I wrote recently about some of the issues surround women and the Olympics so it’s nice to have a bit of an update after the first few days of the competition.
The great news is that British women are doing really well. The first Team GB medal went to cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who won silver in the women’s road race. Rebecca Adlington has since grabbed a bronze medal and yesterday Helen Glover and Heather Stanning got the first Team GB Gold medal in the rowing and Gemma Gibbons bagged a fantastic silver medal in Judo.
The rowers were particularly dominant and stormed to victory, which makes it a little disappointing that todays Guardian front page had a photo of Bradley Wiggins on it with the headline ‘Phew!’. The women got the gold before he did!
Still, generally the press have been making a huge fuss of the women and celebrating their achievements every bit as much as they should.
Similarly the women’s football team have had loads of press coverage and the match against Brazil at Wembley on Tuesday was attended by a massive 70,000 people. Their profile has been pushed along in part by Stylist magazines Fair Game campaign.
Thankfully Frankie Boyle’s usual obnoxious attempt at humour (which differs from most people’s attempts at humour by not being funny) were also met with general annoyance on Twitter and in the press, as he took another swipe at Rebecca Adlington’s looks. Most people don’t care what she looks like, they just care about her performance, and with one bronze medal in the bag and a fantastic qualifier for her 800m final tonight, I think everyone’s pretty pleased with her.
Unfortunately, the Telegraph seems to think it’s a good idea to publish reactionary, sexist rubbish about how wrong it see to see animalistic aggression from women, and how worrying it is to see them bruise their ‘soft limbs’.
Outside Team GB’s success women have been having different experiences. I was one of many who were really happy that Saudi Arabia eventually relented and sent women to the Olympics. This is the first year in history in fact that every country has sent men and women to compete. However, these women, who had little notice that they would be going to the Olympics have been up against quite a backlash, as detailed in The Guardian and The New Statesman, not least the facts that they were targetted under an Arabic hashtag on Twitter that roughly translates as Olympic Whores, and have struggled to compete in the hijab.
Meanwhile the women’s doubles teams in Badminton haven’t done their profile much good. I was actually in Wembley Arena on Tuesday night to see two doubles matches where both teams were trying to lose. It was such a poor display and in both cases the teams were booed off the court. They’ve now been disqualified from the competition, which seems only right. I have some sympathy for the players who were obviously under orders from their team managers or coaches but it was a really distasteful display.
In slight tangents however, I love The Guardian’s gallery of the nail art on display at The Olympics. I had noticed that Rebecca Adlington had Union flag nails, and that Lizzie Armistead had immaculate red nails winning her silver medal as well as various other competitors, but the gallery shows some great examples. It just seems like a really fun way to bring a bit of girlieness in (for those who want to).
Finally, I’ve slowly been becoming a Clare Balding fan the more I’ve seen of her on TV in recent times. During the Olympics she’s been hosting a great deal of the BBC’s coverage and has just been brilliant. She really knows what she’s talking about, she’s funny and egnaging and she seems to have a way of connecting with everyone she interviews and hosts with. The last two days I’ve noticed an awful lot of love for her on Twitter and today The Guardian labelled her coverage ‘Olympic Gold’ It’s great to see a woman on TV, and especially in Sports coverage, being loved for her charm and skill as a presenter.
Two recent news stories have had me seething, and both relate to legislating what women can and cannot wear when engaging in professional sports. It’s a constant source of frustration that women’s sports are, more often than not, reduced to stories about clothes and fashion - as if male athletes don’t also have fashion/fragrance/jewellery sponsorship and tie-ins. However, it seems that officials are also determined to make sport about what they wear and not how they perform.
The first story comes from the world of badminton (a sport that is one of the ones I applied for Olympic tickets for, and am waiting to find out if I received!). In May the Badminton World Federation issued a ruling that female badminton players must wear skirts. Wearing shorts was no longer acceptable, and if, for religious or cultural reasons a player had to wear a tracksuit, it must still be under a skirt. The decision was made in conjunction with an marketing firm called Octagon, in an effort to get more people to watch the sport.
Paisan Rangsikitpho, the US deputy president of the Badminton World Federation is quoted as saying:
We just want them to look feminine and have a nice presentation so women will be more popular,… Interest is declining. Some women compete in oversize shorts and long pants and appear baggy, almost like men.
They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I’m surprised we got a lot of criticism.
So both the marketing firm and the Badminton World Federation didn’t apparently think that it was worth putting their efforts into marketing the fact that the women play well (albeit only ‘quite well’) but instead decide that the only way to get people to watch the sport was to make it more ‘feminine’, as no-one could possibly be interested in watching a sport where the women aren’t pretty or dressed in skirts, but instead wear more comfortable longer shorts.
I understand the need for sports dress to be regulated to an extent. For team sports a uniform is standard and clearly identifies team members. For individual sports, the need to dress professionally when representing club or country makes sense, but I fail to see how shorts on women goes against this. It should also be noted that for men, the requirement is merely to wear ‘proper attire’.
After both the press and public reaction the Badminton World Federation have now said the rule needs ‘further study’ so hopefully won’t be implemented.
More recently, the women’s Iranian football team have been banned from competing in the Olympics. They turned up to play a qualifier against Jordan and were told that they could not play as their uniform violated Fifa’s dress rules.
Photograph: Ali Jarekji/Reuters from The Guardian
The women on the team have been put in an incredibly difficult position. Previous strips which attempted to meet Fifa’s standards resulted in the Iranian government preventing them from playing as they didn’t sufficiently conform to the Islamic dress required of them, as women. However, work had been done in the last year and the Iranian team believed they had made adjustments which met both the Islamic requirement, and also Fifa’s rules. In fact, they’d even played a match since the new uniform was brought in.
The dispute centres around the requirement for Iranian women to cover their head and hair at all times. Conventional headscarves have been deemed a safety risk by Fifa so a tighter-fitting cap was developed. This in itself is fine, but Fifa now say that because it comes down below the women’s ears, it is still a safety risk. In addition Fifa’s rules for the Olympics state that:
Players and officials shall not display political, religious, commercial or personal messages or slogans in any language or form on their playing or team kits.
While there doesn’t seem to be a suggestion that this uniform goes against this part of the rules, it’s hard to swallow the argument that it’s a safety issue - a slight piece of material covering the back of their neck is no more dangerous than having long hair, a high collar on the football shirt itself. Snoods briefly appeared in the men’s game over the winter as several Premier League players wore them. They’ve now also been banned by Fifa as being potentially dangerous but they are much looser and go all the way around the neck in a way that the women’s caps don’t. In addition the impression is that Fifa banned them because they were considered unmanly and a bit wussy - not really because they were dangerous.
It’s also interesting to note that in 2004 Sepp Blatter commented:
"Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men - such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?"
If this is the view from the top in Fifa, it’s hard to see how the Iranian Football Federation are likely to get very far in their appeals.
The situation with the Iranian women is particularly harsh as the players themselves have little or no control over it. Many women choose to wear headscarves or hijabs but in Iran it’s not a choice and especially for women representing the country internationally. Without covering up, they’re not permitted to play, but Fifa won’t allow them to cover up in a way which satisfies their government.
There seems to be way too much focus on what these women are wearing while playing and far too little focus on promoting women’s sports for how they are played. Women’s sports don’t have the same profile as men’s anyway but by inventing issues with dress and making the competitions about that, it detracts from the players and the quality of sport being played. The energies of the governing bodies could surely be spent elsewhere.