Category Archives: general Sport

Are women ‘real’ sports fans? The importance of sport for female fans

ESRC blog

Stacey Pope 150.jpgStacey Pope is an Associate Professor in the School of Applied Social Sciences, Durham University.

Her research focuses upon issues of gender inequality and sport and her research expertise is in the area of female sports fans. Her book The Feminization of Sports Fandom: A Sociological Study was recently published by Routledge.

If you’re a female fan of football or rugby, don’t expect a level playing field when it comes to being a supporter. Female football and rugby union fans in my research discuss how they have to routinely ‘prove’ their status as ‘real’ fans – usually to male supporters. Common stereotypes of female sports fans have included that they lack sporting knowledge, are only interested in the sexual attractiveness of (male) star players and are not as passionate or committed as male fans. Media coverage also typically represents women in subordinate ways; for example, a cursory internet search for…

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Women are Strong, but not Strong Enough…

Like A Girl

queens_u_hockey_team_1917In 1898 a German doctor came to the conclusion that physical activity was damaging to a woman’s body.  Specifically stating that, “violent movements of the body can cause a shift in the position and a loosening of the uterus as well as prolapse and bleeding, with resulting sterility, thus defeating a woman’s true purpose in life, i.e., the bringing forth of strong children.” More recently, a basketball coach in 1967 expressed that women would never play the sport in the same way as men. The fear was that with too much excessive jumping, a woman would displace her uterus. While girls and women on the surface do not seem to encounter these same unfounded assumptions about their bodies, how far has sport truly come in terms of physical expectations?

Currently, many sports that boys and men have enjoyed for centuries are now available to girls and women.  While access has…

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Time sport paid for its own parties

The Paralympics ended last Sunday ending Brazil’s two year spell in the spotlight. The country had hosted the 2014 men’s World Cup and Rio hosted the recent Olympic and Paralympic games. Whether it was a good idea for Brazil to host the two biggest events in sport back to back only that country can answer. But it is interesting that the number of cities willing to host the Olympics is falling.

An example of this happened this week. The city of Rome withdrew it’s bid for the 2024 Olympics when newly elected mayor Virginia Raggi refused to support the bid. Rome is the third city to withdraw from the race to host the 2024 Olympics. In 2015 Boston withdrew its bid citing a lack of public support. In the same year the German city of Hamburg withdrew after 51.6% of the city’s voters rejected the bid in a referendum.

But it is not just the 2024 Summer Olympics that suffered from a lack of bidding cities. The 2022 Winter Olympics suffered from the same problem. Four out of six bidding cities ended up withdrawing (Lviv, Stockholm, Oslo and Krakow). The latter withdrew after the bid was rejected in a referendum – just like Hamburg – while Stockholm and Oslo withdrew because of public opposition. Lviv withdrew because of the Ukrainian crisis and intends to bid for 2026. For the 2022 games the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were left with only Beijing – the eventual winners – and Almaty in Kazakhstan.

But why are cities queueing up NOT to bid for the Olympics? The reason is fairly simple – cost and the building of new “white elephant” sporting facilities. The recent Rio Olympics cost $12 billion. The last Winter Olympics in Sochi cost an eye watering $31 billion. The 2004 Olympics in Athens cost €9 billion and is reckoned to be a factor in Greece going bankrupt. This is nothing new. Montreal finally paid for the 1976 Olympics in 2006! Most host cities – the exception being Los Angeles in 1984 – make a loss.

But why is that when the Olympics make a profit? The answer is fairly simple. The host city has to pay the costs of the games not the IOC. But of course the host city does not get any of the profits the IOC does. And after the disaster of 2004 cities are beginning to learn this. Twelve cities bid for the 2004 Olympics. After Rome’s withdrawal only three cities are still in the race for 2024 – Los Angeles , Paris and Budapest – and the Hungarian capital is considered very much the outsider in the race. It is clear that politicians and voters have rumbled the Olympics realising that a successful city gets 16 days of a sporting party and a debt hangover that lasts for years and even decades.

