A couple of months ago I was watching TV when there was a knock on the door. I answered it and a friend came in. He noticed that I was watching a women’s tennis match involving Canadian Eugenie Bouchard and he said the following:
“You can’t like watching this crap! The only reason you’re watching it is to look at her legs!”
I don’t know how I didn’t lose my temper. At first I was angry that he thought I was so shallow as to be only watching Bouchard to look at her legs. He knew me. He must have known I wasn’t like that. But then when I had calmed down I realised it wasn’t me he was insulting but Ms Bouchard. And here’s why:
Although she hasn’t played as well this year Bouchard is a player who aged 21 has reached a Wimbledon Final and two other Grand Slam Semi Finals. She is ranked six in the world. In other words she plays tennis better than 99 per cent of the human beings on this planet. And yet this guy thought the only reason she was worth watching was because of her legs!
The reason I suddenly thought of this incident was it was an example of the sexism that still pervades sport. And recently there were two spectacular examples of sexism in sport.
One came in Italian football. The President of the country’s amateur football association Felice Belloli is alleged to have said when asked about funding for women’s football “That’s enough, we can’t always talk about giving money to this bunch of lesbians”. He denied saying that but a woman offical said she was at that meeting and that he did make the remark. To no ones surprise he is still in post.
The other example is closer to home. On the 14th of May the women’s editor of the Daily Telegraph Emma Barnett wrote an article about women’s sport. The next week she received the most ridiculous letter I have ever seen It was written on pink paper by a person who did not reveal their name. The letter said:
No one wants to watch women’s sport love, its a joke, pony tails swaying, tits bouncing, come on get serious. Put ’em back in the kitchen where they belong and leave sport to the warriors of the species not the dykes.
As UK journalist Richard Littlejohn would say “You couldn’t make it up!’
While it is true that sport is by no means the only place you see sexism in the unique thing about sport is that the sexism generally does not come from male participants. They are exceptions to this – French tennis player Jo-Wilfred Tsonga made sexist remarks about female tennis players and footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic made sexist remarks about female footballers after the Swedish press asked him if the best female player in Sweden Lotta Schelin was as good as him – cases of sexism by elite sportsmen are rare. Generally they respect their female colleagues. Most of the sexism in sport comes from journalists, officials like Richard Scudamore and Sepp Blatter or fans like my friend or whoever wrote that letter to Emma Barnett. And to my mind that makes the sexism worse.
While it is wrong for Tsonga and Ibrahimovic to make the remarks they did at least they are elite sportsmen. The likes of Blatter, Scudamore and what World Soccer magazine (April 2005 issue) called “intransigent, cynical, beer-swilling blokes plonked in front of Sky at four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon” would not last five minutes against elite female footballers. So why on earth do they make sexist remarks about people who play football better than they ever could? Same with my friend who made that remark about Bouchard. Why do people think they can get away with deogratory remarks about people who do the job better than they do?
Next month sees the Women’s Football World Cup in Canada. For some reason women’s football attracts more press and public odium than any other female sport (even women who play other traditional male sports like cricket boxing and rugby don’t get attacked as much). One thing that can be predicted with depressing certainty. There will be a lot of sexism at this tournament. And the really annoying part of that will be that the vast majority of that sexism will come from armchair critics who will be incapable of producing football anywhere near the quality the likes of Alex Morgan, Marta, Lotta Schelin, Eugenie Le Sommer, Vero Boquete, Lara Dickenmann,Toni Duggan, Nadine Angerer and the brilliant Dezenifer Marozan – to name but a few – will produce. And that proves that not only is sport rife with sexism, the sexism in sport is more nasty than in any other field.
For at least in other fields (politics to give one example) a lot of sexism is done by other politicians. Which doesn’t make it right but at least means the people who are doing it are good at the job. Where as in sport I would love to see the sexist journalists, officials and fans who spout this rubbish take on elite sportswomen on the field. They wouldn’t last five minutes. It would be very funny. And it might shut them up!