Category Archives: Equality

Taking the knee: Emancipation or defiance?

Authored by the team ‘Sapphire Sophomores’: Allen Hall, Skye Holdway and Alexander Grint [E119 20J students].


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


During the American national anthem of a 2016 pre-season NFL game, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to remain seated as a way of protest against police brutality, racial injustice and social inequality hoping to draw attention to the issue.

Kaepernick said at the time: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” going on to say “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (BBC, 2020)

Four days later Nate Boyer, a former US Army Green Beret turned NFL player penned an open letter to Colin Kaepernick which was published in the Army Times, expressing his thoughts on Kaepernick’s stance, ending the letter saying he was listening with an open mind. Kaepernick saw the letter and reached out to Nate Boyer. They met three days later to discuss Kaepernick’s motivations behind his protest, his thoughts on social justice and police brutality. Boyer would talk about his time in the military and why Kaepernick remaining seated during national anthem away from his teammates could be seen as divisive and hurtful. Both men agreed to a compromise. That Kaepernick would take a knee. This would allow him to still protest, but by taking a knee, it would be a more respectful way of doing so. Boyer later said in an interview “We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his team-mates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect” (Snopes, 2017). From September 1st 2016 Kaepernick began taking a knee during the national anthem. This would prove to be far more iconic. The move soon gained support from fellow players, which solidified the stances significance as a peaceful objection to oppression.

His actions however, brought widespread reaction from fans and the media, polarising opinions, and triggering furious national debate. With many voicing their discontent, decrying his actions as disrespect for the American flag or for being unpatriotic (BBC, 2020) while others were quick to offer praise and support for Kaepernick for taking such a brave and principled stance.

Amongst those to condemn taking a knee as unpatriotic and disrespectful was President Trump, who, in 2017 nearly a year after Kaepernick first knelt, levelled criticism at players who joined the movement, suggesting players should be sacked (Time, 2017). Curiously though, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested that taking the knee originated in the TV series Game of Thrones, stating he would refuse to take a knee if requested, and went on to say that he viewed the action as “subjugation and subordination rather than liberation or emancipation” (TR, 2020). President Obama’s reaction at the time was to focus on the First Amendment right of free speech, choosing his words carefully he would say “I want Mr Kaepernick and others who are on a knee, I want them to listen to the pain that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot” (Time, 2017)

Taking a knee has since become a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement, which campaigns for freedom, for liberation, and justice (Black Lives Matter, 2020). The movement gained impetus and prominence following the horrific killing of George Floyd by Minnesota police on 25th May 2020 leading to more and more people using the peaceful action to protest throughout many countries across the world.

Amongst the black community, taking a knee has a long history that can be traced back as early as 1780, where the image of a black man kneeling became the emblem of the British abolitionist movement during the 18th and 19th centuries, a movement to ban slavery in England, the Empire and around the world (Global News, 2017). The image symbolised freedom and liberation from slavery. Taking a knee was later adopted by Martin Luther King Jr, who in 1965 led a group of civil rights protestors to take the knee during a prayer outside Dallas County Alabama Courthouse. The prayer, following a march for the right to vote, was held after the group of around 250 were arrested for marching without a permit (Global News, 2017).

It is evident that taking a knee has nothing to do with disrespect or being unpatriotic, but the evidence seems to suggest that this is the message being dictated by those in power and by those that are ignorant to its meaning. There are undoubtedly two sides to taking the knee. On one hand, it could be a seen as a sign of emancipation as its very original form back in the 1700s was a symbol of freedom and liberation from slavery, but in more modern times it could be looked upon as a sign of defiance and insubordination as a protest against the racial injustice and police brutality.

 

References

BBC (2020) Black Lives Matter: Where does ‘taking a knee’ come from? [Online]. Available at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53098516 [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Black Lives Matter (2020) About [Online]. Available at https://blacklivesmatter.com/global-actions/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Global News (2017) Martin Luther King Jr. took a knee in 1965. Here’s a history of the powerful pose. [Online]. Available at http://globalnews.ca/news/3769534/martin-luther-king-jr-take-a-knee-history/ [Accessed 26 January 2021].

RT Question More (2020) ‘Take the knee’ in support of BLM? Only for Queen & wife, says UK Foreign Sec, who thinks gesture comes from Game of Thrones [Online]. Available at https://www.rt.com/uk/492208-take-knee-raab-queen-wife/  [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Snopes (2017) Did a U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? [Online]. Available at FACT CHECK: Did A U.S. Veteran Influence Kaepernick’s ‘Take a Knee’ Protest of Police Brutality? (snopes.com)  [Accessed 26 January 2021].

Time (2017) The Difference Between President Trump and President Obama’s Reactions to the NFL Kneeling Movement [Online]. Available at https://time.com/4955050/trump-obama-nfl-kaepernick-kneeling/ [Accessed 27 January 2021].

Will the gender pay gap ever be closed in professional sport?

Authored by the team ‘Is this the way to Amarillo’: Tracie Davies, Fiona Flaherty, Wendy Lampitt, Stephanie Mcilhiney, Lee Nailard, Hayley Slaytor, Guido Volpi, Luke Withey, Kathryn Halley, Paul Maher and Shannon McGovern [E119 20J students]


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


Historically men have been paid more than women in most professions and when it comes to sport, who plays what used to follow gender-based traditions. Perhaps as little as a generation ago these traditions continued to be observed, especially in schools, but as more sports earn greater female representation and more professions bridge the pay gap between the sexes, does that that translate to greater equality of pay for women in professional sport?

Photo by Alex Smith https://unsplash.com/photos/J4yQp1lIJsQ

Female athletes at the Summer Olympic Games now represent almost 50 per cent of all participants (Olympic Games, 2021) but how equally do the more high-profile sports both within and outside the Olympics pay them compared to their male counterparts? Every year, Forbes release a list of the highest paid athletes in the world and in 2020’s list there are only two women in the top 60, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams (Forbes, 2021). In 2019, only Serena Williams made the list of 100 (Forbes, 2019).

