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.
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.
We are pleased to announce that we will be adding a new module to our BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching degree in October 2016. The new module (E314) is titled Exploring contemporary issues in sport and exercise and will be the final module in the degree, replacing the option modules currently available. The module has been developed in response to feedback indicating that students were dissatisfied with the non-sport and fitness related option modules.
In this engaging module you will explore the research behind a range of contemporary sport and exercise issues. Through critical analysis of the interaction between academic and media sources you will investigate fascinating questions within topics such as nutrition, gender, recovery and children. You will also undertake a detailed investigation on one contemporary issue that you will select from a range of options. These options include: genetic testing, concussion, high-intensity interval training, sleep, wearable technology, sports drinks, body image, ethnicity and homophobia.
The module features a broad range of AV material to support learning, including several clips from the OU co-produced television programme Chasing Perfection which recently aired on Channel 4 (see trailer below).
Over the next few months we will be posting taster articles related to E314 on this blog, so make sure you follow us on Twitter for updates. We have already posted a few which are available in the E314 archives.
In a previous blog post we told you about an exciting new TV programme, Chasing Perfection, co-produced by The Open University and presented by Michael Johnson. In the video below, Ben Oakley, one of the academic consultants on the programme, tells us a little more about Chasing Perfection and how it links to a new module (E314 Exploring contemporary issues in sport and exercise) we are developing for our BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching qualification.
Chasing Perfection will be screened on Channel 4 on Sunday 15th November and Sunday 22nd November 2015 at 7.05am. It will also be available to watch on demand on All 4.
With the Rugby World Cup final taking place this weekend both teams will be looking for the small gains in their preparation that could mean the difference between success and failure. One such area that has received a lot of attention in recent times is sleep. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, recovery is an important part of competing in a major tournament. Both New Zealand and Australia have played six matches on their way to the final, which could take its toll, therefore, how they recover from that demand is vitally important to their chances of success. Sleep is perhaps the ultimate recovery strategy, but why is it considered to be so important?
Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
What is sleep?
Sleep can be defined as a complex state with both physiological and behavioural components where the individual is temporarily disengaged and unresponsive to the environment (Halson, 2013). There are two key stages of sleep – rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM. It is NREM sleep that contains deep sleep (known as slow wave sleep). This is the period that is thought to be particularly important for recovery in sports people.
Why is sleep important for sports people?
Outside of sport a lack of sleep is often considered to have detrimental effect on performance. For example, we are advised not to drive or operate heavy machinery whilst tired. It therefore seems logical to assume that tired athletes are likely to underperform. Anecdotally there are many accounts of sleep, or a lack of it, having a detrimental effect on sporting performance. Whilst the purpose of sleep is not fully understood it is generally accepted that it is required to facilitate recovery and preparation for functioning (both physiological and cognitive) in the next waking period (Fullagar et al., 2015; Halson, 2014). Therefore the sleep an athlete has the night before and in the days leading up to a competition (e.g. Rugby World Cup final) is important. The challenge here is that athletes often report sleeping difficulties the night before an important competition due to pre-competition anxiety or excitement (Juliff, Halson, & Peiffer, 2015). Additionally, the sleep patterns and sleep quality of travelling athletes can be negatively affected by factors such as jet lag, change of routine and unfamiliar surroundings. This is particularly important when the 2015 Rugby World Cup final is to be played by two southern hemisphere teams in a northern hemisphere location. That said, both teams have been in the UK for a while and will have likely established sleeping routines. It would be very surprising if this is not an aspect of recovery that both teams have put strategies in place to address.
What does the research say?
Previous research has suggested that sports performers may be vulnerable to sleep disturbances due to a variety of reasons including early training sessions, poor sleep habits, caffeine use, travel, and pre-competition anxiety. Whilst sleep is a broadly researched area, the body of research examining sleep amongst sports performers is relatively small (Halson, 2014). Research that has examined the relationship between sleep and sports performance has explored the effects of sleep deprivation, partial sleep deprivation/sleep restriction, sleep extension and napping. In their review of the literature Fullagar et al. (2015) concluded that there is evidence to suggest that sleep deprivation has a significant impact on sports performance.
The time of day that the World Cup final is held could also have an impact on performance. The World Cup final will be played at 4pm, but Australian fans reportedly requested a change to 8pm. It seems that everyone has an optimal time of day that they perform at their best, dictated by their body clock or circadian cycle. The video below gives a simple explanation of this, splitting athletes into ‘larks’ and ‘owls’. It would appear that a 4pm kick-off favours intermediate types (peak performance around 16:00) rather than pure ‘larks’ (peak performance before 12:00) or ‘owls’ (peak performance around 20:00), whilst the change favoured by Australian fans would favour ‘owls’. However, this simple analogy does not take into account the experience, preparation and complex sleep patterns of the two travelling teams.
