Tag Archives: sport

Suarez got a longer ban for biting than racism

Football is a passionate sport. There’s none quite like it. If religion was the opiate of the masses, football is the methadone. It can elicit the most extreme of reactions from the most conservative of people, tears from the most stoic of men, and scenes of jubilation unrivaled by most sports. Children and adults unite in adoration and appreciation of a club, a player, or an awesome goal.

Sport, perhaps, is one of the few places along with finance, politics and celebrity where indiscretions and flaws can be overlooked and tolerated on the basis of talent – and this is especially true of football, where triumph over adversity is part of the story of many to have played the game – Pele and Maradona, for example. It’s full of romantic tales – local boy done good, rags to riches. All of these only serve to enhance the popularity of this pastime.

When Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield during their boxing match in 1997, taking a chunk of his ear with him, the punishment for this was a $3 million dollar fine and the rescindment of his boxing licence in Nevada, a move that was upheld by subsequent states, effectively banning him from boxing in the USA. Though the ban was later overturned, he would serve over a year out of the sport, returning to the ring in 1999. Overwhelming opinion was that biting was unacceptable, even in a sport where success is determined on your ability to hurt your opponent physically.

So we fast forward to now, and Liverpool & Uruguay player Luis Suarez, who has just been banned for nine international matches and four months of all football-related activity by the world football governing body FIFA, following his bite on Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s game against Italy at the World Cup.

It’s not the first time Suarez had bitten an opponent on the field – in fact, it was his third such transgression. Previous bans of seven and 10 matches respectively had failed to overturn his penchant for using his teeth on the field of play. This time was different; this was on the world stage, in a World Cup which promised to be marred by political unrest in the host nation but, to FIFA’s relief and advantage, had been relatively controversy-free until the Suarez incident. An international ban would not be enough of a statement to make. A strong sentence was necessary. Children bite. Animals bite. Adults should not bite. Professional athletes should not bite.

Football often is a great mirror of society. All the flaws of the latter can be found in the former. From the stands to the pitch to the administrative bodies, football has a sexism problem, a racism problem, and increasingly a class problem, with the working class priced out of a sport that they helped to elevate to such heights.

Opinion has been divided following the ban. There are those, such as the Uruguayan team, the  press and even Maradona, who think the punishment is too severe for the crime. There are also those who think the ban is just, as it is the third time in four years he has done such a thing. Controversial stars are part of the allure of sports. They elicit polarising and extreme opinions from those who hate and love in equal measure. Yet every so often there are controversies we are unable to overlook.

Whilst this was a third bite, and as unacceptable as biting is, Suarez has actually been found guilty previously of a far worse crime – racially abusing an opponent on the pitch.

For that, he served a mere eight-match ban – a ban which was met with indignant howls from fervent Liverpool fans. A ban which – in the press as in the stands – revealed that football, much like society, still had a racism problem and it couldn’t be confined to just the supporters; it was now playing out on the pitch.

In any other profession, were you to be found guilty of racially abusing a colleague in their place of work you would not have a job to come back to. That Suarez was not only able to return to his job a mere two months later, but would go on to be seen, through the eyes of a few high profile journalists, as redeemed is part and parcel of the problem, and why we find ourselves here again with this deeply flawed player.

Significantly, this third bite and subsequent ban has not been enough to impede on Suarez’s career options. The player is rumoured to be in talks to move to Barcelona in an £80 million transfer, the club seemingly unbothered by the non-apology for the incident offered by Suarez, where personal responsibility was absolved in double-speak. “I’m sorry my teeth hit you when we collided” isn’t quite “I’m sorry for biting you” but at least an apology of sorts emerged, despite previous claims at the time that he was a victim, not the perpetrator. Patrice Evra is still awaiting an apology for being racially abused.

In the aftermath of Suarez’s racial ban, many were subjected to some of the worst racial abuse online. Abuse that came from challenging the media and journalists that this, unlike his previous biting or cheating at the World Cup in 2010, would have far more serious repercussions to just excuse as another indiscretion.