Different sports are governed by different rules surrounding how much their athletes are paid. Since modern tennis was adapted from earlier forms in the mid 19th century (Bustle, 2016), women have participated. The women’s first tennis tournament occurred in 1884, when the first Ladies’ Championships took place at the All England Club at Wimbledon (Wimbledon, 2020), seven years after the first men’s tournament. After 1968, when tennis’ “Open Era” began (Tennis Majors, 2020), Billie Jean King began to campaign for equal prize money for women (Billie Jean King, 2021). In 1973 the US Open was the first Grand Slam tournament to offer it (US Open, 2018) but it wasn’t until 2007 that Wimbledon became the final Grand Slam to join in, one year after the French Open (BBC Sport, 2016).

While tennis has made great strides to achieve equal pay, other sports that have a long history for both genders, basketball and golf, seem to be far behind. Basketball is one of the US’ most popular sports and the disparity between pay for men and women is stark. In 2017 the National Basketball Association’s highest paid player, Stephen Curry, earnt more than £26 million, not including endorsements. Women’s pay for the same year in the Women’s NBA was capped so the highest earning woman, Candace Power, earnt £87,209 (Boost Power, 2021). In golf in 2016 men could win 83 per cent more in winnings than their female equivalent on the golf tour although “They play the same game, to the same level.” (Golf Support, 2016) but although equality seems far off more prize money is being added and the number of tournaments is increasing (Desert Sun, 2021).

Sports such as football (soccer) and rugby which have been considered traditionally male have enjoyed increased participation from women and girls in recent years on national and global levels owing to active campaigns by their governing bodies (Guardian, 2020) (England Rugby, 2019). But while participation may be up, male footballers remain some of the highest paid sportspeople in the world and women receive much more modest salaries, such as in the 2017-18 season where Lionel Messi earnt 130 times as much as the highest paid female footballer, Alex Morgan (Boost Power, 2021). Female rugby players in England have only started to be paid at all since 2019 (Telegraph, 2019) and in the Six Nations competition, while the winning men’s team receive prize money of £5 million, the winning women’s team receives nothing (Luxurious Magazine, 2020).

When drawn on why certain sports are nowhere near awarding equality of pay the same reason is often given: revenue. A great deal of sports’ revenue comes from broadcast rights and to this day there is still vastly more men’s sport broadcasted than women’s sport, leading to far less money in the pot to pay female athletes. A 2017 study by Women in Sport showed that in the UK media coverage of women’s sport accounted for an average of ten per cent of all sport covered, reducing to four per cent at a time when international events had ended (Women in Sport, 2018). The women’s World Cup in 2019 was viewed by 1.12 billion people worldwide, 31 per cent of the number that watched the men’s World Cup in 2018 (Guardian, 2019) but the prize money offered was only 7.5 per cent of that offered to the men’s teams. If viewing figures are a measure of success, even this seems stacked against women’s sport. There are calls for more women’s sport to be available to view (Broadcast Now, 2019) and Sky Sports has run a campaign, “Rise With Us” since March 2020, highlighting women’s sports and plans to expand its existing coverage and digital output (IBC, 2020).  If sports’ governance invested more time and money into showcasing women’s teams and players as they have traditionally done with men’s there would be greater awareness, greater spectatorship, higher viewing figures and more revenue.

Photo by Susan Flynn https://unsplash.com/photos/wqaEwf35Bl8

Until this happens there is, however, some hope. Relatively new sports such as triathlon and the more recently founded CrossFit offer equal prize money for male and female competitors and have done since the outset (BoxRox, 2020; World Triathlon, 2016). Both describe this stance as an inherent part of their sport: “Equal opportunities for men and women are part of triathlon’s DNA, as well as a part of ITU’s constitution.” (World Triathlon, 2016); Nicole Carroll, Co-director of Certification and Training says “It was not part of our culture to even consider that women are not equal or that their performance should not be equally valued.” (CrossFit, 2018).

As more new sports emerge and grow, they will bring about a new idea of equality; it is easy to imagine the outrage that would occur if a sport paid less prize money to men than women for doing essentially the same thing, and nowadays this would also be the reaction to women being paid less than men in a new sport. But for now, it seems that the gender pay gap is a long way from being closed.

 

References

BBC Sport (2016) ‘Equal pay is as much a myth as it is a minefield’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/35863208 (Accessed 20 January 2021).

Billie Jean King (2021) Demanding Change. Available at: https://www.billiejeanking.com/equality/ (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Boost Power (2021) How long do sports players work for their money? Available at: https://www.boostpower.co.uk/blog/sports-salaries (Accessed: 18 January 2021).

BoxRox (2020) How Much Money Did The 2020 CrossFit Games Top 10 Athletes Win? Available at: https://www.boxrox.com/how-much-money-did-the-2020-crossfit-games-top-10-athletes-win (Accessed: 20 January 2021).

Broadcast Now (2019) Not enough women’s sport on TV, say viewers. Available at: https://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/not-enough-womens-sport-on-tv-say-viewers/5137759.article (Accessed: 20 January 2021).

Bustle (2016) What Women’s Tennis Has Looked Like Through History. Available at: https://www.bustle.com/articles/142759-what-womens-tennis-has-looked-like-through-history-because-women-have-been-part-of-this-sport (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

CrossFit (2018) Why Men and Women are Always Equal in CrossFit. Available at: https://journal.crossfit.com/article/equality-warkentin (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Desert Sun (2021) No equal pay yet, but women’s golf is adding more prize money. Available at: https://eu.desertsun.com/story/sports/golf/2019/07/09/lpga-majors-continue-increase-their-purses-equal-pay-gets-closer/1676241001/ Accessed: 26 January 2021).

England Rugby (2019) World Rugby Launch Women’s Campaign. Available at: https://www.englandrugby.com/news/article/world-rugby-launch-womens-campaign (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

Forbes (2019) Why Is Serena Williams The Only Woman On The List Of The 100 Highest-Paid Athletes? Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2019/06/14/why-is-serena-williams-the-only-woman-on-the-list-of-100-highest-paid-athletes/?sh=32725625fa98 (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

Forbes (2021) Highest Paid Athletes in the World 2020. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/athletes/#73e586aa55ae (Accessed: 18 January 2021)

Golf Support (2016) How Big is Golf’s Gender Pay Gap? Available at: https://golfsupport.com/blog/golfs-gender-pay-gap (Accessed: 21 January 2021).

