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Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

I’m all for positive discrimination when it’s merited and, let’s face it, it very often is. Having witnessed the progress of women in Irish politics being systematically thwarted over the decades I fully support the proposed introduction of candidate quotas – many of the most enlightened and progressive democracies in the world have used them very effectively to introduce some much-needed gender balance into their parliaments.

However, I’ve always struggled with the notion of women only prizes in the arts, such as the Orange Prize for Fiction - due to be announced later today – or the MaxMara Art Prize for Women. To me the establishment of such closed competitions is tantamount to admitting “we can’t play with the big boys in the park so we’re taking our ball home to kick it around in the safety of our own back garden”. That sporting analogy prompts me to mention those sporting competitions where women are unable to compete directly against men but where they refuse to let this hold them back. For years women who competed at Wimbledon grudgingly accepted less prize money than their male counterparts despite thrilling fans with edge-of-the-seat showdowns time and time again. Finally in 2007 reasonableness prevailed and Wimbledon joined the United States and Australia in paying equal money across the board, from the champions down to the first-round losers in all events.

We can sing, draw, sculpt and write just as well as the next man.

It’s different in the arts. We can sing, draw, sculpt and write just as well as the next man. Any handicap we have suffered from in the past has been a lack of access to the funding and critical evaluation long taken for granted by men. For that reason I’m all for supporting women in the arts and introducing their work to the widest possible audience. I hate to see fiction trivialised when it happens to be written by a women while at the same time the latest considered and weighty tome gestated by some male, white middle-aged sage is fawned over and lavished with praise by the predominantly male reviewers writing in the quality press.

Loath though I am to give them the oxygen of even more publicity the recent musings of Nobel laureat and highly acclaimed author, VA Naipaul are relevant in this context. The venerable old gent is certain that there is no woman writer he could possibly consider his equal and that we are held back by our “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. This, he feels perhaps, cannot be helped. As Naipaul helpfully points out,”inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too.” Do we really want to live in a society that encourages highly respected and accomplished men like Naipaul to believe that remarks like these are acceptable? Although patently and painfully antediluvian it is the existance of such distain that makes me believe that we should focus all of our attention on getting our work out there and beating them at their own game. For men who remain convinced that wimmin’s books are not for them Joylandmagazine.com has helpfully compiled a list of 250 gems that are worthy of their attention (and this is just for starters – there are many, many more).

We can undoubtedly kick ass. Whilst more men have carried off the prestigious Man Booker prize the women that have triumphed to date are undoubted stars – women like Anne Enright, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Attwood, Pat Barker and Iris Murdoch. The shortlisted authors for the 2011 Orange prize includes books that are arguably deserving of a place on any Man Booker shortlist - Room was in fact included – or international equivalent:  Emma Donoghue’s Room, Aminatta Forna’s  The Memory of Love, Emma Henderson’s Grace Williams Says it Loud, Nicole Krauss’s Great House, Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Kathleen Winter’s Annabel.

I’m far less ambivalent when it comes to the showcasing of women’s talent. Women have historically been denied the power, influence, resources and encouragement to produce and display our work to the widest audience possible and that imbalance needs to be redressed. Our art galleries are still stuffed to the gills with work produced, promoted and prized by men. Events like the inaugural Women of the World festival at London’s Southbank Centre provided the head-and-gallery space to allow a wide audience to view, critique and comment on the work of many hundreds of talented, imaginative, creative women who were all too often pushed into the shadows in the past.

These event and others like the Birds Eye View Film festival seem like a good idea to me. They are undoubtedly a valuable vehicle facilitating the promotion of oft neglected work. Feminist commentator Bidisha recently wrote in the Guardian, “people who loath women’s events do so because they loath women and cannot stand to be around them”. She adds that these events help to shatter the myth that women are in some way unworthy of hanging their work alongside that produced by man, saying, “women are not too shy, too talentless, too scarce, too petty, too this or that…or not enough of something else”.