So what needs to happen? The answer is fairly obvious and applies to both the Olympics and the men’s football World Cup. If FIFA and the IOC want to have these big parties they should pay for them – and give half the profits to the host city/country. Since both FIFA and the IOC say they are non profit organisations why can’t they pay for their parties? They also need to moderate their demands. FIFA forced both South Africa and Brazil to change their laws to accommodate their sponsors. Meanwhile the IOC’s list of demands for Olympic host cities was leaked to Norwegian newspaper VG before Oslo withdrew its bid. The number of demands ran to 7000 pages and included such gems as meetings with the King and a VIP cocktail party! No wonder the Norwegians baulked – most countries would at this arrogant nonsense. No wonder the IOC could not get a democracy to bid for 2022 and had to choose between China and Kazakhstan. No wonder three cities have pulled out of the race for 2024.

It’s time that arrogant FIFA and IOC were chopped down to size. And the only way to do it is for Paris, Los Angeles and Budapest to withdraw from the race for 2024 leaving no bidders to host them. The West should announce that if FIFA and the IOC do not pay for the events and give the host city/country a share of the profits not only will Western countries not bid to host the Olympics or World Cup but they will not take part in them. That would be a disaster for FIFA and the IOC as it could mean that their sponsors – mainly Western companies – pull out and if they do the whole house of cards could collapse.

More and more voters and politicians realise that all they get from hosting the Olympics or the World Cup is a mountain of debt. Therefore they don’t want to host the biggest events in sport. Unless FIFA and the IOC realise that and start coughing up for their parties and giving the hosts a piece of their profits they might find out that only dictatorships like Russia, Qatar, China and Kazakhstan are willing to host them. And quite frankly if that becomes the case it serves them right.

Too many sports? 

So today the “Greatest Show on Earth” the 2016 Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The Opening ceremony is tonight and tomorrow the sport begins*. Over the next 16 days the athletes will be competing for 306 titles in 28 sports (up from 302 titles in 26 sports in London 2012 with the addition of golf and rugby sevens – I’ll get to them). Now you might think 28 sports are too many but guess what? The International Olympic Committee (IOC) don’t agree. 

On Wednesday the IOC announced that five new – well four new and one returning sport – will be added to the Olympic programme. Baseball/softball (the only sports that have been in the Olympics before from 1992-2008), Karate, Surfing. Skateboarding and Sport Climbing will all join the Olympic party in Tokyo in 2020. Between them the new/returning sports will bring 18 more events and hundreds more athletes to the Games. They will not replace any of the existing sports. 

That is not really a surprise as before baseball and softball were voted out in 2005 the last sport to lose Olympic status was polo which was last an Olympic sport in 1936. The Olympics are a bit like what critics say about the England cricket team. It is hard for a sport to get into but even harder to get out of.

Now you might think a baseball fan I would be pleased that baseball is back in the Olympics. Well no actually. The reason is the same reason that I don’t think men’s football should be in (see previous post “Olympic football. Women yes men no”). The best baseball players will not be there as unlike the NBA in men’s basketball (which is in its off season during the Olympics) or the WNBA in women’s basketball (which plays in the NBA off season and takes an Olympic break) the MLB players won’t be there as the 162 game season is too long to take a break (and in any case if the 2020 Olympics are held at the same time of the year that the last Tokyo Olympics were in 1964 – October – that means it will be in the postseason and no franchise would release their star players in that scenario). So while I would love to see Texas Rangers star pitcher Yu Darvish pitch for Japan in his own country it will not happen. And in my opinion unless a sport makes its best players available it should not be in the Olympics. 

Softball I have a different problem with. Namely that it exists at all. No I don’t think the sport should be banned it should be rebranded as women’s baseball. Which as it uses bases, balls and strikes and the aim is to score runs it is. Rebrand it as women’s baseball give it the same rules as it’s “big brother” – same size ball, same style of pitching, same distance between bases for example –  and I would have no problem with it.

Of the other sports Karate, Surfing, Skateboarding,  and Sport Climbing I have no problem with them assuming that they have women’s events too. Except that with thirty three sports there are too many. So what sports would I replace?

