emily Davison would be proud of you.

Alistair Sargent

Great read Steph. I had no idea about the differences in cycling. Julia and myself addressed something similar for boxing in our article a few weeks ago. There women compete over 10 two minute rounds rather than 12 three minute rounds. Why? There is zero reason women can't be as fit as their male counterparts and compete to the same rules. Resolving these issues would go a long way to helping resolve exposure issues like TV time or sponsorship which largely dictate pay differences in my opinion.

Alan Wilson

Another excellent article Steph. I am also amazed that the women's "tour' is now only 1 stage. Hardly a tour at all.

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