This I applaud. My problem is with the prizes; the artificial pat on the back for the woman who sees off fifty percent of her peers without troubling the other lot. By all means push us forward, give us a platform, review our work on an equal basis, give us the gravitas and the column inches but when it comes to the prizes let us compete with the boys and not just amongst ourselves. I’d be genuinely interested to hear the counter argument or any comments as this is something that  has always caused me a degree of discomfort.

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As a sport, and as an abstract concept, badminton has always seemed pretty inoffensive. Professional badminton players do not take out super-injunctions. Badminton fans are never accused of starting riots that tarnish their country’s image abroad. For many years, badminton was the non-sporty person’s sport of choice. It was the type of Tuesday evening activity to which a man brought his wife along for a spot of mixed doubles against an equally married couple, who would argue furiously about the best way to hold a shuttlecock, and then win.

So it’s kind of surprising that the root of almost all evil appears to be lurking within the Badminton World Federation.

On June 1st, its all-male executive board is scheduled to implement new clothing regulations that force women players to wear skirts or dresses as “part of an overall campaign to raise the profile of women in badminton and the profile of the sport”.

Acceptable attire for female competitors, according to guidelines issued by badminton's governing body. The lucky ladies will also be allowed wear "skorts" or skirts over tracksuits/leggings.

It is sexy time on the back alley. (That’s a badminton term.)

The new rules have already caused uproar among Muslim players, prompting the Islamic party in Malaysia, where the BWF is based, to call for a boycott of top tournaments. Perhaps sensing that Islam has the greater experience when it comes to dress code enforcement, the BWF delayed the introduction of “Rule 19.2” by a month and “clarified” its stance: “[The new regulations] will not in any way discriminate against any religious or other beliefs, and respects women. Players will continue to wear shorts if they wish but simply wear a skirt over the top of the shorts.”

But what reason could there possibly be for making female athletes – people whose success depends on the strength of their smashes and the delicacy of their drop shots – wear a superfluous piece of fabric? I’m stumped. Could it be that the unnamed “external international marketing agency” that advised the BWF on its policy are closet Kournikova-ites?

BWF deputy president Paisan Rangsikitpho believes the new skirt rules will “enhance the presentation of the game in general” and help the sport attract “a wider target group amongst both younger and older people, and amongst both women and men, where an aesthetic and stylish presentation of the players is certainly an important factor”. The guidelines do not “push any women to wear clothing they are not comfortable with” and the BWF is certainly not portraying women as “sexual objects”, he insists.

“However, they have to wear a skirt.”

There are no double faults in badminton. Doublethink, on the other hand…

Lady shuttlers! What are you thinking wearing these hideously unfeminine items?! You'll empty the arenas in no time.

If the BWF wants to talk about style rather than sexism, allow me to examine its statement on those grounds for a moment. Its stance is that having a piece of material flouncing against their thighs (but not joining up between them) makes women athletes aesthetically pleasing enough to pull in hordes of hypothetical spectators – even though if there’s one female fashion trend that reliably infuriates the men I know, it’s skirts-over-trousers.

One of the hallmarks of the “stylish” is that their clothes are some kind of twist, with varying degrees of rebelliousness, on the norms of the context in which they are worn – usually by borrowing from the style tradition of another context. It’s a subtle negotiation. I would no more wear my high-waisted black tulip skirt to a badminton session than I would sport one of Sue Sylvester’s Adidas tracksuits to a tango class.

Badminton bosses have their sensitive eyes on the sponsor-friendly style showcase that is the ladies’ tennis tour. That’s their context. But they’ve forgotten that style, by definition, is personal. Take away the element of choice and there is no style, only a uniform. And what players and spectators alike will recognise is that this uniform is crafted from unpleasant, exploitative motivations. Come see our cuties perform!

Objections from Australia, China, Indonesia, India and the Scandinavian countries mean the BWF’s plans for world domination via the swish of a few A-lines may yet be thwarted. Worryingly though, it seems badminton isn’t the only sport where the governing bodies are seeking to glamorize and feminise women athletes in accordance with male, corporate ideas of glamour and femininity.

Even more bizarrely, the International Boxing Association is reportedly quite keen that women boxers wear skirts at the London 2012 Olympics. This has spurred Peter Taylor, father and coach of Irish boxer Katie Taylor, to put in a pre-emptive strike by telling The Examiner that his daughter simply won’t box in a skirt: “We’ve got morals that go above marketing. It’s discrimination. It’s obviously men making these decisions and it’s wrong.”