Guardian (2019) We can gauge popularity of women’s football. Time to up the prize money. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/oct/22/womens-football-prize-money-world-cup (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Guardian (2020) FA hits target with 3.4m women and girls playing football in England. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/may/14/fa-hits-target-to-double-womens-football-participation-in-three-years-england-gameplan-for-growth#:~:text=The%20number%20of%20women%20and,Gameplan%20for%20Growth%20in%202017. (Accessed: 26 January 2021)

IBC (2020) Sky Sports Aims to Diversify Audiences for Women’s Sport. Available at: https://www.ibc.org/trends/sky-sports-aims-to-diversify-new-audiences-for-womens-sport/5552.article (Accessed: 23 January 2021).

Luxurious Magazine (2020) Six Nations Gender Pay Gap is One of the Worst in Sport. Available at: https://www.luxuriousmagazine.com/six-nations-gender-pay-gap/ (Accessed: 21 January 2021).

Olympic Games (2021) Women at the Olympic Games. Available at: https://www.olympic.org/women-in-sport/background/statistics (Accessed: 26 January).

Tennis Majors (2020) 1968, Open era: The moment tennis opted to become a modern sport. Available at: https://www.tennismajors.com/our-features/long-form-our-features/1968-open-era-the-moment-tennis-opted-to-become-a-modern-sport-228622.html (Accessed 26 January, 2021).

US Open (2018) 50 Moments that Mattered: US Open offers equal prize money. Available at: https://www.usopen.org/en_US/news/articles/2018-08-21/50_moments_that_mattered_us_open_is_first_grand_slam_tournament_to_offer_equal_prize_money.html (Accessed 26 January 2021).

Wimbledon (2020) About Wimbledon: History – 1880s. Available at: https://www.wimbledon.com/en_GB/aboutwimbledon/history_1880s.html (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

Women in Sport (2018) Where are all the women? Available at: https://www.womeninsport.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Where-are-all-the-Women-1.pdf (Accessed: 26 January 2021).

World Triathlon (2016) Female participation in ITU races increases. Available at: https://www.triathlon.org/news/article/female_participation_in_itu_races_increases (Accessed: 20 January 2021).


Taking the Knee: Shedding Light to Racism in Cricket

Authored by the team ‘Pink Panthers’: Neil Polley, Gemma Campbell, Steph Bell, Lauren Hickson, George Bradley and Sarah Crawford [E119 20J students]


This blog was written as part of a collaborative teamwork task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


The world as we know it has been brought to a standstill. Sports culture, an unrecognisable shadow of what it once was. However, in the midst of all this inactivity, there is one all too familiar, yet never to be undervalued movement – The fight for justice. There is no questioning the impact that the recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement has had on attitudes towards justice, and when we look at sport, we can see the efforts that have been made to incorporate messages of solidarity towards the goal of eradicating racism for good. Despite not being in the thick of the limelight, cricket is not without its controversies, and, in order to tackle the issue of racism in the sport, it must first address its inaccuracies and teams must decide, with conviction, how best to hit injustice for six, once and for all.

Cricket is undoubtedly one of the most popular sports in South Africa, but even the joy that this sport brings cannot distract from the pattern of injustice which overshadows the country’s history and can in fact breed more scope for debate regarding discrimination. A recent survey by the united nations showed that only 8% of South African schoolkids of non-white descent have access to sport, which is largely due to poverty and lack of facilities, so this just goes to show the severity of the issue surrounding inequality in South African cricket (The Indian Express, 2020).  In addition to this, I was staggered to learn that even today, a quota system is implemented by South Africa’s Cricket governing body- CSA, stipulating that 6 non-white players must be picked in each squad, which, in the opinion of the first black South African cricketer, Makhaya Ntini, ‘puts a question mark on everything achieved as a player’. This is a fair analysis, as it will probably leave black cricketers wondering whether they are truly there on merit, or just to make up the numbers.

Injustice in cricket can be seen closer to home as well. Former first-class umpire John Holder caused shockwaves in November when he accused the English Cricket Board of “vicious and systematic racism” when BAME individuals are up for selection. This comes after no non-white umpires have been elevated to the First-Class Umpires Panel, since Holder’s retirement 11 years ago. Which seems shocking enough but is compounded further when considering a statement from the England Cricket Board in June of last year in which they stated that “their sport is not immune from systemic racism”, a worrying comment from the ECB, but one which will hopefully spark change in the organisation.

So how do teams best show their solidarity to the movement? Well, we might consider England and Australia bad examples, after both decided against taking a knee for their one-day international series in September 2020, perhaps failing to emphasise the stance they took earlier in the summer. Former cricketer, Michael Holding slammed the two countries and said that their excuses for not taking a knee were ‘flimsy’ and ‘lame’. The argument is- many other sports teams continue to take a knee, to keep spreading awareness, so why did the England and Australia cricket teams decide to fade away so early, and would other teams make the same mistake?

A later incident, this time involving South Africa, also resulted in a fair amount of scrutiny. As a team, they decided ‘unanimously’ not to take a knee before their T20 series with England, in November. They stated that they would instead be continuing to work in their personal, team and public spaces to dismantle racism. This was a strong message from the South African team and perhaps a highly effective one, suggesting rather than just sporting a gesture and leaving it at that, they would be trying to implement real change in the community. Although, it led to a separate statement from Kagiso Rabada, who stated that the Black Lives Matter movement would always be important to him, which is the only hint of discontent at the team’s decision.

This decision did face backlash, as journalist Neil Manthorp described it as a ‘missed opportunity’ and cited reasons such as their history with apartheid and feelings of loneliness from South African players as to why they would have been better off making the gesture. Then, although unrelated to Manthorp’s comments, South Africa decided that they would be making a gesture during their test series against Sri Lanka, after what was described as ‘a process of deep democracy within the team’, opting to raise a fist, a symbol of huge significance to South African history with reference to Nelson Mandela. This was perhaps, the perfect solution to the debate.

For cricket, moving forward, no matter how awkward or difficult it is, the priority has to be not to hide from any discriminatory incidents in its past or present day, but to acknowledge them, and most crucially, ensure that the relevant bodies do all they can to eradicate these incidents of injustice from the game. And in terms of the approach teams take to the fight for equality, I would love to see more teams adopt the approach that South Africa took. Although initially deciding against it, the image of them all raising their fists together against racism before playing Sri Lanka, that came after their U-turn was an incredibly powerful one. A country and team that, throughout history, has been battered time and time again by racial injustice, coming together, as one, to send a poignant message, one which other teams should be proud to follow.

