Recent events expose sexism in sports culture
Sexism refers to both discrimination based on gender and the attitudes, stereotypes, and the cultural elements that promote this discrimination.
Given the historical and continued imbalance of power, where men as a class are privileged over women as a class, an important, but often overlooked, part of the term is that sexism is prejudice plus power.
Recent comments by BBC radio presenter John Inverdale about Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli expose sexism in sports culture.
As the French tennis player Marion Bartoli climbed through the crowds to hug her father after winning the women’s singles, Inverdale commented on her appearance.
Inverdale said moronically, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little: ‘You are never going to be a looker, you will never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’”?
The above quote shows that sexism is still a cancer in world sports and this cancer needs to be diagnosed.
Women in sports should not be judged on their looks but their achievements. Including appearance as a criterion is absolutely unbelievable, of course, not only because there is no correlation between production and appearance.
Jane Merrick, The Independent journalist notes: “No matter that Inverdale later tried to backtrack by saying, “We poked fun, in a nice way, about how she looks … but Marion Bartoli is an incredible role model.” (Notice there was no outright apology).
“His comments betrayed an attitude that is always there, in the background, usually unspoken. A woman can rise to the top of her profession in politics, business, entertainment, or sport.
“She can defeat the greatest tennis players in the world, overcome injury and setback, to win Wimbledon. But ultimately, she will be judged on her looks. If she cannot meet the standards of ‘a Sharapova’ – slim, long-legged, blonde – she is not good enough.”
Sexism in sports applies more to women than to men and some of the problems include lack of women athletes in male dominated sports; women athletes have lower salaries compared to males; media portrayal of women athletes tends to be poor; and females are rarely assigned to coach male sport teams.
These issues are caused by stereotypes that have been developed over time that differ in the eyes of males and females.
Sue Tibbals, chief executive of the Women’s Sports and Fitness Foundation, believes that Inverdale’s comments were inexcusable.
“This is appalling. Tennis is one of the worst offenders in sport in terms of the focus on women athletes’ looks and the BBC needs to take action.
“I thought Bartoli was an absolute inspiration, so spirited and gutsy, and she does not deserve these outrageous remarks. This is not a one-off event from this presenter,” Tibbals, told Reuters.
Frankly, women should not be evaluated differently. This means sexism and gender differences should not be treated as a reason for jokes, but as simple facts of life.
Writing in a South African publication, Tanya Gold says, “It is well established that men’s sport is more exposed, prestigious and lucrative.”
Gold cited other baseless sexism remarks.
“Over the course of 2012, London mayor Boris Johnson yearned for more sport in schools, mostly because it would produce “semi-naked women … glistening like wet otters.
“Heptathlete Jessica Ennis was called fat by an unnamed UK Athletics executive; Frankie Boyle compared the swimmer Rebecca Adlington with a dolphin.”
Gold adds: “This is a culture in which Holger Osieck, the manager of the Australian football team, can say “women should shut up in public”; in which the former boxing champion Amir Khan can warn female boxers: “When you get hit it can be very painful”; and in which the American network NBC can air a slow-motion montage of female athletes wobbling, like Olympians who have wandered, obliviously, into a porn shoot.
“It is a foul pottage of denigration, inadequacy, spite and lust; consider this, and Inverdale's remark is barely strange.”
Inverdale presented the ugly face of sexism. It goes much further than valid questions about whether an athlete’s physique gives her the maximum potential to achieve; whether losing a bit of weight would help her accomplish her goals.
Consequently, comments at Wimbledon show there is still work to be done. Stakeholders in the sporting world need to work hard to eradicate sexism in sports.
They should encourage equal coverage of both men and women in the media.
Frankly, by giving greater exposure to their achievements, we are providing the younger generation with role models.
To eradicate sexism in sports, more women should be incorporated in sports governing bodies’ boardrooms, so that they can help shape sport.