Monday, December 12, 2005

Should they re-name these things?

The Sports Personality of the Year Awards. Should we call them the Male Sports Personality of the Year Awards? All of the awards this year have gone to men. The mens cricket team and Andrew Flintoff, Shane Warne. Have we forgotten that England's women also won the ashes this year? The best coach, of course, is a male football coach, Jose Mourinho. The lifetime award has gone to a male football star, Pele. There are some great female footballers in this country who deserve recognition too, especially since they have to do it with a fraction of the funding and a fraction of the support.

Lord Coe, Geoff Thomas, don't get me wrong, they've all achieved great things. None the less if I was Ellen McArthur I'd be really annoyed.


ursa said...

The BBC are getting worse, the amount of biographies of men's lives they put on, from Genghis khan to artists and writers. I suggested that if they wanted warriors what about Aethelflead, daughter of Alfred and a great general who died in battle in 918. Far more interesting than another rehash of Henry the eighth, but that carries the nice little undertone that uppity women will be beheaded so they like to show it often. I pointed out to them that we pay our license fee too. I think a petition should be got up by large numbers of women who will refuse to pay unless things improve.

Of course Ellen should have won.
I enjoy the blog by the way.

TalkingCat said...

"Should they re-name these things?"
Not as long as women can win it (like last year).

I think a petition should be got up by large numbers of women who will refuse to pay unless things improve.

For heaven's sake what are you talking about? This programme was a public vote. Large numbers of women were able to petition it by voting! Are you suggesting women should withhold their license fees until more women bother to pick up a phone and send a text message? Ellen lost because she polled fewer votes. Is that outrageous sexism or do you advocate giving women candidates a head-start to make things fairer?

Andy said...

Out of interest, do you think women's sport deserves equal recognition to men's sport all the time? Even when, objectively, it is performed at a lower standard? I'm not talking about the problems of the perception that 'sport is for men' - a pervasive attitude that doubtless inhibts young girls from taking up sport and will have a knock-on effect at the top level - obviously this must be tackled and I fully support any initiatives to do so. But imagine for a moment that we lived in an ideal world where both sexes had equal opportunity and encouragement to compete at sport. Women will still never be 'faster, higher, stronger' than men. Yes their effort and dedication can match that of men, and maybe that is worthy of as much praise - but the aim of competitive sport is surely to reward absolute achievement, not effort. My next door neighbour might train harder than Paula Radcliffe, but she'll never run anything like as fast just because she wasn't born with her talent. And for that reason she'll never get any recognition. Seems harsh, but that's life.

I suppose one could argue that elite women athletes are in general pretty lucky really! The majority of them are genetically limited in how well they can ever perform in sport, just like my neighbour and indeed almost everyone else. But because their genetic difference is easily identifiable, they can compete amongst themselves and exclude men. Don't get me wrong I don't have a problem with that - anything that increases the number of people who participate in sport is a great thing. But is it really in any way 'equal' to open competition?

I'm sure you won't agree with me but I'd be interested to know what you think :-)

Cruella said...

Thanks ursa, nice to hear from you.

Firstly cat - only one of the awards is given on the basis of a public vote. The others are decided by committee. I hardly think the general public is out voting for Lord Coe! Secondly who the public votes for is inevitably a reflection of who has been given the most media coverage. The women's cricket team had basically no coverage. Now of course they show what there is demand for, but they also advertise and generate demand for the sports they want to show. So in the long run they do dictate what the public follows and votes for.

andy, yeah I think in the interests of fairness we should provide the same prize money and the same media coverage for womens sport as for mens. If we are going to focus on mens sport because it is "a higher standard", then fine, but we then need to allow women who can attain that standard to enter the mens competition. We don't have that.

And of course there are many sports where the womens standard is higher than the mens. Ellen McArthur is a case in point, she's the first person to achieve what she's achieved, not the first woman. Display gymnastics, ice dancing, syncronised swimming and some endurance distances for example.

From the viewers point of view if you've ever watched women's premiership football you'll see it's played in a much more skillful and less brutish way than the mens and is a much greater pleasure to watch. No-one looses out under my plan...

TalkingCat said...