 

References

BBC Sport (2020) South Africa v England: Proteas’ knee decision taken ‘unanimously’. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cricket/55076747 (Accessed: 23/01/21)

BT Sport (2020) Kagiso Rabada reiterates BLM support as South Africa opt against taking knee. Available at: https://www.bt.com/sport/news/2020/november/kagiso-rabada-reiterates-blm-support-as-south-africa-opt-against-taking-knee (Accessed 23/01/21)

Dobson, M (2020) ‘Michael Holding condemns England and Australia for not taking knee’ The Guardian, 10 September. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2020/sep/10/michael-holding-condemns-england-and-australia-for-not-taking-a-knee (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Gibson, R (2020) ‘South Africa players raise their fists in Support of Black Lives Matter movement before Sri Lanka Test after they were criticised by their own board for not taking a knee in England T20 series’ Daily Mail, 26 December. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-9088683/South-Africa-players-raise-fists-support-Black-Lives-Matter-movement-Sri-Lanka-Test.html (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Press Trust of India (2020) ‘England board admits ‘systemic racism’ exists, Cricket not immune to it’ Business Standard, 13 June. Available at: https://www.business-standard.com/article/sports/england-board-admits-systemic-racism-exists-cricket-not-immune-to-it-120061300216_1.html (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Sandip, G (2010) ‘Under-representation of non-white players in South African team triggers debate’ The Indian Express, 10 January. Available at: https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/south-africa-cricket-quota-debate-in-black-and-white-6208846/ (Accessed: 22/01/21)

Sky News (2020) English Cricket Board accused of ‘System racism’ over lack of non-white umpires. Available at: https://news.sky.com/story/english-cricket-board-accused-of-system-racism-over-lack-of-non-white-umpires-12134448 (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Sky Sports (2020) Black Lives Matter: South Africa not taking a knee and opportunity missed, says Neil Manthorp. Available at: https://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12123/12143087/black-lives-matter-south-africa-not-taking-a-knee-and-opportunity-missed-says-neil-manthorp#:~:text=The%20Proteas%20issued%20a%20statement,process%2C%20not%20an%20event%22.&text=%22Given%20South%20Africa’s (Accessed: 23/01/21)

Sky Sports (2020) Makhaya Ntini says quota system devalues achievements of black South African cricketers. (Available at: https://www.skysports.com/cricket/news/12346/11907307/makhaya-ntini-says-quota-system-devalues-achievements-of-black-south-african-cricketers (Accessed: 22/01/21)

A level playing field – Should Transgender athletes be allowed to compete in the category that matches their gender identity in the 2020 Olympics?

By  Rachael Pugh, Hannah Lake, Sula Douglas, Daniel Breacher and Ryan Williams (E119 19J Students)


This blog was written as part of a collaborative team work task by students studying E119. They had to select a topic and then decide on what roles each person would perform in the team, such as researcher, writer, editor and leader. This blog was chosen as one of the best blogs from around 80 blogs that were produced.


 

The participation of transgender athletes in Olympic competition raises issues not just about sport regulations but of society’s overall attitudes to gender. The whole subject of transgender people can still be divisive and misunderstood in our society. Many people have limited or no contact with transgender people, this can cloud their judgement leading to fear and rumours. From anger over which bathroom people can use, to which clothing a child gets to wear, it is a contentious subject. Transgender participation in sport is a complex issue and may well become more so in the future with the rise of gender neutrality. Sport has long had issues of discrimination and many sports’ governing bodies are working hard to provide fairness and reduce discrimination. Sport in general and the International Olympic Committee in particular, needs to find a way to make participation fair for everyone; transgender athletes as well as cisgender athletes.

One of the main points involved in this discussion is providing equality and equal opportunity for everyone. By excluding transgender athletes from participating in high level events such as the Olympics, we are not promoting equal opportunity. When looking at transgender participation not only high-level athletes need to be considered. Young people often look to athletes as role models. One role model is Laurel Hubbard, a transgender weightlifter, who transitioned from male to female.  After her transition, she went on to successfully compete in the commonwealth games, achieving a record breaking performance in the women’s weightlifting category (Brown, 2018). Kristi Miller, a transgender athlete and activist stated, “Hopefully Laurel’s given some hope to some young trans kid sitting around the world” (Davidson, 2018). Having visible transgender role models for young transgender people is very important – it gives the young people someone to look up to and as a consequence, helps to promote participation in sport for everyone.

However, Laurel’s wins and participation have created some controversy amongst other female competitors and their coaches. Jerry Wallwork, Head Coach for the Samoa weightlifting team said, “A man is a man and a woman is a woman and I know a lot of changes have gone through, but in the past Laurel Hubbard used to be a male champion weightlifter” (Davidson, 2018). Wallwork’s comments illustrate the issue of how gender is viewed in society and how often transgender people are not accepted. If more transgender athletes were allowed to compete – this would result in society being exposed to more transgender people in the media.  This exposure would allow them to become more accepted and allow young transgender people to be inspired and participate in sport.

Conversely, there is the issue of fairness for female athletes – how being transgender may give athletes an advantage over other female competitors particularly in the case of Laurel Hubbard who used to compete as a male weightlifter.  “The athletic advantage that Hubbard herself gleaned suggests as much. As a man, the Kiwi scarcely registered in the sport at international level. Today, as a woman, she is a world-beater,” (Brown, 2018).

Currently athletes who have transitioned from female to male can compete without restriction (BBC, 2019). However, for an athlete who has transitioned from male to female it is much more difficult. This is mainly because officials are trying to make it fair for all the female cisgender competitors and there are many physiological differences between males and females. These physiological differences are why we have separate male and female categories in sport in the first place. On average women have two thirds the strength of men, have smaller bones and a lower oxygen carrying capacity (Latham, 2018). The benefits of these physiological differences mean that men are usually stronger, faster and bigger. Not all of these physiological differences can be managed in the medical transitional process, therefore some of the advantages of being born male, remain in the transgender athlete.