Just to be controversial I wouldn’t replace any. But what I would do is get rid of the male halves of sports where the Olympics is not the pinnacle of the calendar but the women’s event is. Three examples of this are football basketball and baseball where for the men it is not the most important event but for the women it is. And the main example of this is the most controversial of the two new sports in 2016. 

The appearance of golf in Rio might be a success. But it has had a rotten build up. Fourteen male golfers – including all of the world’s top four – have withdrawn from the games. Ostensibly this is because of the Zika virus but it is funny that hardly any athletes from other sports have withdrawn. Even US goalkeeper Hope Solo – who thought of pulling out – has turned up although she copped a barrage of abuse from Brazilian fans on Wednesday.  And all the elite women golfers have turned up. 

Which could lead to a major injustice. While golf’s place in Tokyo is secure who could blame the IOC if they voted out a sport whose star players clearly don’t give a toss. At least the male star players don’t. But the women do.  For women’s golf the Olympics are the pinnacle. Why should innocent female golfers pay the price for the arrogant selfishness of their male counterparts? 

Answer : They shouldn’t. So if I ran the Olympics I would say that every sport must have a women’s event but does not to have a men’s event. There is a precedent for this. There are two disciplines that are already women only – rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming – so why shouldn’t there be more? 

So while there are too many athletes at the Olympics I would not cut any sports. Instead I would cut out the men’s events in sports where for the men the Olympics are not the pinnacle but for the women they are. That means no men’s baseball, basketball, football, golf or rugby. 

This idea of mine has two advantages. It cuts down the number of athletes without cutting down the number of female athletes. It would reduce the gap between the number of male and female athletes (in London there were 10768 athletes taking part 5992 (55.6 per cent) were male and 4778 (44.4 per cent) were female). Maybe getting rid of male events where the Olympics are not the pinnacle will lead to gender equality at the Olympics. And isn’t that what everyone wants? 

*Typical of football’s arrogance the football events started on Wednesday (women) and Thursday (men).

Political Games

A blog post written by Dennis Freedman in “The Quint” caught my eye. In the post he criticised the governing body of world cricket the International Cricket Council (ICC) for its inconsistent decision making in regard to weak and strong countries. He rightly condemns them for suspending Nepal – a small cricket country –  for government interference with its cricket board but not punishing India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and (especially) South Africa – all big cricket countries –  for exactly the same offence. Freedman is quite right to attack the ICC for its inconsistency on this issue but he misses out on a fundamental point. Not only is  the punishment wrong but so is the ICC’s insistence that governments keep out of the affairs of cricket boards. To be fair cricket is not the only sport that does this – FIFA among others do too – but they are all wrong. And here is why.

Governments govern a county. Like it or not sport is part of a country. It is part of society. It cannot – or should not – be detached from society. If a government interferes in other parts of society – which it does – surely it should interfere in sport too?

Now in an ideal world a government would not have to interfere in sport because governing bodies would be competent and reflect their society. But they are not. In the case of cricket the reason governments in Nepal, Pakistan and India (and in India’s case the Supreme Court) interfere in the affairs of their cricket boards is that they are corrupt. In India for example the Supreme Court ordered Narayanswami Srinivasan to step down as Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) while they investigated a spot fixing scandal. Incredibly that did not stop him becoming ICC chairman. He was eventually forced out of his ICC role too and his Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Chennai Super Kings was suspended for two years after the Supreme Court found out that his son in law was guilty of placing bets on the 2013 IPL. The BCCI was corrupt but if the Supreme Court had not investigated no one would be the wiser.

Same with FIFA. I’ve gone over FIFA’s corruption problems before but the corruption would not have been exposed if the FBI in America and the Swiss authorities had not investigated it. Can corrupt bodies police themselves? No. Someone has to do it for them. That means government agencies and courts.

