Monthly Archives: May 2015

Women’s World Cup primes for kick-off a mind corruption allegations at FIFA

By Helen Owton

With the breaking news of allegations of corruption at FIFA, everybody seems to be talking about what impact it will have on the upcoming World Cups in Russia and Qatar.

But the next World Cup isn’t in Russia or Qatar, it’s in Canada. The FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off on June 6 and the complete lack of discussion of how the crisis at the top of football will affect the competition further trivialises the women’s game. Corruption needs to be eliminated from FIFA, and we must remember in doing so that the organisation is not just responsible for the men’s game, but for women’s football too.

It’s worth noting that while FIFA been accused of receiving bribes totalling US$150m, the body has been simultaneously starving the women’s game of funding and investment.

Achieving against the odds

The seventh women’s World Cup takes place in the same year FIFA celebrates its 111th birthday, although I doubt there will be much celebrating going on in light of the recent arrests. It’s actually quite surprising to realise that the first men’s World Cup was staged in 1930, which means that in 85 years there have been just seven women’s competitions.

This is perhaps no surprise, given that in 1921, Britain’s Football Association banned women’s football altogether “in light of complaints made” about the problems they could experience as a result of playing.

In this century, FIFA has shown its blasé attitude towards women footballers by making them play on artificial turf for all their World Cup games, despite the face that no one would dream of making male players do the same. As US footballer Megan Rapinoe has argued:

FIFA made a $338m profit on the 2014 Men’s World Cup. To say that it’s not logistically possible to install real grass at all the stadiums is not acceptable.

There is no doubt that this will have an impact on the the games played, which could play into pre-established prejudices against the quality of women’s football. How are women supposed to prove that they can play just as well as the men (if not better) if it’s literally not a level playing field?

Winnipeg stadium: not-so-hallowed turf.
Krazytea, CC BY-SA

Despite all this, members of the English women’s team certainly seems to be campaigning successfully to receive the attention they deserve. It’s also encouraging that the Canadian Soccer Association and Canada’s sports minister have already responded to the allegations made against FIFA and are making attempts to prevent this news negatively affecting the Women’s World Cup. Indeed, Canada is a world leader in the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality.

Women’s football is still an arena that highlights women’s quest for equality. As the UN says, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights”. That applies as much on the football field as is does anywhere else.

Once again, women are forced to achieve against adversity to prove to the world that they can achieve success no matter what barriers – be they artificial turf, a breaking news story about corruption, lack of investment or negative public perception – are imposed on them.

The Conversation

Helen Owton is Lecturer in Sport & Fitness at The Open University.

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

Tackling Homophobia in Sport

By Helen Owton

* This article words content that some might find offensive

Homophobia in sport is a hot topic in the media with high profile sports stars, such as Gareth Thomas and Casey Stone speaking openly about their experiences of ‘coming out’ and the implications of the 2018 World Cup being hosted in (anti-gay) Russia. In many sports, it as an arena for promoting heterosexual masculinitywhich can result in the reproduction of homophobia in sport for both women and men. Despite this, 2014 proved a better year for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) sportspeople in the US with 109 athletes, coaches, officials and administrators ‘coming out’ (Outsports, 2015). In the UK, the picture is slightly quieter, particularly for gay men in sport. Stonewall estimate around 5-7% of the UK population are gay which one would assume would be reflected in sport but active players at a highly competitive level are reluctant to ‘come out’, especially in team sports (such as rugby, football, basketball, cricket). This is hardly surprising when homophobia is still so prevalent in sport.

The recent Out on the Field survey found that 60% of 10 gay men and 50% of lesbians have been subjected to homophobia in sport and there appear to be attempts being made to address this issue now (e.g. Not only are athletes at risk, 85% believed that openly gay spectators would not be safe in the stands at a sporting event in the UK (Out on the Fields survey, 2015) which is hardly surprising in light of the homophobic taunts made by West Brom fans in the West Midlands.