When examining the difference between male and female bodies the issue of testosterone is often discussed. In order for a transgender athlete to compete as a female the IOC guideline from 2015 states “the total testosterone level in serum must be kept below ten nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months” (Ingle, 2019) however this is controversial as “women’s testosterone levels tend to range between 0.12 and 1.79 nmol/l, while men’s are typically between 7.7 to 29.4 nmol/l.” (Ingle, 2019). This means that transgender athletes, even those following the IOC Guidelines, could have testosterone levels up to 5 times higher than most female athletes. Higher levels of testosterone increase muscle mass and reduce fatigue both of which are important when competing at a high level of sport (Pietrangelo, 2016).

Many high profile athletes feel passionately about the potential damage to female sport when transgender athletes compete. Sharon Davies, the internationally renowned and celebrated swimmer, said ““I believe there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex you are born with and the gender you may identify as. To protect women’s sport, those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women’s sport.” (Ingle, 2020). These higher levels of testosterone and other physiological advantages mean that cisgender women could have a disadvantage when competing against transgender women.

To conclude, on the one hand society now recognises peoples’ right to change gender however it is very difficult to create a level playing field in some areas and competitive sport is very much one of these. The question of how transgender people compete in Olympic events raises issues of equality of opportunity and fairness of competition. The sports’ governing bodies are attempting to address the issues of physical fairness through regulation but this is not a straight forward process. Scientific development may be ahead of society’s ability to regulate for its consequences in this area. Given the diversity of genders and people in our society this may be an area for adapting and compromising in 2020 and beyond.

 

REFERENCES

Davidson, H (2018) Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard’s eligibility under scrutiny (Online) The Guardian. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/apr/09/transgender-weightlifter-laurel-hubbards-eligibility-under-scrutiny (Accessed 28 January 2020)

Latham, A (2018). Physiological difference between male and female athletes. (online). (last updated 28 June 2018). Available at: https://work.chron.com/physiological-differences-between-male-female-athletes-20627.html (Accessed 27 January 2020)

Pietrangelo, A (2016) How testosterone benefits your body (Online)  Healthline. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-testosterone (Accessed 29 January 2020)

Brown, O (2018). Transgender weightlifter under strain: Laurel Hubbard’s exit may be blessing in disguise as eligibility debate rages (Online) The Telegraph. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/weightlifting/2018/04/09/transgender-weightlifter-strain-laurel-hubbards-exit-may-blessing/ (Accessed 29 Jan, 2020)

Ingle, S. (2019). IOC delays new transgender guidelines after scientists fail to agree. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/sep/24/ioc-delays-new-transgender-guidelines-2020-olympics [Accessed 28 January 2020].

Women’s Sport 2017 is On Fire!

By Helen Owton

The summer of 2017 has been an outstanding season for women’s team sports.

Team success!

In the Netball Quad series earlier this year, the England Roses missed out on the title by just one point to the Australia Diamonds at Wembley. England beat India by just nine runs in a dramatic world cup final at Lords thanks to Anya Shrubsole’s remarkable bowling.

The England football team reached the semi-finals losing to the home nation, Netherlands at EURO 2017 but becoming national heroes. The Red Roses steamed into the Rugby World Cup final with an intense game against the very strong side of New Zealand, the Black Ferns. It wasn’t the happy ending they were looking for but the nation got behind the event to watch two of the best women’s rugby teams in the world.

Record High Viewings!

Not only has the Nation been so successfully in so many different sports, but the public have demonstrated a huge hunger for more! The women’s EURO 2017 viewing statistics hit record highs of 4 million, beating Celebrity Big Brother and the British Bake Off marking the highest audience figures for Channel 4 this year (Kennel, 2017).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L09K1qg1i9c

Earlier in the year, the England v Australia Netball game drew in half a million viewers on BBC2. Women’s cricket is also in high demand selling out Lords with 26,500 people and 1.1 million tuning in to watch the World Cup on Sky (Whaling, 2017). Recently, the Women’s Rugby World Cup, held in Ireland reported a record total attendance of 45,412, a peak of 2.65 million tuning in to ITV in the UK to watch the final between England and New Zealand and a vast increase in social media engagement.

Looking ahead, this trend is likely to build rather than fizzle with 80,000 tickets having already been sold for the Women’s Hockey World Cup 2018. Household names are cashing in on women’s sport with Vitality, Investec, and SSE sponsoring various sports and television companies are battling to secure broadcasting rights for women’s sport. Now, Kia have continued their investment with the Ladies’ PGA deal. It seems that the opportunity to watch women’s sport has never been better and it is an ideal time for other brands to invest.

Indeed, as Sally Munday highlights: “Even more encouragingly, terrestrial TV broadcasters have played a big part in this incredible summer of women’s sport. The UEFA Women’s EURO’s were shown live on Channel 4, the Women’s Rugby World Cup Final was broadcast live in a primetime slot on ITV, and Channel 5 has just announced that it will show women’s cricket domestic highlights in 2018.

Now, when I read about sport or listen to the news, I’m wondering why there isn’t more of a distinction so I know whether they are talking about men’s sport or not. We can’t just say ‘Football’ and assume that it is men’s football.

*Gender and Sport is a topic covered in the E314 module on Contemporary Issues in Sport

Blindside of Rugby Six Nations: Where are the women?

By Helen Owton

Women’s sport tends to receive less coverage in the media than men’s sport making female sports role models less available to young people, particularly in sports that are more traditionally male dominated such as football and rugby. During the sensational Six Nations 2016, we have seen another example of unequal exposure of sport. Whilst women’s football seems to be increasing their exposure, women’s rugby still have even further to go.

On Saturday 27 February 2016, the TV coverage and social media was trending with #EngvIre #RBS6Nations tweets about the Six Nations game; this was the men’s rugby.  Afterwards, England Rugby sent out the following tweet:

Englandrugby tweet

And requested changing the hashtag to #SendHerVictorious.

England women maintained their unbeaten record by defeating Ireland (13-9). Despite their win, the next two rounds might prove tough for England; will they have the skill, speed, strength and tactics to beat Wales on 12 March 2016 at Twickenham and then France (away) on 18 March 2016? On Sunday 28 February, Wales beat France 10-8 and Italy took their first victory by beating Scotland 22-7 [full fixture list here].

Yet all these sensational women’s Six Nations games had no TV coverage and the fans were left hunting the internet for a link on England Rugby which streamed the England match live. The audience at home were not happy; people all over the world were complaining about the lack of live TV coverage, online streaming problems and the clear disparity of the women’s exposure compared to the men’s.