Now it is true to say that sport in the UK, US, Australia and Europe (well Western Europe anyway) does not have as much of a corruption problem. The problem here is racism, sexism and homophobia (as this week’s sexism scandal in UK cycling and the resignation of head coach Shane Sutton shows). While that it is true that these problems are in society as well as sport at least society outside sport is trying to do something about it. For example last year a report by Lord Mervyn Davies recommended a target of 33% women on boards of UK FTSE 100 companies by 2020. Has anybody suggested that 33% of employees or board members in UK football, cricket or rugby clubs be female? No. What a surprise. They should. Meanwhile in 2014 then head of BBC television Danny Cohen announced a ban on all male panels on BBC television programmes. But surprise surprise that did not include sports programmes like “Match Of The Day” which still has the same old male, stale panel (even ESPN baseball has Jessica Mendoza). Why were all male sports panels not banned?

The other reason governments need to interfere in sport is accountability. Human beings being what we are we cannot control ourselves. If we are allowed to do whatever we like we will do. FIFA became arrogant and corrupt because it was accountable to no one. Football, cricket and cycling are full of sexism and racism because they are accountable to no one. The UK MPs expenses scandal of 2009 showed that politicians can’t behave themselves and that Parliament needed an independent regulator. The gas, electricity and TV industries in the UK are regulated independently to make sure they are fairly run and prices are kept down (In theory. The energy regulator is awful but that is a different issue). Former Lib Dem politician founder of the homeless charity Shelter and former England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) member Des Wilson once wrote “Is sport accountable to no one? Why should it be almost unique in its ability to be so?”

And he is right. Sport is a part of society must play by the rules of society and must be regulated by society. The way the ICC has treated Nepal is a disgrace. It should stop. And sport should submit to government regulation. The party is over.

On the hypocrisy of sport

This has been a busy week in the fight against corruption and cheating in sport. In South Africa Gulam Bodi was banned from cricket for 20 years (five of them suspended if he agrees to take part in anti-corruption education). Bodi who played three times for South Africa was famous for keeping Kevin Pietersen out of the KwaZulu-Natal team therefore (if the myth is to believed) causing the latter to emigrate to England in 2001. But now Bodi will be linked with corruption having admitted to “contriving or attempting” to fix matches in the 2015 Ram Slam, South Africa’s domestic 20 20 competition. His 20 year ban was his punishment.

Meanwhile in New Zealand a convicted cheat –  Mohammad Amir of Pakistan – has been making his international comeback after being given a five year ban for spot fixing in 2010. His comeback has not been universally welcomed. Plenty of people thought he should have been banned from cricket for life and some of the crowds in New Zealand have booed him. More seriously the stadium announcer at Westpac Park in Wellington Mark McLoed was reprimanded by New Zealand Cricket (NZC) for playing a cash register sound effect during one of Amir’s spells in the third 20 20 international. Amir can expect more of the same when Pakistan tour England in summer 2016 especially as England’s fans and press are more hostile to match fixers than their equivalents in other countries.

It is not just cricket though. This week UK Athletics are trying to ban first time drug cheats for life by making athletes waive their right to represent the UK if they are subsequently caught using performance- enhancing drugs. If they don’t they can’t represent the UK which is to my mind blackmail. Now the UK used to ban drug cheats from the Olympics for life but were forced to drop life bans when the courts ruled it illegal. Now showing breathtaking arrogance UK Athletics are using blackmail to bring life bans back. The Government should order the arrest of UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner and prosecute him for contempt of sport, hit UK Athletics with 83% tax and cut off funding. UK Athletics as like all sport shows total contempt for the law and should be forced to obey it by being hit in the pocket.

But not all sports bodies hand out draconian punishments. Also this week the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) took no action against Tyson Fury (see previous post “A Tale of Two Awards”) over his sexist and homophobic remarks – except to reprimand him. Yet if he had taken drugs or fixed a fight he would have been banned for years maybe for life.

Another example was convicted rapist Ched Evans who would have back in football after serving a two and a half year sentence but for public uproar. Yet the sentence Evans received was less than Amir and Bodi’s bans never mind the life ban UK Athletics wants. And if he had taken drugs or fixed a match the FA would have banned him for years maybe for life.