There may be alternative ways to resist, other than refusing to compete. “I have an idea for how I am going to combat it, but I’ll keep it secret for now,” the Scottish badminton player Imogen Bankier has tantalisingly said of her sport’s “silly” and “unnecessary” clothing regulations.

Perhaps all the women players could show up to the next high-ranking tournament in fishtailed maxi dresses and make a mockery of the BWF with every hobble and lurch.

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Hello! I’ve been asked by The Anti Room to contribute a number of pieces over the coming months to offer a different voice and perspective on issues than might otherwise be found here. As a fairly recent convert to Twitter, and social media in general, I’m glad to do it, and, being interested in other perspectives myself, I’m looking forward to some robust debate!

To start I’ve been asked to reflect and respond to the general furore surrounding the accusations of sexism made against Richard Keys and Andy Gray of Sky Sports. Because a furore it has been. Column inches have turned into yards and on into miles. Calling it a storm in the teacup would be an understatement. Storm in a thimble, possibly. First of all let me declare I’m not a football fan. I don’t know the game; indeed I rarely watch it outside of World Cups (on the rare occasion when Ireland make it through!). And I wouldn’t know Ryan Giggs if he jogged past me on the street. But from my perspective, the media reaction over the past few days has been akin to a medieval witch-hunt. Quite clearly (to me anyway) a liberal media consensus has emerged with commentators hell-bent on ramming a feminist agenda down the throats of the public by punishing and humiliating two men who were simply caught off-guard in a moment of professional privacy. What was simply an instance of harmless male banter, the type one hears day-in day-out on building sites, offices and even houses of parliament, has somehow been upgraded to the status of a sexual assault.

Now don’t get me wrong, suggesting that Sian Massey can’t understand the offside rule because she’s a woman is clearly going to be insulting to a girl who tries very hard at her job. But how is the public interest being really served by the sort of affirmative action which results in these women being “promoted” to major roles in what is essentially a male realm? Do feminists want or need traction in every aspect of male society? If we are to believe, for example, that women should run and own clubs and even officiate at the games then why not take that thought process to its logical conclusion? Let’s see if women can play in the darned things! Of course nobody cares to mention this great big elephant in the room – you won’t see “Tina Down The Street” take on John Terry or Robbie Keane because of physiological reasons that go back to the very creation of the universe! Anybody who thinks otherwise is clearly living in Cloud Cuckoo Land – and let you tell me it’s getting very crowded there.

But I digress. Events like football matches have a proven sociological benefit – everyday, male aggression, which might otherwise emerge in more sinister forms like war and rape, can be expelled in the den of a stadium or in the cut-and-thrust of watching your favourite team on TV. This healthy, primordial urge harks right back to hunter-gathers and should not be denied in the name of some feminist liberal ideology. Men have a right to this private, albeit very public, space. I only wish our media would spend more time focusing on the real moral crisis in football culture: young men stuck in pubs all weekend; rampant hooliganism; the sex and pornography permeating TV advertising; not to mention extolling “role-models” like Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole – two philanderers who clearly don’t understand the real Offside Rule!

Oh, and speaking of which – my husband must have tried explaining the Offside Rule to me ten times over the years and guess what? Nope, cannot get my head around it! And I’m University educated! Something tells me that if you gathered together most regular Anti Room contributors or indeed any random female focus group to watch a game, many of them wouldn’t get it either, and let’s be honest, simply wouldn’t care. Richard Keys mentioned “dark forces” at work in the leaking of the offending clips to the media. In this instance, I must most forcefully agree.

God bless,
Attracta McCarthy-McKenna

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ATTENTION ALL MEN! This is an important news bulletin: you do not own the rights to football. Guess what? There are even some women out there who know more about football than you do, and I’m willing to wager that Sian Massey is one of them.

"What's that strange round object? My fragile ladybrain can't comprehend it.."