Who will win the Rugby World Cup remains to be seen, but it is possible that sleep could be a contributing factor. Sleep appears to be an important part of the athlete’s recovery and preparation and can potentially influence performance, so in order to get a top quality final tomorrow let’s hope that both Australia and New Zealand get a good night’s sleep tonight!
Fullagar, H. H. K., Skorski, S., Duffield, R., Hammes, D., Coutts, A. J., & Meyer, T. (2015). Sleep and athletic performance: the effects of sleep loss on exercise performance, and physiological and cognitve responses to exercise. Sports Medicine, 45, 161-186.
Halson, S. (2013). Sleep and the elite athlete. Sports Science Exchange, 26(113), 1-4.
Halson, S. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine, 44, S13-S23.
Juliff, L. E., Halson, S. L., & Peiffer, J. J. (2015). Understanding sleep disturbance in athletes prior to important competitions. Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport, 18(1), 13-18.
Image courtesy of nenetus at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Recovery has reportedly become a ‘hot topic’ at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Competing in a major tournament such as the Rugby World Cup can take its toll on the body. Rugby is a physically demanding sport that fatigues the body, so it’s important for players to be able to recover effectively and bounce back ready for the next match. Teams that reach the final of the Rugby World Cup will have played seven matches and that can be tough for the body to cope with, even amongst elite athletes. Although both teams in the final will have played the same number of games, they may not have had the same experience. One team, for example, will have an extra day of rest since the two semi-finals are played on consecutive days. Additionally, one team may have a more gruelling semi-final than the other which could give their opposition an advantage. How well they recover from that gruelling match could make all the difference to the result. A lack of adequate recovery was reported to be an influencing factor in Japan’s defeat at the hands of Scotland after such a spectacular opening match against South Africa. Consequently sports performers often employ recovery strategies to speed up and maximise their recovery between matches. In this article we will review three commonly used strategies: cryotherapy, compression clothing and massage.
Compression garments are the items of tight clothing worn by athletes that have highly elastic properties which provide compression. These garments have become commonplace in rugby, but what is the theory behind them and why are they thought to aid recovery? It is logical to assume that compression is beneficial to recovery due to some of its other uses e.g. in the treatment of sports injuries or the use of flight socks to avoid developing deep vein thrombosis. Compression garments are suggested to enhance recovery by reducing the swelling and inflammation that occurs in response to intensive exercise. The theory is that the compression creates an external pressure gradient thus minimising the space available for swelling, but what does the research evidence show?
Massage is commonly used by rugby players to enhance their recovery between matches, for example, the England rugby team use massage as an integral part of their recovery and match preparation. Whilst massage is a well established recovery strategy, there is a surprising lack of scientific evidence to support its use. Brummitt (2008) in his review of the literature concluded that the research has failed to show that massage has a significant impact on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) or other measures of recovery. More recently, after reviewing the literature, Nelson (2013) concluded that massage has a promising role to play in reducing DOMS, but urged caution due to the variability in study methodology. This identifies one of the key issues that has stunted massage research – individual differences. Each massage therapist develops their own individual massage style, making comparisons between therapists problematic. Additionally, factors such as the depth of pressure applied, muscle groups involved, ambient temperature, and time of day may all affect the impact of a massage. Consequently, it appears that what is lacking from the body of research evidence is guidance on what techniques, timings and dosages are optimal for recovery.
It is likely that players in the Rugby World Cup will be engaging in a wide variety of recovery strategies during the tournament, including, but not limited those outlined in this article. While the scientific evidence to support these strategies is still relatively limited, they are widely adopted by players and players appear to believe that they are effective. This is perhaps the most important factor of all – if an athlete believes that a strategy will help them recover, they will feel more confident going into their next game and that can only be a good thing.
The science behind recovery strategies in sport will be covered in a new OU Sport and Fitness level 3 module coming soon.
With the World Cup now upon us my household is at fever pitch and my six year old son is mesmerised by the strength, skill and speed of the players. He is a keen rugby player himself and has been attending training at the local club since he was four. However despite his passion for the sport he is yet to define himself as ‘a rugby player’ as he also participates in a range of other sports including football, swimming and golf. This is similar to most of his rugby teammates who also take part in a range of sports from ballet to ice-hockey. However the majority of his football teammates tend to only play football, football and more football. So what is the best approach? Should my son choose to focus on rugby, the sport he excels at the most, and forget the rest? Would that make him a better rugby player and increase his chances of reaching elite level? What are the benefits and risks of such early specialisation?
