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From The Socialist newspaper, 12 September 2012

Readers' comment

The shame of sexism in sport

Suzanne Beishon

The 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympic Games showed women's sport at its best. For Britain, there were stunning performances from Jess Ennis, Eleanor Summers and many others. A record 70,000 watched Team GB women's football team. For the first time female athletes from every nation present competed in the Olympics. The US's women medalists accounted for 63% of their massive total.

The USA 4x100m women's relay team smashed the 27 year old world record and Gabby Douglas ("I just made history and people focus on my hair?... You might as well just stop talking about it.") became a gymnastics double gold winner.

There was 16 year old Ye Shiwen's record-breaking double swimming gold win and the inclusion of women's boxing (after fighting off attempts to make them wear skirts to "differentiate themselves from the men"). However, the veneer of equality soon came unstuck when Japan's women's football team (ranked third in the world) flew into London economy class while the men's team, ranked 20th, arrived fresh out of business class.

With Team GB's first medal came scathing criticism from Lizzie Armistead who told her post-race interview: "The sexism I have encountered in my career can get quite overwhelming and very frustrating."

18 year old weightlifter Zoe Smith, who passed the British world record, took to her website after sexist comments on twitter followed the programme 'Girl Power: Going for Gold'.

Angrily she hit back: "We don't lift weights to look hot, especially for the likes of men like that. What makes them think that we even want them to find us attractive? Shall we stop weightlifting, amend our diet to get rid of our 'manly' muscles, and become housewives in the sheer hope that one day you will look favourably upon us and we might actually have a shot with you?!"

Even the Sun criticised NBC's slow-motion montage of female athletes jumping, sprinting and bouncing, with close-ups of their pants as 'porny'. The Metro in the US took Getty Images to task with their feature: "What if every Olympic sport was photographed like beach volleyball?"

Lack of sponsorship

40% of Team GB's medals were won by women. But were sponsors investing in women's sport, which over 60% say they would like to see more TV coverage of? The USA's best weightlifting medal hope ahead of the games had to live on $400 a month and donated groceries to support herself until, after a Think Progress petition, one sponsor took her on. A big gun like Adidas? No, a small web advertising company.

A dozen male rowers, some of whom didn't even qualify for the Olympics, were reportedly given BMW cars by dealers of the Olympic sponsor but none were given to the gold winning female rowers. 0.5% of sponsorship in the UK went to elite women's sports compared to 61% for men's with team sports cleaning up the rest.

As for TV coverage the women's world cup final was the planet's most tweeted event in 2011, but women's sport amounted to only 5% of all sport shown.

Sexism in sport is increasingly seen as unacceptable. No one criticised Lizzie Armistead's outspoken interview. When Fifa president Sepp Blatter was introduced for the women's football medal ceremony, virtually all the 80,203 crowd booed the hypocritical presence of the man who said in 2004 that women footballers should "wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts... to create a more female aesthetic" and attract more male fans.

Millions were inspired by the rise of women athletes, many of whom fought against a sports world that is built against their success. But we are unlikely to see the huge investment into women's sport needed to build on these athletes' achievements.

The government was under pressure to keep funding Olympic sports but has only guaranteed the same meagre 125 million until the next games. The same Con-Dem government has crippled schools sports programmes by slashing funding from 162 million to 65 million a year until 2013. And school sports facilities are still being sold off.

Rather than looking rosy after Britain's biggest medal haul since 1908, the future for not just women's sport, but sport as a whole in a set-up dominated by big business sponsors and capitalist cuts governments, looks bleak.

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In The Socialist 12 September 2012:


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