And so we return to football mirroring society. When we fail to properly hold people to account for their actions, not merely because they’re high profile or role models, we do a disservice not just to the game, but wider society. We reinforce injustices across wider society, and allow them to play out.

For this reason, we can accept the ban as retrospective justice of sorts and properly examine why we so often overlook that which would not be done so in most professions.

Perhaps, had racism been treated as seriously by the FA as biting has been by FIFA, if fans and journalists had engaged their sense of morality rather than looking for the easier story and resorting to tribalistic tendencies, then Suarez would not have been predisposed to bite a player for a second time, let alone a third.

Jude Wanga is a human rights campaigner, activist & freelance writer. Follow her @JudeInLondon

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Howzat? Cricket board stumps women’s pay potential

Whilst male cricketers have for a long time had the opportunity to earn a more than decent living from plying their trade, for women, playing cricket has never really been a viable career option. They earn small sums, mostly in a semi-professional capacity, supplementing their income with schools coaching or ambassadorial roles. We are talking really small sums of money – in no way comparable to the amounts of money that even the least successful male professional cricketers earn playing the game.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), to their credit, recently announced that for the first time ever 18 female cricketers would be fully paid as professionals. They are the only fully professional female cricketers in the world. The contracts awarded by the ECB vary in amount, with a handful being awarded top tier contracts that are worth over £50,000, and others earning lower tier contracts worth between £30,000 and £50,000.

Women’s cricket, like many other sports women play, faces the huge challenge of securing revenue. It isn’t on its own profitable – it relies on the revenue created by the men’s game – some countries (most notably England and Australia) have, admirably, used some of that revenue from the men’s game to subsidise paying players and developing women and girls. The fact remains though that the women’s game generates relatively little revenue either through advertising, sponsorship, TV or spectators.

In the last few years there has been an explosion of short Twenty20 tournaments which have given male cricketers the opportunity to earn vast sums of money (on top of their normal contracts with their country or club side). Huge six figure contracts are awarded to players for a tournament that lasts no more than six weeks.

It is interesting, therefore, that an independent organisation has set up a proposed short tournament, the ‘Women’s International Cricket League‘ (WICL), has uncovered the sort of money that the women’s game could only dream of, and is offering the chance for around 70 women cricketers to earn up to around £20,000 for 2 weeks work.

When the top handful of international women cricketers (all England players) are only earning £50k a year, these are huge sums of money we are talking about – amounts that women cricketers have never even been close to accessing before. Details of the tournament are still sketchy but for an organisation to have found these sorts of sums of money for women’s cricket is hugely exciting.

There’s a problem though. The ECB (and Cricket Australia) have unequivocally stated that they do not recognise the WICL, they do not support it, and they will not be allowing their contracted players to play in it.

Some nervousness around independently run tournaments is understandable. Twenty20 tournaments are ripe for being targeted by match fixers and corrupters and details of the WICL are, at this stage, still sketchy. Governance and due diligence structures for the tournament aren’t clear and with this comes a number of risks both for the players and reputation of the game.

One can also sympathise to an extent with the ECB’s position – they have put in huge investment and have broken new ground by offering full-time contracts for women for the first time ever and they want to protect their players and protect the sanctity of International Cricket Council-run tournaments.

But whilst some nervousness is understandable, if women’s cricket is to continue to develop players shouldn’t be denied the opportunity to earn where it arises. Bringing money into the women’s game – whether that be from the governing bodies or from private investment – can only be a good thing. Surely the solution in this instance is for cricket’s governing bodies to work in conjunction with the WICL to make this an exciting and successful tournament, rather than a blanket refusal to recognise it.

As it stands, some of the biggest names in women’s cricket – such as Charlotte Edwards, Sarah Taylor, Meg Lanning, Elysse Perry – will not appear at this tournament. These are women who have worked incredibly hard, against all the odds, to get to the top of their game. When England Captain Charlotte Edwards started playing internationally she even had to buy her own England kit, never mind actually being paid. It’s worth noting too, that England have some of the best women cricketers in the world; they are the current Women’s Ashes holders and the T20 World Cup finalists. These are women who are role models to girls wanting to play cricket, they are both hugely successful and hugely inspirational.