RL tweet

Mozambique tweet

Whilst the Six Nations website shows the current up-to-date standings for the men’s Six Nations, there is not one for the women’s Six Nations event. The newspaper coverage before and after the Six Nations women’s rugby games was equally poor. In 2016, this disparity simply does not make sense.

Risk and rugby

When Sarah Chester suffered a fatal injury in 2015 after being tackled in a rugby game evoked arguments of whether women should even be playing rugby despite men’s fatal injuries from rugby as well. We’ve seen similar fears in women’s boxing which is a moral (women who box risk fatal injury) in the well-known film Million Dollar Baby. Some might argue that these are fear tactics aimed at putting women off traditionally male-only sports.  However, the inclusion of women’s boxing at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 European Games at Baku has been a sign of progress.

Women’s sports media exposure

Since 2012, the talk appears to have been about what legacy was left for women’s sports but there is a very long way to go before there is gender equality in all sports. Despite the growing awareness of gender inequality in sport, it is well documented that women’s sport remains second to men’s sport in many ways (e.g. media coverage, wages, prize money, sponsorship and status), which has wider implications for equality in sport, and in society. Cooky, Messner and Hextrum (2013) reported that televised coverage of women’s sports was at its lowest yet at 1.6%. Whilst coverage increases slightly for major events (e.g. Wimbledon, Olympics), the type of coverage has been subjected to critical analysis. The reportWomen In Sport’ (2015, p. 3) produced the following figures on women’s media coverage:

  • Women’s Sport makes up 7% of all sports media coverage in the UK
  • Just over 10% of televised sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 2% of national newspaper sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 5% of radio sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport
  • 4% of online sports coverage is dedicated to women’s sport

Additionally, they found that women’s sport received 0.4% of reported UK sponsorship deals in sport between 2011-2013. This sponsorship gives further greater exposure to men’s sport. Fink (2014) argues that “female athletes and women’s sport still receive starkly disparate treatment by the sport media commercial complex compared to male athletes and men’s sport” (p. 331). It’s 2016 and the way women’s rugby was reported demonstrated how rugby is still rated as second-class to the men’s. This then feeds messages that rugby (and other sports) participation is more appropriate for boys and men than for girls and women; that women are naturally inferior to men, and that women’s sport is less important than men’s sport. A lack of exposure to skilful sportswomen from a broad range of sports in the media could be a reason why the use of derogatory ‘like a girl’ comments perpetuates.

Whilst an argument could be made that there isn’t enough money generated in the women’s game to pay women higher salaries, improving the media coverage to the 9.63 million viewers who watch men’s rugby might generate the interest in women’s rugby thus improving their wages and the value of women’s sport. However, arguing for media coverage to be increased is difficult in light of the seemingly lack of value placed on women’s sport. If a report in 2015 on business leadership roles estimates that without any more efforts to promote women’s equality in management, it will take 100 to 200 years to achieve gender parity, then how long will it take to achieve gender parity in all sports? Given the statistics and the missed opportunity for the British press to report a double win in the women’s and men’s rugby Six Nations this week, the future looks long and winding.

The rugby world does seem to be making an effort to challenge stereotypes (e.g. Link to advert) and raise exposure (#SendHerVictorious) and respect to the women’s game but it’s about time the public and the media gave the women’s rugby the conversion they deserve!

  • Gender in sport is explored in our new module E314.

Why Tyson Fury’s sexist and homophobic comments make him unfit for BBC Sports Personality of the Year

By Helen Owton

One could be forgiven for being under the misapprehension that the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year accolade should be about more than a sportsman or woman’s exploits on track, field, court or ring. The clue’s in the name: “personality”. Most of us, I would think, would expect that the honour should be bestowed on someone whose achievements and bearing have struck a particular chord with the public, and have elevated their sport beyond the physical achievement. Apparently not.

I have to declare an interest here. I am among the 77,000 and more who have signed a petition (available here) pressurising the BBC to remove boxer Tyson Fury from its shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) on the grounds that his shockingly sexist and homophobic remarks show him to be a man whose personality gives absolutely no grounds for celebration, still less for an award.

Fury’s comments include remarks about fellow SPOTY nominee Jessica Ennis-Hill’s appearance, saying that she “slaps up good” and “looks quite fit when she’s got a dress on”.

In response to the widespread public condemnation of his remarks, Fury has denied being sexist and his wife Paris has defended the boxer as his “show side” but he has continued his vile stream of unconsciousness telling critics in an interview with IFLTV’s Kugan Cassius that they can “suck my balls” and called those who have signed the SPOTY petition as “50,000 wankers”.

I’m a little bit backward I didn’t really go to school so which part of “a woman looks good in a dress” was sexist?… I stand up for my beliefs. My wife’s job is cooking and cleaning and looking after these kids, that’s it. She does get to make some decisions – what she’s gonna cook me for tea when I get home… She’s a very privileged woman to have a husband like me.

It’s also fairly disturbing that Cassius appears to agree with these sentiments.

Jessica Ennis: role model and high achiever.
Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Fury has been unrepentant since, as his Twitter comments amply illustrate:

 

Not only have his comments been sexist, but he continues this verbal diarrhoea by attempting to frame his homophobic beliefs as embedded in Christianity saying “the bible doesn’t lie”. Fury told Oliver Holt:

There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those first two would be legalised?

This link between paedophilia and homosexuality is not only extremely harmful but against the law. However, these laws brought in by the Equality Act in 2010 do not seem to be protecting women and LGBT people from this sort of discrimination.

Once again, I’m disappointed that a sportsperson lacking in such moral character has been able to receive exposure that celebrates his aggressive sporting prowess but ignores the greater problem that can be spread by these harmful beliefs. Many sports can be misused as an arena for promoting a skewed brand of heterosexual masculinity which feeds sexism and homophobia into all sports – whether played by men or women.

Fury’s brand of sexism and homophobia only serves to reinforce these findings. When these sorts of attitudes are evident and accepted in sport, it is hardly surprising that athletes have fears of “coming out” and sportswomen feel less valued.

The harm of invincibility

Of course, there’s no suggestion that this applies to Fury, but when athletes believe that they are invincible, above the law, or incapable of being hurt they can undermine respect for authority or social norms and can result in criminal activity or deviant behaviour because they believe that the “jock culture” of which they are a part takes precedence over any other authoritative structures outside their sporting world.