Sadly, the sort of snide sexist drivel spouted by Richard Keys and Andy Gray at the weekend is typical of many (not all, obviously) football-loving men, who scoff at the thought of women on a football pitch or cheering on their team down the pub.

And of course, inevitably Facebook, Twitter and various blogs are currently crammed with blokes thinking that they are the very epitome of wit by making patronising jokes about women’s knowledge of football. Like Keys and Gray, they’d probably bottle it at the thought of telling those jokes to a woman’s face. What if a woman had made an equally condescending comment about men being in the kitchen, the supposed traditional ‘place’ for a woman? Where does that leave the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux and Heston Blumenthal?

 

I am a woman, and I am a football fan. I know more about football than most of my male friends, it’s me that badgers THEM to go to matches, and I could probably run rings around them on the pitch, too. I played at U-12 and U-14 level over a decade ago, and I would have continued to play if the team I was a member of had had provisions for U-16 and ladies’ teams. Unfortunately my playing career ended there, but my love of football didn’t. Oh, and yes, I know what the offside rule is. My miniscule brain occasionally makes room amidst all the recipes and thoughts of flowers and fluffy kittens to soak up such information.

I’ve been to some of the biggest stadiums in Europe, of my own volition – Old Trafford, the San Siro, the Nou Camp. I disappointed my Bohs-supporting Dad when I made Shelbourne my team as a 12-year-old, and I used to follow them up and down the country to matches, before work and studying got in the way of travelling. I might not be as big a football fan as I used to – music eventually replaced sport as the primary pleasure in my life. But I still enjoy watching a match as much as the next PERSON. Gender irrelevant.

But Keys and Gray shouldn’t be fired or fined – they should be taken out onto a pitch and publicly humiliated by the UK’s best women footballers, who undoubtedly have more metaphorical balls than either of them.

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Football: A Game of Two Half-Wits

The sexist remarks made by Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys off-camera during Saturday’s Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Liverpool FC match were appalling but hardly surprising. Soccer is notorious for its sexist attitudes towards women. Take Notts County banning Karren Brady from their boardroom and Luton Town manager Mike Newell giving referee Amy Rayner so much abuse that he made global headlines. Of course it’s brutish behaviour, but it makes me wonder if soccer is the last bastion of male chauvinism?

The belief that football is a man’s sport is all too prevalent both on and off the pitch. Which is precisely why we need women like Sian Massey – the official at the centre of the Keys/ Gray controversy – to effect change and bring much-needed balance to the sport. Bigots may try to push women like Sian out with their derision, but that’s all the more reason why more female officials are needed in football. Equality is always worth fighting for – especially in the face of such vile opposition.

Paradoxically, it was football that taught me to stand firm in my own convictions. A lifelong Liverpool FC fan, I have supported my team all the way from their golden era of the eighties through to the painful lows when they lost almost every accolade they had. Dark, devastating times.

And our opponents’ fans loved them.

There was nothing I could do to make Liverpool play better. But I wasn’t entirely powerless. Thanks to the fantasy football league in my workplace, I could exert some control over the weekly fixtures and use the knowledge I had built up over so many years. Yet, the better I played, the stronger the opposition I faced. This culminated when I won the league; the runner-up refused to pay his fees when he found out that the only female out of twenty new recruits had beaten him. It was a bittersweet victory. But a victory nonetheless.

Changing the status quo won’t ever be a smooth transition. Nor will it ever make you popular. But when it needs changing – as it does so badly in football now – all you can do is keep charging ahead.

Keep up the good work, Sian – you’re playing a blinder.

Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB

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January. Don’t we all just hate it? The dark mornings, the return to dull routine, the lack of cash, the lack of a waistline.

But for me, every January there is a small gleam in the darkness, courtesy of the BDO Lakeside World Professional Darts Championships. In our house, this is genuinely one of the TV sporting highlights of the year. Though we don’t do much TV sport, in fairness.

Darts - a January TV highlight

There’s much to love about darts. First of all, the players themselves. Every man (and it is mostly men) has a nickname, a ‘walk-on’ song and a static-filled synthetic shirt, often with a wacky image stitched on the back.  An unwelcome development this year has been some toning down in the sartorial department – too many polite, minimally adorned polo shirts for my liking. Tats and sovs are still very much in evidence however.