This is the hypocrisy of sport. What I would call crimes against sport (match fixing, drug taking) are taken seriously and produce long maybe even life bans while crimes against society (rape, sexism/homophobia, domestic violence) are treated as less serious. This reflects the dominance of old, white men in sport plus also the thought of sport that it is above the law and can do whatever it wants. Time for a change.

Despite what I wrote about UK Athletics I am in favour of drug cheats and match fixers being banned for life and the Government should change UK law if that is what it takes to make life bans legal. But in return sport should be forced to ban rapists, woman beaters and people who make sexist/racist/homophobic remarks for life as well. Most people who are not sport fans would regard rape and domestic violence as more serious as match fixing and drug taking. Sport should be forced to accept this. Until it agrees match fixers and drug cheats should not be banned for life if rapists and woman beaters are not.

Not finished on a double

Lion & Unicorn

Every Christmas and New Year at Alexandra Palace there is a world darts championship, this year’s having started last week and running until 3 January. Then a week later, at Lakeside Country Club in Surrey, there’s another one.

Admittedly the latter is so drained of prestige that even the BBC can afford the television rights (for this year at least), but it’s a world championship nonetheless, with players from Lithuania and New Zealand, and finalists from as far afield as Dorset and Cambridgeshire.

The split between the two codes of the sport, like similar fissures in rugby, tennis and, of course, chess (not to mention the proliferation of governing bodies in boxing), was all about money: namely, the lack thereof for the players, and the indifference thereto of the administrators.

The administrator in this case was Olly Croft, a mutton-chopped slate tycoon…

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A tale of two awards

This is a big week for sports awards with two major ones being decided, one in the US and one here in the UK. But both awards have had their share of controversy and neither have had a distinguished week to put it mildly.

The first award started in 1954 and is presented by the American magazine Sports Illustrated. Despite its title – the Sportsman of the Year – both individuals (male and female) and teams (male and female) are eligable for the award. For example the 1999 United States Women’s World Cup winning team and the 2004 curse breaking World Series winning Boston Red Sox have won this award. The staff of the magazine have decided the award rather than a vote of the magazine’s readers.

But this year the magazine got into a horrid mess. First of all they ran a public poll. Second they nominated a horse – the triple crown winner American Pharaoh. Now a horse is not a person Therefore it should not be able to win the sportsperson of the year award. Whether or not they intended American Pharaoh’s candidacy to be a joke we don’t know. But the public have a habit of voting for “joke” candidates and American Pharaoh romped to victory. I suspect the vote was hijacked by the horse racing lobby but whatever the reason he won the poll.

Quite rightly the magazine staff did not make American Pharaoh Sportsman of the year instead they gave the award to tennis superstar Serena Williams (when a woman wins they call it Sportsperson of the year. Why not just call it the Sportsperson of the year every year or else split the award into two awarding both the sportsman and woman of the year?). Cue an uproar from American Pharaoh’s supporters claiming the public vote should be respected with sadly as it was a black woman who won disintegrated into racist and sexist abuse. And it was all totally unnecessary. The magazine should not have had a public poll nor should they have nominated a horse. By doing both they have made a fool of themselves and overshadowed Williams’ deserved award. But at least they chose the right winner.

The second award also by a coincidence started in 1954. This one is the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Award (hitherto known as SPOTY). Unlike the Sports Illustrated award this one is only open to individuals – teams have their own award. Also unlike the Sports Illustrated award it is decided by public vote. Except the public don’t get to vote for who they want but they are limited to a group of 10-12 nominations decided by a “panel of experts” who have got into a dreadful mess over the nominations.

One of the twelve people they nominated was new World Heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury who won his title on November 28th – just in time (along with Davis Cup hero Andy Murray) to be nominated. Now purely on sporting achivement Fury would deserve to be nominated. But it is not that simple.

After he won his title Fury opened his mouth and out came the bile. Fury on homosexuality:

“There are only three things that need to be  accomplished before the devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophillia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those two would be legalised?”