Indeed, a large body of research suggests that competitive sporting environments provide a unique socio-cultural context that offers possibilities for sexual abuse and exploitation to take place. For example, findings in one study indicated that male college student-athletes were responsible for a significantly higher percentage of reports of sexual assault on the campuses of Division I institutions (the highest level of intercollegiate athletes). Another study showed that while male college athletes made up only 3.3% of the collegiate population, they represented 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators.

Meanwhile challenging homophobia in sport can be an intimidating task, particularly when the person handing out the abusive comments appears to be so intimidating and invincible. But nevertheless, some sports are raising their game – rugby, for example, rising to the challenge of promoting awareness of gay issues. It seems to be making a big effort to challenge homophobia, which also could enable a much less narrow definition of masculinity to be accepted in rugby.

Perhaps boxing should follow the example of men’s rugby? The BBC could help this shift by removing Fury from their list. It would certainly help the sport of kings climb off the canvas when it comes to promoting acceptable behaviour among its stars.

The Conversation

Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Paralympians makes waves on the world stage but disability reform is badly needed

By Helen Owton

When I was at the Paralympic Games in 2012, I saw a person walk up to a woman in a wheelchair wheeling herself up a slope, grab the handles of her chair and start pushing her up the hill, much to the annoyance and surprise of the woman in the wheelchair. My friend brushed it off as someone only wanting to help, but I saw it as ignorance and a lack of respect, displayed in a venue where we were supposed to be widening our horizons about what disabled athletes can achieve.

Despite progress, negative public attitudes, ignorance and awkwardness about
disability prevail. According to a report by Scope, 67% of the British public feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people and 36% of people tend to think of disabled people as not as productive as everyone else. These attitudes affect every aspect of disabled people’s lives – in the playground, at work, in shops, on the street.

After the London 2012 Games, former Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thomson said it was important to remember how everyone felt in the euphoria of Britain’s success in the Paralympics, but that they are not everyday reality.

While there appeared to be progression on people’s attitudes towards disability at the time, she argued that “more still needs to be done to shift perceptions towards disabled people”. Grey-Thomson points out that disabled people are portrayed as Paralympian superheroes, “benefit scroungers” or victims – but not all three together.

The IPC World Championships in Qatar is an opportunity for these attitudes to be challenged again.

Athletes such as Stef “the blade stunner” Reid from Leicestershire are stretching the boundaries of what is expected of disabled people. She is not only a Paralympian, but also a model who became the first Paralympian amputee to be part of London Fashion week.

Earlier this year, Great Britain’s David Weir won silver in the London Marathon wheelchair race and will compete in the 1,500m and 5,000m against his rival Marcel Hug, “the Swiss Silver Bullet”, in Doha.

The first day of the IPC Athletic World Championships saw six world records smashed; one of these was Great Britain’s Sophie Hahn who won the women’s 100m long jump. Aled Davies also won gold in the shot put where he threw a championship record of 14.95m.

These stories stand in stark contrast to the lives of many disabled people living in the country she is representing on the world stage.

The UK welfare state that was developed as a way of supporting those who were sick, unemployed or who suffered injury is being eroded. We’ve seen a great deal of change to all of these benefits in recent years which has had a detrimental impact; 2,380 people have died after undergoing a work capability assessment (WCA) between 2011-2014 after being told they were “fit for work”.

As Grey-Thomson argues, we should be linking up politics, education, sport, and health and developing more NHS programmes, such as My Voice, My Wheelchair, My Life, which can transform wheelchair services for users and their families.

While athletes might be role models and provide inspiration to others, they can’t be the sole driver behind the need to change attitudes; they can only be part of the change towards a more equitable society. David Weir argues that the momentum has been lost since 2012 and 2013 but let’s hope there is sufficient media coverage so that we are well informed leading into Rio 2016.

The Conversation

Helen Owton, Lecturer in Sport & Fitness, The Open University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The IPC Athletic World Championships: World Class Athletes to watch

By Helen Owton & Karen Howells

Doha, Qatar’s largest growing city and economic centre of Qatar modern will host the IPC Athletics World Championships between 21st and 31st October. Against a backdrop of pollution and in a city that was built on the pearl trade, British athletes will compete amongst 1,300 athletes from 90 countries in a variety of track and field events across a number of different classifications. The IPC has revealed a list of 33 athletes, including a number of British athletes to look out for. Here we look at a selection of those to watch as this is the last major event before Rio Paralympics 2016.

2015 IPC Athletics World Championships, Doha, Qatar

Aled Davies – F42 Discus and Shot Put

Like many successful athletes Aled Davies came from a sports-loving family; as a child he was a good rugby player, a strong swimmer and was selected to swim for Wales. However, at the age of 14, he was invited to try-out for athletics with a group of elite Paralympians which introduced Davies to the throwing events. Born with hemimelia of the right leg, Davies announced to his parents whilst watching the 2004 Athens Paralympic games that he wanted to win a Paralympic gold medal. In 2012, his dream became a reality when he won Gold in the F42 discus and a bronze medal in the shot put. Not only has he won Paralympic medals, but he is the current World and European Champion in the discus and the shot put and World record holder in F42 shot put. Last year, however, appeared to be a difficult year for him. At the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in the F42/44 discus he felt he was thwarted in the final to lose to England’s Dan Greaves and returned to Wales with a silver medal. The year also saw him make the decision to leave his coach of nine years to work with Cardiff’s Ryan Spencer-Jones. Under the guidance of his new coach, these World championships see him lighter, stronger, more technical and more motivated towards medal success; this will be the opportunity to put the disappointment of the last year behind him and to further lay the foundations for success in Rio next year.

Sophie Hahn – T38 100m and 200m

Eighteen year old Sophie Hahn is like any other fun-loving teenager from Leicestershire, she enjoys music, loves animals and enjoys watching rugby. Her friends from her last school affectionately called her Chicken; a derivative of the German meaning of her surname. Like many other girls her age she was enthused by London 2012 and was inspired to join her local Athletics club. But unlike other girls her age Sophie is a World Champion and a World Record Holder in her sport. Only a year after she started running in 2012, Hahn, who has cerebral palsy, competed as a novice at the 2013 IPC Word Championships at the age of 16. At this competition, she faced another novice to international sport in the T38 200m starting a rivalry that is likely to be continued against the backdrop of Doha. Hahn, won her qualifying heat of the 200m with a time of 27.56, a championship record, however, the accolade was short-lived as Veronica Hipolito from Brazil beat her in the final taking both the gold medal and the championship record. Two days later, Hahn turned the tables in the 100m, shattering Hipolito’s world record which had been set in the semi-finals to win gold. Even going beyond this rivalry the T38 class promises to be highly competitive with Russia’s 100m Paralympic and European champion Margarita Gonchorova and China’s 200m Paralympic gold medallist Junfei Chen both vying for medal success.