Well I'm all for choice and diversity. In a perfect world we'd have all sports and interests catered for and everyone of them coverered equally by the media.
But let's say next Saturday BBC1 showed Arsenal's Men's team playing whoever and BBC2 showed Arsenal's Women's team playing. Even if there was wide coverage of the event, I think it's safe to assume (and it is an assumption) that the viewing figures would show the people wanting to watch the Men's team outnumber those who want to watch the women's team.
Which raises, in my opinion, an interesting question. If so few people currently want to watch women's football because they aren't interested in it, whose responsibility is it to correct their preference? We encourage our children to play sports, but should we actively encourage girls to play sports which are traditionally 'male-sports'? for that matter, should we encourage boys out of rugby and into netball? Should we push unpopular sports on people to redress a perceived imbalance? It may be that women's football is a minority sport because fewer women choose to play it or watch it. Men's football didn't need television to make it the national sport - it grew from an amateur game played in villages and towns in the days before television was invented. If Arsenal's women's team becomes so popular they're filling a 50,000 seat stadium I'm sure the TV companies will take note. But should we really demand 50/50 coverage to get it to that standard when no-one's really interested? I think that would be pursuing equality for equality's sake. Would it not be better to accept that there is gender bias in sports and demand 50% coverage of the sports in which women predominate, in which they excel and that women are more interested in watching.

Blognor Regis said...

No-one looses [sic] out under my plan...

Only Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe, Liz McColgan, Fatima Whitbread, Jane Torville, Virginia Wade, Mary Peters, Princess Anne, Ann Jones, Mary Rand and Anita Lonsbrough. They lose.

Andy said...

hmm I know that there are a handful of sports in which women can compete at the same, or higher, level than men - but the proportion is tiny. If all sports had a single open-gender class and no male/female divisions then I think it's safe to say that the exposure (and prize money) that women receive would be absolutely decimated from its current level. I don't think many top-level female athletes would be in favour of this suggestion...

Cruella said...

Woah there dudes! You seem to be offering a two-option plan:

1) Either women accept the pathetic amount of funding and coverage that women's sports currently get.

2) Or we give it up in return for the chance to participate in mens' sports.

The Cru-blogs proposals are rather different:

1) Either we give the same level of funding and coverage to womens sports as we do to mens sports. And the same number and value of prizes too.

2) Or we accept that womens sports are a minority interest area, give them a lower level of funding and coverage (like we do at the moment) but then accept the differential and allow those women who are able to to participate in the more prestigious "mens" sports.

BigRedOne said...

>andy, yeah I think in the interests of fairness we should provide the same prize money and the same media coverage for womens sport as for mens. If we are going to focus on mens sport because it is "a higher standard", then fine, but we then need to allow women who can attain that standard to enter the mens competition. We don't have that.<

Who is the 'we' you are referring to here? I think you will find that most of the money comes from sponsorship, not fans (one football chairman famously referred to his clubs attending fans as scenery) so it is here where things should change if you would wish to enforce this proposal. But does media coverage follow sponsoship or the other way around? There's no guarantee that equal time on the tv will equal the same viewing numbers and ergo the same amount of prize money in sponsorship. I don't think you're on to a winner here. Nice blog though.

Cruella said...

They actually have this law in the Us and it works great, sponsors who wish to offer prize money and sponsorship must offer the same amount to the women's sport as the mens. and guess what, their womens sports have benefitted hugely. Lets bring the same law in here. Would be fantastic for women in sport.

BigRedOne said...

Any chance you could provide a link to that law, as I can't find it (or at least a decent overview)? I ask because I can't imagine FedEx, say, sponsoring American Football to the tune of million$ per year and then having to provide a womens equivalent with the same amount of cash.

Andy said...

FBB - I believe Cru is referring to a federal law which prohibits any inequity between funding for men's and women's sports in educational programmes at school and college, when funded by federal taxes. Obviously there is no such law in place for professional sport. And while this law (title IX?) has had an effect on college sport, you can find as many people (women as well as men) who believe the effect has been detrimental to sport in general. I can give you examples of that if you like but you can probably find them for yourself easily enough.

Demanding equal recognition for men's and women's sport isn't an illogical move as far as I can see, but it is one that goes against the ethos of competitive sport. Sure it sounds good when you phrase it as 'equality for elite male and female athletes'. Everyone likes equality. But you can just as easily view it as an inequality. If two athletes can run an 11-second 100m, why should one of them get to go to the Olympics and the other one be lucky to represent their county? Just because the first one happened to be a woman? Remember, the argument that it is 'just as good an achievement' for a woman to run 11s as it is for a man to run 10s doesn't hold up. Sure they have genetic differences - but so do all of us. Their genetic difference just happens to be immediately visible. The effort required for any two athletes to perform to a given objective standard is always going to be different - so it's impossible to try and reward effort in competitive sport. We reward achievement instead.