The men who are contracted by the ECB or County Cricket Clubs are given permission by their employers to take part in various Twenty20 tournaments around the world and allowed to command the huge salaries that taking part in them affords.

Such a clear statement by the ECB, banning their contracted women players from the WICL, seems on the face of it to be a ludicrous double standard for players of different genders playing within the same sport. It’s highly unlikely, having only just been offered central contracts, that the top English female players would kick up a fuss or try to go against the commands of their employer, but it feels like this is a huge opportunity for women cricketers and the women’s game that could be missed.

Lizzy Ammon is a cricket commentator for the BBC and writes about both men’s and women’s cricket for The Sunday People newspaper and other publications.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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“I break hearts & faces”: Women fighters forced to be sexy

For a long time Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has been regarded as a predominantly male sport. The full contact combat sport, which includes striking, choking, joint locks, grappling and various other self-defence techniques was brought to the United States by the Gracie family in the 90s with the founding of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), now the largest MMA promotion company in the world. Unsurprisingly, female mixed martial artists were not permitted to fight in the UFC, with the majority of male viewers disagreeing with the very idea of women fighting and Dana White, the President of the UFC, himself stating: “We will NEVER see women in the UFC” in 2011.

But in late 2012, it was announced that Judoka and Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey would be the first woman to sign with the UFC. Rousey subsequently became the first female UFC champion, the first olympic medallist with a UFC title, and the first woman to defend a UFC title – remaining undefeated. It’s been a long time coming, but the UFC is finally embracing female martial artists and giving them the respect they deserve; it’s also been revealed that this year’s reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter (TUF 20) will feature an all-female cast for the first time in history. 

However, if we take a look at the fight wear that’s currently on offer for women, it’s clear to see that women are still subject to sexism and stereotyping, and not given anywhere near the same amount of choice as their male counterparts. The very few clothing companies that do cater for female fighters, claiming to “empower women”, offer a range of training gear (including “booty pants” – whatever they’re supposed to be!) in primarily baby pink colours, emblazoned with derogatory slogans including “I jump guard on the first date”, “I break hearts and faces”, “Always on top”, “Tap this” and “Sexy as F**k”, to name but a few. Any female fighter who doesn’t wish to subject herself to this humiliating degradation is forced to wear male clothing – which, of course, is not designed to suit a female body and can be extremely uncomfortable to fight in.

MMA

It’s truly ridiculous and offensive to women who have dedicated their lives to the sport and trained just as hard as men to then be objectified by companies who claim to “empower” them. There are many young girls who attend martial arts and self-defence classes to feel empowered and safe – some of whom have been victims of sexual assault and want to learn how to protect themselves – who then have to choose between sexualised training gear or menswear.

In light of this, myself and GBR Jujutsu athlete Sophie Newnes have launched our own clothing line which specialises in female fight wear – designed BY women, FOR women. The chart below depicts the number of female participants in Jujutsu, Judo and Brazilian Jiujitsu in the U.K alone – which goes to show what a huge market there is for female fight-wear:

Chart1

We were convinced we weren’t alone in our dissatisfaction with the current fight wear on offer, and according to the results of our recent survey of female martial artist participants, we were right:

MMA graph

Mere hours after launching our social media pages, we had requests flooding in from female martial artists all over the World: women rightfully demanding Gi’s made for bigger breasted women, comfortable rashguards without the tacky graphics, shorts that AREN’T pink, and clothing in sizes 6-16. We were delighted to find ourselves being retweeted, followed and in receipt of supportive messages from famous female fighters, promoters and event hosts.

WOMMA’s future goals include expanding to releasing a children’s range and developing the WOMMA Foundation – a World Wide self-defence company for women. But right now, our focus is on providing female mixed martial artists with appropriate, stylish fight-wear that they feel 100% comfortable in.