Hannah Cockcroft, MBE

As a role model to Sophie Hahn, the unbeaten four-time world champion ‘Team Hannah’ is aiming to win three world titles in 2015. At the London 2012 Paralympic Games, she won 100m and 200m T34 titles and she is set on retaining her world titles at the next World Championships. Having proved her dominance in the sprint events, ‘Hurricane Hannah’ has now set herself a new goal of winning gold in the 800m which appears to be the event she is most determined to win. Last year she won gold at the IPC European Championships in T34 100m and T34 800m. Also, at the IPC Grand Prix she three gold medal; T34 100m, 200m, and 800m, beating Australian rival Rosemary Little. She hold the world record in 4 events: T34 100m (17.31), 200m (30.51), 400m (59.42), 800m (2:04.49) While she keeps a very impressive catalogue of world records and medals, Cockcroft appears to be sufficiently motivated to balance her training with her academic studies by completing a Journalism and Media degree at Coventry University. As she says, “You have to keep working to keep winning”.

Stef ‘the blade stunner’ Reid

Stef Reid is also from Leicestershire; she started competing for Great Britain in 2010. In 2011, she won bronze medals in the 200m and long jump at the IPC Athletics World Championships. In the last Paralympics in London 2012, she won Silver in the T42-44 long jump. In 2013, she had a difficult year, but in 2014 she was back to her best (if not better) by setting a new long jump T44 world record in Glasgow. Also, she appears to be stretching the boundaries for disabled people. She is not only a Paralympian (2014 T44 European long jump Champion; London 2012 T42-44 long jump silver), but also a role model who became the first Paralympian amputee to be part of London Fashion week as a catwalk model which also helps raise the profile of women, Paralympians and disability. The forthcoming the IPC Athletics World Championships will be an opportunity to show off her form in preparation for her aims of winning gold in the Rio Paralympic Games next year.

Stef Reid: A life-changing ambition to win Gold

There are too many world class GB athletes to single out in this article, but we also recommend watching out for Richard Whitehead (T44 200m gold medallist in 2012), Jonnie Peacock (T44 100m gold medallist in 2012), David Weir (800m, 1500m, 5,000m and marathon gold medallist in 2012), Paul Blake (silver in T36 400m and bronze in T36 800m in 2012), the SportAid one to watch – Hollie Arnold (ranked No 1 in the world), and newcomer Sophie Kamlish (T44 100m and 200m). David Weir argues that the momentum has been lost since 2012 and 2013 but this is an exciting event not to be missed as this is probably the last big event before the Rio Paralympic Games 2016.

1 Year To Go until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

Guinness and Gareth Thomas rugby tackle homophobia

By Helen Owton

With the Men’s Rugby World Cup about to start, the sport of rugby appears to be making strides to tackle homophobia in sport. The most recent TV advert from Guinness stars Gareth Thomas telling his story about coming out in rugby.

The Out on the Field (2015) survey found that 60% of gay men and 50% of lesbians have been subjected to homophobia in sport which means that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans people in sport must regulate conversations, behaviour and identities on a daily basis because of the implications of ‘coming out’. The assumption in rugby that as well as being aggressive and competitive, all ‘real men’ must be heterosexual means that ‘gay’ becomes a derogatory identity label and an abnormal lifestyle. The Guinness advert challenges this stance and perhaps shows that attitudes are starting to shift.

Researchers who have studied issues of gays in sports largely agree that organised sports are highly homophobic (Anderson, 2002) although there is some more recent debate about whether men’s heterosexual ‘gay’ behaviours (e.g. kissing each other on the mouth) indicates more openness and acceptance (Anderson, 2005). This TV advert is a step towards even more openness and acceptance.

Gareth talks about how he hid his sexual identity and his feelings, however when an individual feels unaccepted and alienated from society problems can occur. Whilst in this advert he refers to his sexuality as being ‘so minor’, in his autobiography, Gareth discloses how he felt during an all-time low:

“The more I thought, the more self-loathing I generated, the more attractive suicide seemed […] The sea was grey and merged with the horizon. Standing there, on the edge of the cliff, it all seemed so easy. A single step and I’d walk off, into the sky. No more pain. No more loneliness. No more lies. No more causing chaos for people that I loved” (Thomas, 2014, p.155-156)

Evidently, it’s not easy for sportspeople to ‘come out’ because of the homophobia they feel they might experience from fans and from their team mates that they share changing rooms with. Homophobia is deeply embedded in the hidden codes of narrow forms of heterosexual masculinity which rests on the belief that to be a ‘real man’ you’re not gay.

Like Gareth Thomas, gay men come out because many report feelings of ‘living a lie’ and feel isolated and alienated from society when they are hiding a part of themselves. He was fortunate enough to receive a positive and assuring response from his friends, family, rugby coaches and teammates which will hopefully mean that more sportspeople will feel more comfortable about coming out to their teammates.

For Gareth Thomas to ‘come out’ not only challenges heteronormative assumptions about sexuality in sport and promotes diverse sexualities, it enables athletes to feel open and proud of themselves for who they are. It helped to affirm his sense of self that his sexuality was respected and accepted by others as well.

However, you don’t have to be gay to challenge these assumptions; James Haskell and Ben Foden have both posed for Attitude (gay magazine) and Ben Cohen works to eliminate homophobia through his StandUp Foundation.

The sub culture of rugby seems to be raising awareness of gay issues and seems to be making a big effort to challenge homophobia which also could enable a much less narrow definition of masculinity to be accepted in rugby. Furthermore, Guinness appear to be using their brand to tell stories of adversity and ‘double lives’ in rugby, for example, Ashwin Willemse’s story of becoming a Springbok:

This topic will be covered in a new OU Sport and Fitness module coming soon.