No Fun Being a Lady

There has been a huge debate on racism in sport in Australia over the past month, but what about sexism in sport in Australia?

It was interesting to read during Wimbledon nine time champion of the tournament Martina Navratilova say “Ladies is opinion, women is fact.”

She was of course referring to how many female sports still use the term “Ladies” in either the titles of their teams or the promotion of the sport. As a commentator sometimes it can be a challenge, “girls” sounds condescending, “Ladies” sounds more respectful, and after all isn’t a woman always a lady until proven otherwise?

In America the editor of one of their most respected sporting publications Sports Illustrated Andy Benoit found himself having to apologise profusely for a tweet in which he wrote, “Women’s sport in general not worth watching.” The irony is he is related to Joan Benoit who was the first winner of the Women’s Marathon at the 1984 Olympic Games. Not sure she would have approved of such a comment.

He is not alone however in obviously believing the statement he made. Who can forget FIFA President Sepp Blatter wanting women to play in tighter shorts to make the game more appealing? The same man did not feel that the women at the World Cup in Canada deserved to play on grass, and forced them to play on astroturf. Would he have ever sanctioned such a move with the men’s game?

Even in beach Volleyball the women had restrictions in the depth of their bikini bottoms. While the men were allowed to wear loose fitting shorts. This rule however did change for the London 2012 Olympics. Female beach volleyball players were afforded the choice of wearing shorts or bikini bottoms. This change took place to enable the participation of more women from countries and cultures which restrict the amount of skin women may show. Of course it also allowed women from other cultures the opportunity to cover up a little more.

It was always going to take time for Women to break down the barriers that had existed for so long to even allow them to participate in sport.

Women’s sport has come a long way. Women competed for the first time at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris. Of a total of 997 athletes, 22 women competed in five sports: tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrianism and golf. At the 2012 Games in London, 44 per cent of the participants were women.

It has been a tough journey for athletically inclined women. In 1912 women competed in swimming events for the first time at the Olympics, but none of the competitors were from America. The reason being that the USA did not allow its female athletes to compete in events without long skirts!  ( For trivia buffs – The first women’s swimming gold medal was won by the Australian Sarah ‘Fanny’ Durack, who won the 100m freestyle).

In 1928, women competed in track and field events for the very first time at an Olympic Games. However, so many collapsed at the end of the 800-meter race that the event was banned until 1960! How come the Men’s marathon did not suffer a similar fate when Dorando Pietri had to be helped over the finish line?

What many history books fail to state is that a world record was set in that race by the winner Lina Radke of Germany. One can imagine the pace she must have set, and as a result many of the competitors had not properly prepared for the race and several collapsed in exhaustion.

The end result was that Olympic organizers considered the race too strenuous for women. The president of the IOC at the time, Count Henri Baillet-Latour, even suggested the elimination of all women’s competition from the Games. Luckily for women such a drastic move was not taken, but until 1960, when the 800 meters reappeared, no race over 200 metres was contested by women in the Olympics.

Progress has been slow for women. Women’s shooting events were first included in the Olympics in 1984. Only in 1996, was a women’s only sport introduced, Softball.

At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney it was the first time that women were allowed to compete in the Olympics in weightlifting.

Over 100 years after the formation of the modern Olympic Games there are only two Olympic sports where men and women compete directly against each other; equestrian and sailing, though in sailing it is now only in one event. Tennis (in early Games and since 2012) and Badminton (since 1996) have mixed doubles events.

However, there are still two sporting disciplines that are solely for women: synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics.

Very little was made of the fact that in 2014 for the first time ever, women competed in ski jumping at the Winter Olympics. Prior to this the International Olympic Committee had refused to add the sport to the games, saying that it was too small, with too few competitors. However the main reason was outrageously antiquated and that was one in relation to women’s reproductive health. Such an event it was suggested would damage the uterus and prevent a woman from having children.

One of the big arguments used to put down the publicity of women’s sport is can Women’s sport pull in viewers on television? Can they attract television audiences? Can they fill stadia?

The truth is yes they can and they probably could bring in more if the same marketing dollars were spent on their events as on their male counterparts.

In Canada, the Canadian public who were in the main ambivalent about hosting the Women’s World cup became hooked. Attendances at stadia were higher than expected and television viewing was extremely high.

In England when their side beat Norway the game was watched by 2.3million viewers. So big were the viewing figures that the BBC switched the quarter final game against Canada from the lesser watched BBC2 to BBC1.

Personally for what the women’s game may lack in terms of speed and stregth there is an honesty to it that is so refreshing. Very few of the women fake injuries and roll around on the floor trying to get opposition players sent off; although some nations were guilty of this at the world cup! They play hard and they play with passion and the standard is rapidly on the rise.

Women have had to fight for equality in other walks of life. In Shakespearean times women were not permitted on stage so men played the parts of women. Now some of the biggest stars at the box office are women.

Male sport has been around for over 200 years. It has history. It has rivalries, and it has had time to evolve and make mistakes that it has learned from.

Women’s sport in many cases is in its infancy, but the drama is still there, as is the commitment and the passion.

Most sports fans take as much pride in their female competitors achievements as their male counterparts, yet sadly there are some who are still stuck in the dark ages and feel that sport is no place for a woman, and that all women who play sport must be Lesbians.

Where do you sit on this issue? Are our female athletes afforded the same respect as their male counterparts, do they deserve more? Interestingly just last week in the USA the Sacramento Kings became the latest NBA team to hire a woman as an assistant coach, appointing Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman to work alongside head coach George Karl. When are we likely to see a similar move in Australia?

No Fun Being a Lady
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