Oh dear where do you start with that? To compare homosexuality and abortion to paedophillia is ridiculous. To say that the devil would be happy with them being legalised is even worse. Fury really should have shut up at this point. He was in a hole so he should have stopped digging. Instead he did another interview where he was asked about women in sport and said this about fellow SPOTY nominee Jessica Ennis-Hill :

“She’s good, she’s won quite a few medals, she slaps up good as well. When she’s got a dress on she looks quite fit”.

And then he spoke about women in boxing :

“I’m all for it. I’m not sexist. I believe a woman’s best place is in the kitchen and on her back. Making me a cup of tea that’s what I believe”.

If this guy is not a sexist I’d hate to meet one who is!

Now you would think these views would stop him being nominated for SPOTY or be withdrawn from the list. After all when Conservative MP Enoch Powell made his infamous racist “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 outraged party leader Edward Heath banished him from the Shadow Cabinet and the speech cost him any chance he had of being Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. I suspect if an MP made these comments he/she would become a “parliamentary leper” – as Harold Wilson called controversial Smethwick winner Peter Grifffiths in 1964. I suspect in any other industry Fury would have been punished for his outrageous views.

But not in sport. Oh no. Fury remains on the SPOTY list. In fact the only person that has been punished is BBC journalist Andy West who has been suspended for saying that he was “ashamed” of the BBC for nominating Fury. So someone has been punished for criticising Fury while the bigot gets off scot free. The BBC should be ashamed of themselves.

This shameful affair must never happen again. First of all the BBC must get rid of the nominations and let the people vote for who they want not just limiting them to twelve names. As usual there have been complaints that other worthy candidates like Joe Root have not been nominated. If nominations did not exist there would have been no fuss over Fury’s nomination since no one would have been nominated.

But secondly sport must be forced to change its ways. People in sport who behave in a racist/sexist/homophobic way should be banned for life. Since sport will never agree to this voluntarily the Government should threaten sport in the only way sport understands. If a sport does not agree to ban people with offensive views the sport in question should (a) lose all Government funding and (b) have to pay 83% tax*. This would cost a sport a lot of money. And the only way to make sport make sense is threaten it with losing money.

As for the SPOTY award itself Andy Murray will be the favourite but if there is justice in this world Ennis-Hill will win it. First of all she should have won this award in 2009 and 2010. Only Manchester United and horse racing fans thought Ryan Giggs (2009) and A P McCoy (2010) deserved the award more than she did. Secondly she deserves some reward for having to be in the same building as a scumbag who holds her in contempt.

And thirdly it would restore the reputation of an award that the nomination of Fury has sent into the gutter. If Ennis-Hill wins the BBC – like Sports Illustrated – will have got away with their blunders and their award too will have a worthy winner.

*The top rate of tax from 1974-79 in the UK was 83% (amazing as it seems now). Since sport – especially football –  seems to be stuck in the 1970s – there is a case for saying that if the 1970s were that wonderful sport should have to pay 1970s tax rates!

Don’t ban Russia from the Olympics. Ban all countries.

So Russia has been suspended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) after the shocking report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which accused Russia of state sponsored doping and also deliberately destroying 1,417 doping samples. Equally sinisterly it suggested that any Russian athlete who did not agree to take drugs would not be considered part of the national team – in effect told to cheat or they would not be selected. There is now a danger that Russian athletes will be banned from competing in the Rio Olympics next year. I suspect that will not happen – the rest of the world won’t want to offend Vladimir Putin – but in any case it is not only Russia that should be banned from the Olympics – it is all countries that should be banned from the Olympics – both in 2016 and forever. It is the very existence of national teams that makes the drugs problem worse.

People will say that I am mad but the fact is sport and nationalism is an utterly toxic mix. One suspects that the reason the Russian doping programme existed was as a propaganda tool – they wanted to gain victories for mother Russia and prove Russia’s superiority over the West. This is not the first time a rotten regime has done this. Every dictator in history –  from Mussolini to Hitler to Stalin to East Germany to Putin among others – has used sport – especially the (male) football World Cup and the Olympics – for propaganda purposes. And why? Because the competitors are representing their countries. Time for a change.