For further information about WOMMA Fightwear, follow @WOMMA_Fightwear on Twitter and Instagram.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Obama sends lesbians to Sochi

“Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” – Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.

In 2014 you can buy the T-shirt but in Berlin in 1936, when African American Jesse Owens was the most successful athlete at what was supposed to be the showcase for Aryan superiority, Hitler refused to shake his hand. “The spirit among individual competitors, broadly speaking, was within measureable distance of the Olympic ideal,” The Cairns Post reported dryly between reports mocking displays designed to promote Aryan supremacy.

This year another nation’s leader seeks to promote his conservative agenda via the Olympic media spotlight. Mr Putin has chosen this time to criminalise homosexuality – promoting the supremacy and legitimacy of heterosexuality, if you will. Coca-Cola, a significant Olympic stakeholder since 1928, has been criticised for its silence on the matter.

In response, President Obama has, as one IOC member put it, “sent lesbians” in the United States delegation. Tennis great and equality advocate Billie Jean King will represent the US at the opening ceremony, while Olympic ice hockey medallist Caitlin Cahow will attend the closing ceremony.

Billie Jean King should be a thesaurus term for equality. The US Open is held at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Her influence is everywhere – in the very existence of a women’s tour, in the fact tennis is the only professional sport with equal pay for women, and in the high levels of anxiety in women’s tennis about countering “out” players with heteronormatising promotional rhetoric.

King was the first lesbian outed while still playing when, in 1981, she was exposed by a “palimony” suit lodged against her by Marilyn Barnett. She has said she lost two million dollars and was forced to postpone retirement. Before that, King says: “I couldn’t get a closet deep enough. I’ve got a homophobic family, a tour that will die if I come out, the world is homophobic and, yeah, I was homophobic.”

Her fellow delegate Caitlin Cahow has been a strong advocate of Athlete Ally’s Principle 6 campaign around the Sochi games – a call for the International Olympic Committee to uphold Principle 6 and stand with LGBT Olympians against the Russian laws.

Writing for USA Today last month, she said: “Since its founding, the Modern Olympic Movement has stood for the notion that through sport, we may combat, ‘an ignorance which feeds hatreds, accumulates misunderstands,’ and impedes social progress.”

There are some obvious reasons why women have been at the queer forefront in sports. Men, being paid more, have more at stake economically, and the promoted hyper-masculinity of sports means women athletes occupy a space that confuses wider cultural signals about gender and sexuality.

Away from Sochi, things are seemingly beginning to improve for LGBT sportspeople, but only for athletes outside the 76 countries where homosexuality is still illegal. According to outsports.com, there were just 21 openly queer athletes out of more than 10,000 at the London Olympics in 2012.

It was only relatively recently, in 1999, that one of the first never ‘in’ athletes, Amelie Mauresmo, hit the Australian Open at nineteen. Ten feet tall and bulletproof, she acknowledged her girlfriend to the press and called more experienced players out for homophobic sledging. Recognising the detrimental effect of fear on performance, she told Agence France-Presse:

“I feel liberated and it’s shown in my game. There are dozens of other players like me who      say nothing – they’re often ill at ease and even unhappy… but I’m glad I spoke out. It’s just a pity the Australian press homed in on it … I’m a tennis player before anything else, it seems to me.”

She went on to win Olympic silver at Athens and both Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2006, retiring in 2010. Reebok incorporated her openness into their ‘I am what I am’ campaign.

IOC President Thomas Bach has said that Olympians “will not be penalised” [by the IOC] for speaking out about Russia’s LGBT laws in press conferences, and Australian Snowboarder Belle Brockhoff has already been outspoken in her criticism of Putin. It is unclear how Russia will react but, with The Atlantic dubbing Sochi “the Gay Olympics”, Putin can be sure the world will be watching.

Carol Wical is a feminist cultural scholar and sports radio practitioner. Follow her @WicalBNE

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Comeback: Running? It’s just jogging

Feminist Times reader Katie Stanton responds to Deborah Coughlin’s article Running? It’s just jogging.