The field is not easy for women either. In 1981, at the peak of her tennis career, Martina Navratilova paved the way for gay female athletes by coming out and has continued her fight for equal rights. Despite Navratilova’s bold move over 30 years ago there are few actively ‘out’ lesbians in the UK. Indeed, Casey Stone (England and Arsenal footballer) thought that ‘coming out’ last year would end her career and it may be fear such as this which prevents others from doing so.

When an individual feels unaccepted and alienated from society, this is when problems can occur. For example, gay athletes may hide their identity and feelings when they play sport and some men may act out extra aggressive behavior so that they will not be seen as gay. As Nigel Owen (Welsh rugby union referee) said, “Once I came out and rugby had accepted me, my performances got better and better. I wouldn’t be able to referee as well as I can now if I was still worried about people finding out about who I am.”

It seems that the negative use of the word ‘gay’ is one of the most hurtful ways of reinforcing homophobia. Marcus Urban (East German International Footballer who retired from football early to live openly as a gay man) told CNN that ‘constantly hearing “gay” used as a curse word like “shit” made me think, “Of course, I’m shit.” This type of bullying often starts in childhood suggesting that this is where we need to re-educate society. For example, Stonewall (2013) report that nine in ten secondary and two in five primary school teachers say young people, regardless of their sexual orientation, experience homophobic bullying, name-calling or harassment. Homophobic bulling impacts on pupil’s school attendance, attainment and future prospects (Stonewall, 2013) which also has an impact on their participation in school sports.

Changes in policy can have positive effects, for example, gay marriage may bring more stability and happiness to gay couples and encourage a change in perceptions to acceptance in society. The most recent policy change was in Ireland who became the first country to legalise gay marriage by public vote last week (22/05/15). The gay vote in Ireland received two-thirds in favour of gay marriage which is reassuring, but the very fact that we had to have a referendum at all is shocking. Credit goes to various sports stars, such as Valerie Mulcahy (Cork footballer), Donal Óg Cusack (Irish hurler and Chairman of the Gaelic Players Association), Nikki Symmons (Irish hockey player) and Shane Horgan (former Irish rugby player) who have gone public on their sexuality to inspire and help others.

So where does this leave us moving forward with various sporting events coming up in 2015 and 2016 (e.g. FIFA Women’s World Cup and Rio Olympics). Sport is still the final closet for active LGBT sportspeople in society which is why it is so important for other sportspeople (e.g. James Haskell) to unite and actively tackle homophobia in sport. Whilst it is also important for athletes to come out, it should not be their sole responsibility either; ‘It’s the people in the stadium who can make the difference.’ (Nigel Owens)

The Big Fight!: Sports stardom vs. domestic violence and a question of moral character

By Helen Owton

* The following blog includes material of a sensitive nature and may not be suitable for all readers

Despite my interest in boxing as both a spectator and a participant and the typical pre-fight hype dominating the media I made a conscious decision not to watch the Mayweather v Pacquiao contest. I was disappointed that a sportsperson lacking in such moral character was able to receive such exposure and all I thought about was what it must be like for Mayweather’s victims of domestic violence (DV) to watch him receive so much media attention and admiration. Unlike some reporters, I was not banned from watching it; mine was a defiant choice. Mayweather served 2 months of a 3 month sentence when he pleaded guilty for 2 cases of DV, so the question remains after such a conviction as to why he was allowed to come back to the sport and compete on the world stage. Whilst Mayweather is undoubtedly a skilled fighter and a talented sports person, is it fair that this ability supersedes the welfare of his victims and allows him to remain a sporting hero in the public eye and a role model?

So often though, the victim’s perspective does not get considered so it’s important to understand the consequences of domestic violence and to recognise its severity. Victims of domestic violence can experience significant and prolonged psychological trauma (PTSD) and severe stress-related symptoms even years after the abuse.1 Much research1-7 has reported the psychological consequences of abused victims (depression, suicidal ideation, posttraumatic stress disorder, and alcohol and drug abuse). Furthermore, victims of DV have higher levels of health problems (gynecological, chronic stress related, central nervous system) with symptoms including abdominal, pelvic, back pain, appetite loss, urinary tract infections, vaginal bleeding, infections, painful intercourse, and digestive problems.8 Considering these traumatic symptoms I can only imagine the lengths these women would go to in order to avoid the hype surrounding this fight so as not to trigger any further trauma and stress. With boxing promoting at its best this would have been an immensely difficult task. However, Josie Harris had the courage to speak out about her experience which reinforces the need for everyone in the community to speak out and recognise the severity of DV because it affects so many people around them; it must have taken incredible strength for her to talk about it. To be honest, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more dialogue about this issue.