Kelsey E via Flickr Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/kelseye/786999279
Early specialisation is a hot topic at the moment with youth sports becoming more and more susceptible to commercial pressures and parents and coaches often encouraging children to participate in intensive training and highly competitive events in their specialised sport at a young age. There are various definitions for early specialisation however typically it involves continual year-round training in a single sport between the ages of 6 and 12 years with a specific focus on development in that sport. One of the main arguments for endorsing early specialisation is the positive relationship between the amounts of time spent in deliberate practice i.e. highly effortful and structured activity, and the level of achievement attained. Therefore in theory, the earlier you start practicing the earlier it is that you are likely to ‘make it’ to the top level. However this is a very simple outlook and this linear approach has been questioned in relation to sports performance. Although deliberate practice is considered important the exact requirements of the type and amount of such practice remains in question.
Currently the general consensus is that sampling a range of sports throughout childhood provides the best grounding for both progressing onto a higher level in a chosen sport as well as for continued participation into adulthood. Sampling allows for the transfer of cognitive skills and physiological conditioning to different sports. There is also strong evidence that in sports where peak performance is reached into adulthood specialisation does not need to occur before the age of 13. So how does this apply to rugby?
Rugby is a sport where peak performance is typically achieved later into adulthood. This corresponds to statistics from the previous World Cup winners where the RFU calculated average team ages of 27 (Australia), 28 (England), 27 (South Africa) and 28 (New Zealand). In their 2015 squad New Zealand have opted for experience including four players who have played in four world cups and France have just one player under the age of 25 with an average age of 29.1. Rugby players are thought to benefit from late specialisation whereby players sample different sporting activities to develop physical, psychological and sociological skills that benefit their rugby performance.
‘Rugby is a late maturation sport, further complicated by the different maturation rates that tend to apply to the different positions. There is also a wide consensus based on statistical evidence that selection for elite training and specialisation would be more effective if delayed until after maturation, that period of maximum growth and change. In practice, almost all sports begin such selection rather earlier. So the RFU and the Regional Academies must continue to encourage both early engagement and late specialisation in the sport.’ (England Rugby, 2013)
However according to rugby journalist Stephen Jones this is not happening within English rugby with Rugby Schools dominating and the quest for talent forcing children to specialise and be identified earlier. Interestingly in the England 2015 World Cup Squad Stuart Lancaster has eighteen players aged under 27 including youngsters Luke Cowan-Dickie (20), Elliot Daly (22), Maro Itoje (20) and Henry Slade (22) who have progressed through the player development pathway, which would suggest that the system is working to some extent. It would be interesting to know if these players were early specialisers. However one could also argue that the current system encourages early talent identification and specialisation which can often fail to distinguish between potential and performance and so for those players such as Cowan-Dickie and Itoje that make it to the top level many potentially elite youngsters have been disregarded. There is also evidence to suggest that early specialisation poses risks to the young athletes.
What are the risks of early specialisation?
Evidence suggests that early specialisation can lead to negative consequences, both physically and mentally. Early sport specialisation may increase rates of overuse injury and sport burnout, showing higher training volumes to be a factor in injury with injuries more likely to occur during the adolescent growth spurt. Evidence also suggests that athletes who had early specialised training withdrew from their sport either due to injury or burnout from the sport. This is particularly important for contact sports such as rugby.
As well as the physical risk of injury the main psycho-social risks of early specialisation include decreased sport enjoyment, low intrinsic motivation, compromised social development, social isolation, dropout, psychological burnout, and even the potential to lead to eating disorders in some sports. In contrast early sampling is thought to lead to sport expertise because of the intrinsic motivation that stems from the fun, enjoyment, and competence children experience through their sporting involvement (Côté & Hay, 2002).
What is the answer?
With early specialisation becoming more prominent despite the evidence documenting the risks the IOC have issued a consensus statement with a range of recommendations for those involved in youth sport. For example acknowledging that each child will develop at different rates due to varying responses to training. Developing children holistically, to provide a foundation that will help them be successful in life as well as in sport and ensuring steps are taken to prevent injury. In addition the IOC challenge governing bodies to embrace the recommendations which are based on academic evidence to ensure youth sport is healthier, inclusive, sustainable and long-term. Johnny Wilkinson is a good example of this ideal:
‘I have always loved rugby but have also been fortunate to play a whole host of different sports from a young age. I hope that all children have similar enjoyable opportunities to play and keep active throughout their lives’.
Evidence suggests that in a sport such as rugby there is no place for early specialisation and in fact participating in a range of different sports would provide a better foundation for performance as well as continued participation. So to answer my earlier question I will continue to support my son in his rugby but also encourage him to continue sampling a range of activities to promote a positive sports experience that hopefully continues into adulthood.