If I were in charge of the Olympics all countries would be banned. Athletes would compete merely as individuals. Only individual sports would be allowed. Team sports like football, hockey, basketball, handball and volleyball would be out. Even team events in individual sports (like the relays in athletics) would not be allowed. In tennis doubles teams where the players are from two different countries – for example the current best women’s doubles team of Swiss Martina Hingis and Indian Sania Mirza – would be allowed to play together. Teams would compete under the Olympic flag and medalists would hear the Olympic anthem instead of their own*. TV, radio and newspapers would be banned from even mentioning the competitors’  nationality which should be totally irrelevant.** The Olympics should also be hosted permanently in Athens to stop a bidding war between would be host cities.

Banning national teams would not stop doping – plenty of individuals do it from all countries – but it might stop state sponsored doping as the Olympics would not be a propaganda tool for dictatorships anymore. But there is another reason why nationality should be taken out of sport. In my opinion we cannot get racism out of sport as long as it is based on national teams because by definition national teams are racist. Not only that but sport has been used by racists for their own ends. The classic example being ex Conservative minister Norman Tebbit who said immigrants to the UK should support England at cricket to prove their loyalty to the UK (this became known as the “cricket test”). But surely individuals should be free to support whoever they want?

And in individual sports – and in global sports like the Premier League in the UK – people do support whoever they want to. The big football clubs in the UK and Europe have fans all over the world. So do tennis stars like Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. And that is the way it should be.

And yet another reason why national teams should be got rid of is that they are out of date. They worked perfectly well when people stayed in the same country all their lives and married people from the same country. Neither happens now so you get dual nationals – people who either have parents from two different countries or were born in one country but moved to another country when they were young. These people can play for more than one country but get vilified whatever choice they make. People who were not born in the UK but have a parent who was and thus are able to play for the UK and choose to do so are called “Plastic Brits” – a horrible phrase – while footballer Sydney le Roux gets stick for choosing the US over Canada and would have got stick had she made the opposite choice.

Frankly sport needs to wean itself off national teams. In the ideal world individual sports and club teams should dominate and the latter should be able to field anyone they want. In fact any club that restricts  itself to signing players from its own country – or even bans players from its own country like Athletic Bilbao with its evil basque only policy – should be banned. For ever. End of story.

People say politics should be kept out of sport. That is impossible as politics are part of society and so is sport. People who think that confuse politics with nationalism. Which needs to be taken out of sport as soon as possible. And a useful side effect of getting national teams out of sport would be no World Cup and no European Championship in football – which means no need for ghastly FIFA or UEFA as the clubs could – and should – run the Champions League themselves. A world without FIFA? Now that is a good idea…

*As happened at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow when athletes from some countries (including the UK) competed in defiance of requests by their governments to boycott them. These countries were not allowed to use their own flag or national anthem.

**This should also apply to TV radio and newspaper coverage of domestic football leagues like the Premier League. Most fans don’t give a toss about a  player’s nationality – I know I don’t – and the media should reflect this.

Why Proudman is both right and wrong on sexism in sport

In September this year feminist barrister Charlotte Proudman made the news when she stood up to sexism. She sent a professional LinkedIn request to fellow lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk who responded by accepting her request. However Carter-Silk also praised her “stunning picture” on LinkedIn. That was blatantly sexist – he would not have said that to a man – and also sinister as Carter-Silk is 30 years older than Proudman. Proudman quite rightly called him out for his sexism and in return copped a load of sexist abuse which sadly is not a surprise in the UK. The Daily Mail called her a “feminazi*” and she revived death threats by e mail. All for exposing a guy for his sexist and perverted remarks. Pathetic.

Now a less brave person would lie low for a while. But not Proudman. Instead she has gone where very few women dare to tread by challenging gender segregation in sport. After Michelle Payne became the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup horse race in Australia Proudman wrote an article on the Daily Telegraph’s website entitled “Michelle Payne’s stunning victory proves why sexual apartheid in sport must end”. She was advocating mixed sport – where the sexes play with and against each other. Now Proudman is not the first person to advocate mixed sport – before she became leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett wrote an article in the Guardian’s “Comment is free” section titled “Give Waynetta Rooney** a chance” making the same points as Proudman is now. But are they right? Well yes and no.