I could write a book about my history with dieting and I’m sure you could too. In the same way a man chats easily with a complete stranger about football, we women always seem to find calorie-related common ground when meeting other women (“No cake for me thanks, I’m being good”).

Poor body image is one of the most prevalent issues facing women today, proven by statistics showing 91% of those admitted to hospital for anorexia last year were women. For many feminists who suffer body image issues, there is also the added guilt of caring about it in the first place.

Most feminists are inherently anti-diet and there’s some great writing on why the dieting culture is a form of oppressive patriarchy (Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue is particularly good).

In the past, I have denounced any effort to burn calories to stay thin as anti-feminist, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I used to read about women spending hours in the gym, slaving away towards size eight, and imagine myself saying to them: “Emily Davison didn’t throw herself under a horse so you could spend half your life on the treadmill.” Did I think myself morally superior to these women because I wasn’t spending my time working towards a thinner version of myself? Probably.

But then I started running. And all that stuff they say about endorphins is true. Suddenly, I was not only healthier, happier and sleeping better, but my life became more goal-orientated, on the track and in the office. All that time I now spend flailing around the streets of Leighton Buzzard gave me time to think about my previous preconceptions of gym-goers and how I fit into my big feminist ideal now that I’m a runner.

Here’s what I decided: The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games gave us all an insight into the exhilaration of sporting victory. Here was a form of empowerment that needed to be tapped into. Worryingly, it struck me that the factor of good health was something feminism shied away from. Was the need for regular exercise being ignored because it sat too closely to the diet industry? Statistics show that 32% of women in the UK are overweight, so why is this women’s issue not being addressed? Where are the feminists against obesity?

I don’t write this to make you feel bad; in fact, quite the opposite. Let me reassure you I think fad diets are fucking repulsive and a societal scourge that oppress women. The best thing I saw at October’s Feminism in London conference was a teenage girl’s placard reading “pizza rolls not gender roles”. I want us to carry on eating pizza. But I don’t want us to ignore the benefits of exercise in the name of feminism. A healthy lifestyle is really important and it is possible to keep fit without selling your soul to the diet industry. Find a sport or activity that makes you feel empowered and go with it. When the revolution comes, we can’t be held up by those stopping for a fag break. For years feminism has demanded that society respects our bodies, so isn’t it about time we start doing the same?

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Fit is the new Thin

Twice in the past couple of months I have been told by enthusiastic brand-hobbyists that Special K is changing it’s “message” and that this is probably good for feminism. No longer is the cereal about being slim enough to fit in that red dress, no my friend, now it is about being “healthy” enough to fit in that dress. The hobbyists continued: this is to be seen as part of a massive cultural shift that includes that trend “running”. Diets, size zero, meal skipping, purging, speed, these are all out. Health is King and Fit is in.

Fit, only one letter away from Fat, its out of breath sister, is all about being who you really are. You really are a warrior, an athlete, a competitor, an animal, built to chase, build and carry. You are a biological machine, measured and capable of balance. Food is fuel and thousands of people find themselves jumping up and down in their bedroom, before they can sleep, just to get their Nike Band in balance.

The Sunday Times declared 2013 the year of ‘Fit not Thin’ with Daisy Lowe as their ambassador for a summer ‘campaign’ of the same name. Lowe, the model, can dead-lift 80kg and finds it empowering. She would rather be Fit than Thin she says, but is this the choice the majority of us worry about?

Fit, I am afraid, is Thin but in trainers. It’s no easier to obtain, no easier to stick to, no cheaper to join than all the thousands of useless diets, shake programs and aerobics lessons many of us have failed at.

Fit is just as aspirational as Thin. It’s as cool, sexy and powerful. Successful people squeeze in fitness before work, they don’t hit snooze and make excuses. They do not end up getting carried away making a running playlist and forgo the actual run.