Top players include Martin ‘Wolfie’ Adams, Tony ‘Silverback’ O’Shea and John ‘Boy’ Walton. My favourite is Ted ‘The Count’ Hankey, who sadly crashed out in the first round of this year’s competition. He resembles an overweight Dracula, walks on wearing a cape and throws rubber bats into the crowd. He plays with a scarily intense, surly demeanour and is prone to bouts of ‘oche rage’. He’s great.

The venue, a vast function room in the Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green, Surrey, plays host to packed houses every night. The fans are noisy and enthusiastic, dressing up in tribute to their favourite players and waving 180 banners in the air every time the maximum score for a throw is achieved. Altogether now – ‘Ooooonehuuuuuundred – aynd- eeeiiightteeeeeee’. For all their fervour, the crowds are also very sporting, respecting the calls for ‘best of order’ at crucial moments.

This also applies to the players. Rather than polite handshakes at the end of a match, you’re more likely to see full-on bear hugs and big smiles all round, albeit a little forced on the part of the loser.

The BBC coverage is also excellent. The commentators come up with regular gems – the other night they likened John Boy Walton to a ‘battered cod’ who was being ‘reeled in’ by his opponent. At the climax of the match they were calling for a milk float so they could see who had the biggest bottle. The BBC has also secured the services of darts legend and never knowingly under-bejewelled Bobby ‘Dazzler’ George as guest pundit. Bobby knows his darts, is never afraid to voice a frank opinion and loves a catchphrase – ‘trebles for show, doubles for dough’ being a favourite.

Ultimately however, the real joy lies in the incredible skill of the players. Their accuracy and consistency of scoring is quite amazing to watch, not to mention their mental arithmetic as they constantly recalculate what scores they need to achieve in order to check out on a double. The game also requires extreme mental toughness. Like all individual sports, there is often as big a challenge from nerves as there is from the opposing player. Players can suddenly lose their ability to hit the target, when they could do no wrong minutes before.

At these moments, the TV picture cuts away to the long-suffering wives and girlfriends, mums and dads. They are living every throw – and it’s pure torture.

Women players don’t feature hugely in the BDO tournament coverage. Unfortunately they are treated almost as also-rans and their matches are only ever a somewhat pathetic best-of-three sets, as opposed to best-of-13 for the men’s final. Things may be different over at the rival darts organisation, the PDC, (there was a split years ago) but as we don’t have any sports channels we are once a year BDO fans only.

This Sunday afternoon will see myself and my husband glued to coverage of the live final. Our kids are vaguely embarrassed by our enthusiasm at this stage, so may not join us in our little January ritual. They don’t know what they’re missing.

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In a recent episode of Community, Jeff Winger (played by the wonderfully smarmy Joel McHale) was dismayed to learn that even though he clocks regular time at the gym and avoided donuts, to do all the right things to stay healthy and fit, he still registers a high cholesterol rate during a routine health exam.  An existential fugue clamps down on the man who has cultivated a visage of sublime fitness.  Jeff realises that even fit folks deteriorate and eventually die as part of the human condition. (I couldn’t find the appropriate clip, so instead enjoy Abed, Troy and Jeff krumping).

Jeff’s epiphany scene held resonance after a woman I’d recently met asked if I did cyclo-cross racing like my husband.  Mountain biking?  Any cycling?  Running?  Jogging?  Weights?  Kick Boxing?  All were met with a flat negative response.  She became involved in athletics as a child and considered them important.  By that reasoning, I should have asked her if she had a Ph.D.  Master’s Degree?   Bachelor’s degree?  No to all of the above you say?   Education has played an important role in my life, but I sure don’t expect anyone else to have taken my path or to share my priorities.  Plus how big of an asshole would I have been to level such a line of questioning in the first place? There’s a considerable spectrum that arcs from an athlete down to a sedentary couch potato.  While I’m in neither end of the distribution, the hours I log with the pooches surpass the scope of what most folks perform in exercise.  And I’m hardly overweight by any means of measure.

Let’s dial down the judgy impulse, ladies.

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