But as I said, it's not necessarily illogical. Media coverage of elite sport inspires kids to take it up, and it's a fact that if there are never any women on TV playing sport then girls are less likely to take it up. And that's a disaster; the benefits of playing sport (at whatver level) are well accepted. So it comes down to the usual balancing act that you get with positive discrimination - to what extent do you deliberately increase support for women's sport, at the expense of support for other athletes who are actually performing to a higher standard, in order to achieve a better uptake amongst the next generation.

Your other suggestion of abolishing any divide between men and women in sport would be a catastrophe. You could count on the fingers of one hand the number of women who could compete at any sport in an open-gender class. In the rare case that a woman is good enough to compete with men at the moment, she already receives far more recognition (and funding) than she would do were she a man performing at the same level. How many people have heard of Paula Radcliffe compared with how many have heard of John Brown?

BigRedOne said...

Andy - thanks, that clears things up a lot from my perspective!

I can't really make my mind up re. this issue though. There aren't many womens team sports that attract large followings (I think I am right in saying that the womens soccer league in the States went bust, and that no-one gives two hoots about the WNBA), and whilst I can see the point of colleagiate athletes being taken care of, there are also obvious problems with women who might be good enough to take on the men.

I would use as an example Michelle Wie - telegenic and already wealthy beyond our wildest dreams, but as yet has still won nothing of note. There are various articles about her fellow golfers being rather sour about all the fuss, considering that they actually win things - Anika Sorenstam for example.

Cruella said...

The trouble seems to be that the "choice" being offered female athletes is either a pathetically small amount of funding coupled with being restricted to women-only sports or no funding at all and the right to enter men's sports. What women's sports need is a much higher level of funding AND for the top performers to be entitled to enter the men's competitions if they wish.

I would highlight to you the case of "Marigoal", a woman offered a professional footballing position with a men's team in Mexico. FIFA were quick to leap in and ban her from playing. It's no small issue in Mexico where a contract like that is the difference between poverty and riches. How horrific for her to have strived and strived to reach the level of the professional men, and then not be allowed to take the job. Women's football in Mexico is entirely unpaid.

Andy said...

I have great sympathy with women who would be good enough to compete in open divisons but are not allowed, it must be infuriating. But if the best women just played in the men's divison then surely it would have a very detrimental effect on the quality of the women's divison. So it's for the good of women's sport that the law has to be enfored. This kind of utilitarianism isn't uncommon in life and this particular example causes far less injustice than most. How many women can you name that have suffered from not being able to compete in elite men's sport? 'Marigoal', if I remember correctly, was signed as a publicity stunt by the club, not because they had any intention of playing her.

Cruella said...

Nope, Marigoal was signed to play. Certain Italian teams have tried to sign women and not succeeded in doing so, then later claims have been made that it was a publicity stunt, though there is no official line on it.

To say it would harm the women's sport is ridiculous. Given the inordinately higher profile of men's football, having a woman player in the public eye would be fantastic for the women's sport, millions of young women would see her playing and be inspired to take the sport up.

Andy said...

OK well this story says that the club claimed it was only a publicity stunt, but that's the extent of my knowledge so if you know otherwise then fair enough.

I agree that it in the short-term it might well encourage young women to take up football if they saw more of them, which a player in the men's league may well achieve. But in the long-run if you take the biggest stars out of the women's leagues then you inevitably make them less interesting for specatators (and less attractive to sponsors.) And you therefore rob those women who have no hope of ever competing in the men's league (ie more or less all of them) of the precious little support and funding they currently have.

To be honest my instinct would be to allow women to compete with men in sport all the time. It appeals far more to my free-market beliefs. I just think that separate women's divisions for sport is a form of protectionism that women are benefitting from massively.

Cruella said...

If women are benefitting massively from this "protectionism" than why are we winning no awards, etc?

I think if people saw the top women competing with the men they'd realise what a high standard the womne's game is played at and be more likely to watch it.

The only reason women are kept out of men's sports is sexism.

Andy said...

What sort of awards are you talking about?

I'm sorry but I just don't see it. Women get far more awards, recognition and money than the men that compete to the same standard. To my mind if that's sexism then it's against men, not women. I don't have a problem with it for the reasons I've been through, but I certainly don't see why you should either (from a feminist perspective.)

Maybe the main reason women's sports have a lower profile than men's sports is simply because, in general, women aren't as good at them as men.

Cruella said...

I was talking about the sports personality of the year awards, the original message of my whole article.

I think a large part of the reason that men's sports have better recognition is that they receive much more publicity. I think the imbalance needs to be addressed.

If we want men and women to be inspired to take up sport (and if we don't why are we funding sport at all in this country) then we need to make it clear that both groups have a genuine possibility of making a career in sport. Right now there are loads more men than women in sport.