First of all where they are right. No woman should be banned from competing with men solely because of their gender***. The FIFA/English FA rule banning mixed competitive football has to go. The UK government must repeal the exemption clause for sport that was put into both the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act and its successor law the 2010 Equality Act. I know why it was brought in – in 1975 the UK government had a majority of only 3 seats and applying sex discrimination law in sport in 1975 would have been controversial probably not made it through Parliament and might have caused the Sex Discrimination Bill to be defeated. In effect sportswomen were sacrificed to protect the rights of other women. But this is 2015 not 1975. In an age where consenting adults are free to do more or less what they want together the ban on mixed sport is a ridiculous anomoly.

That said Proudman and Bennett are wrong if they want all sport to be mixed gender. Coercive integration is as bad as coercive segregation. Plus it could have unintended consequences for women as two sports that are in theory mixed but in practice are highly gendered show.

The first example is the sport that led to Proudman’s article horse racing. As Proudman herself wrote Payne was only the fourth female jockey to ride in the Melbourne Cup an event that is 155 years old. This as Proudman says is due to institutional sexism. Payne herself said that “it is such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of the owners wanted to kick me off”.

Another example is Formula One motor racing. In theory this sport is mixed. In practice the sport’s only female driver Susie Wolff retired yesterday. Not that she drove in a race – she was only the Williams test driver. Even so sexists said that she only got the test driver’s job because her husband Toto Wolff is a shareholder in Williams. There has not been a woman driver in Formula One since Lella Lombardi of Italy in the 1970s. Lombardi is the only female driver to score a World Championship point – actually half a point as the Spanish Grand Prix of ironically 1975 was cut short by a crash that killed five spectators. If a woman could drive in a Grand Prix in the 1970s why can’t one do it now? The answer of course is that there is no reason and the only reason there is not a woman driver in Formula One is institutional sexism.

My point is that if only mixed sport existed women would be kept out because of sexist prejudice. If that happens in horse racing and Formula One where women have shown they can compete what chance would they have in a sexist sport like football?

Luckily there is a simple solution. Separate events for women only should remain. But what is now the men’s events should be open to all competitors. This would leave the talented female with a choice. She can choose to compete in the women only events or choose to compete in the open events against men.**** In the case of say football if a male football club ever wanted to sign a woman – as a Mexican club wanted to do with Maribel Dominguez in 2004 – they would be fully entitled to. If she turned out not to be good enough well as Liverpool fans know with Mario Balotelli that can apply to male players too!

Some people say that is unfair to men. But in sport this has always applied in the case of age. Sport has under 16, under 18 and under 21 teams from which older players are excluded. However young players can play in older age group teams and even adult competitions. The classic example being Wayne Rooney who made his Premier League debut n 2002 aged 16. The idea of Rooney being banned from the Premier League because of his age would be absurd. Why shouldn’t it apply to gender?

To my mind this is the best way to approach gender equality in the playing side of sport. Coercive segregation is blatantly discriminatory and should have no place in a civilised country. But coercive integration – as horse racing and Formula One have shown – leads to mixed sport only in theory as sexist prejudice and the absence of women’s events means there are fewer women in these sports than gender segregated sports. Giving women the opportunity to compete with men – while keeping the protection of female only events as an insurance policy against sexism – is the best way for sport to go.

*”Feminazi” is a combination of feminist and Nazi. The very fact that people who want human beings to be treated equally are being compared to people who sent millions to the gas chambers shows how pathetic and ridiculous that phrase is.

**”Waynetta Rooney” was the name of a fictional sister of England football star Wayne Rooney that Natalie Bennett used to illustrate the difference in wages and opportunities between male and female footballers.

***The one exception I would make (as I wrote in previous post “Why Rousey v Mayweather must never happen”) is fight sports like boxing and wrestling for reasons I explained in that post.

****This is not my idea. UK sports lawyer David Pannick (in his 1983 booklet “Sex Discrimination in Sport”) advocated this policy.