The trick of this idea – the idea underpinning the rebranding – is of course that you will be thin if you are fit. You will be sexy, energetic and fun. I can appreciate that exercise has incredible benefits for both body and mind, and that women need to hear that something is just as good if not better than Thin, but Fit is just not as uncomplicated as it may seem.

When aimed at a teenager who is starving themselves, spending their evenings into nights on pro-anorexia social networks, would the new choice ‘fix’ them? Of course I’d rather my anorexic and bulimic friends had taken up yoga instead of downing laxatives, though of course most of them excessively exercised as well. The most ‘healthy’ people I know are recovering anorexics who have found an acceptable new way to control their bodies.

For me, as one of the majority of women in the UK who is neither fit nor thin, and certainly not managing to control her body, this new message falls on cynical ears. Nothing more than a new sales patter, a more socially acceptable form of the traditional weight-loss industry in an era when both anorexia and obesity are rising; a rebranding where the inferred wisdom is you can be any size and Fit. But of course, Daisy Lowe is both Fit AND Thin.

In this year’s Jacques Perritti BBC Documentary series The Men Who Made Us Thin, we discovered that the in/out calorie “balance” does not work for everyone, that the gym industry knows exercise does not help people lose weight long-term and that it is possible to be both Fat AND Fit. This all means that we are not machines. What is balance for one person causes another to fall down.

Fat is very much a Feminist Times issue. When Liz Jones said that the Feminist Times had no right to do a piece on the burning of Spanx because our editor is very thin, she was unaware that the Deputy Editor (me) is a size 20. I do not believe the commodification of “Fit” is the answer to obesity or anorexia. Telling us we’ll be healthy if we eat a cereal is no better than telling us we will be thin, if it’s not true. Telling us a Playboy model is fit instead of thin is no more helpful either. And neither message is “good” for feminism.

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Running? It’s just jogging

“Jogging is for people who aren’t intelligent enough to watch Breakfast TV”  – Victoria Wood

Running is massiveMore people run than go to the gym. It’s so massive that most of my friends would describe themselves as some kind of “runner”. Bearing in mind the only thing they all had in common a matter of years ago was drinking, this is some kind of health-kick-culture miracle. But I only really knew something was up when I caught myself introducing ME as a “runner”. This was quite clearly a lie.

I had followed a 5k app and could do about 3k of it, yet something about what I was doing didn’t feel like running. That was when I took a look around at my peers running around and around and around my local park and realised: we’re not runners, we’re joggers.

RUNNING 

JOGGING

What’s the significance of this? Jogging was universally panned sometime around the mid 90s as being incredibly bad for you. So who is it that rebranded jogging?

Speed, conditioning and rehabilitation coach, Mike Antoniades told the BBC: “If you are ‘moving’ slower than 6 miles per hour you are jogging, and quite frankly you would be better off walking! Walking at 4 mph or faster is biomechanically more efficient and far more beneficial to you than ‘jogging’ slowly!”

So my apps tell me I’m running but, according to Mike, I’m just jogging and killing myself; you need to be doing at least 9.6K in an hour to even be considered a slow runner. What we’ve got here is an emperor’s new clothes epidemic of epic proportions, with loads of naked emperors limping around ever so smugly as Ellie Goulding tells them they’re amazing in the that Nike App like a deluded mum.

Who has sold us these imaginary threads? The sportswear industry, the suspect with most to gain. The only thing all those running mates of mine have in common really is they’ve all spent money on cool trainers, breathable weather-proof tops, bands, apps and those little bum bags for your arm you put your phone in. Mine’s neon pink.

 

Image courtesy of Chris Hunkeler

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Anna throws away pink dress

Diary of a Tomboy: Football

Feminist Times is building a dedicated Children’s section for phase two of the website. At the moment Anna is writing to bring a child’s perspective to an adult audience, but this website is not aimed at children.

Since the magazine was thought of I have been writing more than usual. In one of my speeches I talked about stereotyping.

I was playing football – we play in a mixed team, which is good, but the boys never pass to the girls so we end up having to tackle our own team to get a touch.

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