This is not the first case to question whether certain sportspeople should deserve the privileged position of ‘sports star’ following convictions involving violence against women. Most recently, in the UK, was the case of footballer Ched Evans in 2014 as to whether he should have been allowed to return to Sheffield United to train after being convicted of rape and serving 2 years of a 5 year sentence; after much deliberation he was not allowed back. This might have something to do with Evans remaining on the Violent and Sex Offender Register indefinitely which could be why he’s trying to prove his innocence now. As Charlie Webster stated in her interview, after she resigned from Sheffield United as Patron, “Rape is not a trivial subject”, and should be taken very seriously, particularly given the psychological and physical consequences of these crimes. Her argument was that whilst she believes in rehabilitation, she does not believe that it is right to put him back into exactly the same very privileged position where young boys and girls look up to footballers like David Beckham; all well-known sportspeople have that responsibility, including Floyd Mayweather.

What sort of messages do we give the younger generation or indeed any generation, if we allow people who have been physically (emotionally and/or sexually) abusive to continue to compete and be positioned on a godly pedestal where they continue to hold power and be glorified? A role model is “a person whose behaviour, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by young people” so a sportsperson cannot be judged only on their sporting success because young people who choose their role models judge them on their moral character as well. Any abuse is too much abuse and for any victims of abuse it is the responsibility of those in power to safeguard them from the exposure of re-traumatisation and flashbacks. It is hard enough for the victims to process what has happened to them let alone shove their abuser in their face and expose them to others’ admiration and glorify their violent tendencies in an event that lead to much opportunity to trivialise domestic violence (e.g. twitter jokes about Mayweather and DV). The ethos of boxing involves an opportunity for redemption not an opportunity to exploit sexist power to their advantage and be worshiped for displaced aggression.

As a convicted rapist, Ched Evans wouldn’t be allowed to coach so why should he be allowed to play professional men’s football? As journalist Lucy Hunter Johnston stated, “A convicted rapist couldn’t be a teacher, doctor or police officer, for example”. So shouldn’t ‘sports star’ be among this list as well, given that ‘boys look up to footballers, not their Dads’ and the link between major football tournaments and an increase in domestic abuse.9  However, if some sport stars are uniting to support Violence Against Women campaign then this seems to be a valuable argument to include ‘sports star’ among this list to recognise that any violence against women is not tolerated in sport. Mayweather may have won his big fight but he’s no winner in the big fight against domestic violence.



  1. Ghani et al. (2014). Psychological Impacts on Victims of Domestic Violence: A Qualitative Approach. Australian Journal of Basic & Applied Sciences, 8(20), 5-10. Available:
  2. Dorahy, M.J., Lewis, C.A. and Wolfe, F. (2007). Psychological distress associated with domestic violence in Northern Ireland. Current Psychology, 25(4), 295-305
  3. Kelly, E. (1988). Surviving Sexual Violence. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  4. Levendosky, A.A., and Graham-Bermann, S.A. (2001). Parenting in battered women: The effects of domestic violence on women and their children. Journal of Family Violence, 16(2): 171-192
  5. Phillips. K.E., Rosen, G.M., Zoellner, L.A. and Feeny, N.C. (2006). A cross-cultural assessment of posttrauma reactions among Malaysian and US women reporting partner abuse. Journal of Family Violence, 21, 259-262
  6. Pilar Matud, M. (2005). The psychological impact of domestic violence on Spanish women. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35(11), 2310-2322
  7. Rodgers, S. (1996). ‘Guilty knowledge: The Sports Consultant’s Perspective’. Paper presented at Workshop on Guilty Knowledge, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education.
  8. Campbell, J., Jones, A.S., Dienemann, J., Kub, J., Schollenberger, J., Campo, P.O., Gielen, A.C., and Wynne, C. (2002). Intimate partner violence and physical health consequences. Archives of Internal Medicine, 162(10), 1157-1163.
  9. Kirby, S., Francis, B., & O’Flaherty, R. (2013). Can the FIFA World Cup Football (Soccer) Tournament be associated with an increase in domestic abuse? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 00(0), 1-18. Available:

It’s all about women: an all-female line up on The Clare Balding show

By Helen Owton

As a woman boxer who spends most of my training time in male dominated boxing gyms, gender equality is on the forefront of my mind and particularly so when I sit down to watch a TV program, despite David Bunker’s (BBC’s head of audience research) assertion that it is not. So when the all-female line up on The Clare Balding Show was aired on 8th May 2015 it was liberating and a joy to watch; a reprieve from the typically male dominated distribution of sports guests. Previously to this all-female episode, gender was not distributed equally on the show with just 28% of guests being female and an overriding 72% of guests being male. This was a disheartening statistic given Clare Balding’s historical efforts to raise the profile of women’s sports and a trailblazer as her time as a jockey.

Nonetheless, we have seen a shift to a more gender equal focus on sportswomen in some of the episodes including Charlotte Edwards (CBE, England Cricket Captain and the only woman cricketer to score 2000 runs in T20 Internationals), Anna Watkins (MBE, Olympic rowing gold and bronze medallist, 2 x World Champion), Victoria Pendleton (CBE, Track cyclist, GB’s most successful female Olympian with 2 x Olympic Gold and 1 x silver medals, 9 x World Champion, 2 x European Champion, Commonwealth Games Gold medallist), Charlotte Dujardin (OBE, Dressage Olympic 2 x gold medallist, 2 x World Champion, 3 x European Champion, 2 x World Cup Champion), Martina Navratilova (greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived and human rights campaigner), Judy Murray (Scottish tennis coach, captain of British Fed Cup Team), Toni Duggan (England women’s footballer, Manchester City player), Eniola Aluko (England women’s footballer, Chelsea player) and Susie Wolff (British racing driver, first woman to compete in a Formula One race in 2014 and ambassador for women in sport). Phew, quite an impressive list and not all their sporting achievements are listed here!

Whilst there appears to be a growing acceptance by men (and women) of female presenters (e.g. Sue Barker (MBE), Gabby Logan, Jacqui Oatley and Clare Balding (OBE)) who are respected in sports, there still needs to be more visibility given to women’s sports. Not only does there need to be a greater representation of sportswomen across the sector, but also greater acknowledgement of the prestige and high esteem associated with the achievements of sportswomen. It’s not just that women are appearing more on TV and receiving the much deserved limelight after all their worldly achievements and dedication in their sports, the discussions on TV are starting to open up dialogue about women’s under-valued position in leadership in sport as well. For example, in the last Clare Balding Show, Martina Navratilova commented on Andy Murray’s decision to collaborate with female tennis coach, Amelie Mauresmo, saying, “The ball doesn’t care whether it is a man or a woman coaching the player” (08/05/15). Andy Murray’s recent article shows how this decision has ‘opened his mind’. Let’s just hope this all-female line up was a sign of progression and not a ‘one off’ given next week’s all-male line up again. Women are clearly interested in viewing sportswomen’s achievements together with being represented equally and valued on TV – this show proves that. Although, we have still got a long way to go… next time this all-female line up deserves a whole hour!

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We currently have a vacancy for a full-time lecturer in Sport and Fitness (based in Milton Keynes) to join our growing and vibrant team of six staff involved in updating materials, overseeing teaching activities and active research that connects with our BSc (Hons) Sport, Fitness and Coaching.

If you have an excellent knowledge of sport and exercise science or sports studies, good experience of working in higher education and a strong research profile you can find out more about the post through the link below.

Lecturer in Sport and Fitness – Further information

Closing date: Monday 11th May 2015