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It's Only A Game
Hazel Marshall

It doesn’t bother me at all if some of the guys come out to watch women’s tennis because they want to see a beautiful woman.... Still it is unfortunate when others with a high skill factor don’t win the endorsements. Sure, the good-looking guys get more endorsement, but the difference in men’s sports is that the ugly ones get their share too.
Billie Jean King

There is little doubt that there is a double standard in the sporting world such as that described above by Billie Jean King. Nor is there little doubt that this double standard pervades all areas of the sporting world from pay to sports commentating. I remember cringing at a presenter at the Sydney Olympics talking about one of the female gymnast's bodies. Given that most of the gymnasts look like prepubescent children, I felt like I was listening in to some middle aged man’s fantasies. And I won’t even begin on what’s said about Anna Kournikova. This is not what I expect in my sports coverage. Well, actually it is but it’s not what I want. I’ve never heard Hazel Irvine or Gabby Yorath talk about a male player’s thighs. Language is important. Female athletes, gymnasts and ice skaters are described with words like ‘graceful’ and ‘determined’ and where men are described as ‘strong’ and ‘athletic’. Female athletes should be described by how they play sport, not by how they look as they do it.

These double standards start at our earliest stages of life. To a large extent, girls are not encouraged to take part in sports in the same way as boys. Fathers talk about kicking a ball around with their sons - why can’t they just say with their child? Girls also drop out of playing sport at a much higher rate than boys. Why is this? Is it maybe because they are not given enough encouragement by PE teachers or maybe because the wrong sports are promoted. At my school there was a very limited choice - football and rugby for the males, hockey for the females and athletics for both. Rugby results were always the ones read out first at School Assemblies even if the hockey team had won and the rugby team had lost. Having only one serious choice of sport for girls must have alienated hundreds. I liked playing hockey but I know of many who didn’t but who may have enjoyed one of the other many sports that there are around. I also remember being told that I would get thick calves if I kept playing and become muscular and unattractive. And, of course, the old chestnut about the sexuality of sporting women cropped up occasionally.

Let’s look at one sport in particular. Football. One sport that definitely operates a double standard. Not only do I think that the sheer amount of what David Beckham and his ilk earn for kicking a ball around a field is disgusting anyway but I also find it appalling that the captain of the women’s English football team gets nothing more than her petrol costs. If the argument for paying David Beckham is that he has special skills and is at the top of his field then surely that is the case for Karen Walker too. In the States, where they have the Title IX legislation which promotes, actually it insists on, equality, women have the opportunity to earn millions from their sport, including football. In fact, most of their national team earn millions. Title IX promotes sport from school upwards, encouraging females to take part and giving them equal opportunity for sports scholarships and marketing. Not surprisingly a large number of women who play for the English football team are undertaking their education with scholarships in the States where they have the opportunity to actually earn some money.

Let’s look at some popular myths.

Sports that attract more spectators deserve to get paid more money?

What, are we on a sliding scale here? Isn’t this just economic discrimination under another name? If economic reasons can be used to justify sex discrimination then surely we can use it for other forms of discrimination too. And in practical terms this doesn’t always work out. In tennis, Ladies Doubles consistently draw more spectators than Male Doubles but males still get paid the higher rate.

Male athletes have more skill than female athletes. Men are physically more powerful than women. Girls will never be as good at sport as boys.

Em, no. Yes, male athletes are generally more powerful (ie. have great speed and strength) but women tend to have better skill (ie. have greater accuracy and coordination). And does it matter that men are stronger? In most sports that I know of men are pitched against men and women against women - not one against the other - so either way it’s a match amongst equals and the winner is the one who’s best. Where’s the difference?

I suppose there is hope out there. In the last Olympics Britain sent almost as many women as men to Sydney - although given that there are still a lot more men’s events in the Olympics this is going to have to change too before we see a more equal representation. More and more women are playing football and as their fame spreads they may start getting endorsements and maybe even some proper coverage. It seems to me that boys just want to hang on to their toys and not share them with the women. ‘Stay out of our game’ is the loud and clear message, particularly on the football field. What’s up boys? Scared that we might actually win the World Cup? Oh, but that’s right, it would be the Women’s World Cup so it wouldn’t really count, would it?

© Hazel Marshall 2001


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