I originally wrote this article for the awesome ‘The Vagenda’ (http://vagendamag.blogspot.co.uk/) on 29th May 2012.
Unless you’ve been in a cave for the last seven or eight years you will probably have noticed the Olympic and Paralympic Games are coming to London this summer. I have to be honest, until recently, I loved everything about the Olympics (apart from Mendeville and Wenlock who are just plain menacing) and have defended its honour through thick and thin.
However, there is something that is beginning to make my blind faith wobble slightly. The Olympics is meant to be a celebration in sporting achievement of the world’s best athletes as they contend on a world stage for that gold medal. Yes the genders are separated in the Games themselves, as in general men are stronger than women. We can’t argue with that- it’s genetics. However, I can’t help feeling that the press have seen this divide and assumed it also applies to the athletes in their reporting of them. Whilst we hear tales of the male athletes’ intense training and battles against injuries/inner demons /team selectors to earn their place in the Games, the press seem to be presenting female athletes as though they’re writing their articles for some sort of girly glossy trash mag. While they do write about the women’s training and battles, it’s often accompanied by a leader that wouldn’t look out of place on the Daily Mail Online. To emphasise my point, here’s a snapshot of what Baby-boomer Bible, The Torygraph had to say on Friday about female athletes in the dedicated ‘London 2012’ section of their website.
First story : Ladies’ British Volleyball team wear skimpy outfits and distract traffic driving around Westminster (BREAKING NEWS)
The photo gallery piece depicts images of the Team GB beach volleyball crew standing in their ‘sports kit’ (undies) and playing volleyball in and around Westminster. But why, you may ask? At first the reason is not apparent, but then a photo caption explains it all:
‘Cheeky: the girls were in London promoting Transport for London’s Temporary Road Changes planning tool, released for the Games.’
Of course, how silly of me not to realise that athletes in tiny outfits are adverts for temporary road changes. Maybe they beat out the message in morse code on their washboard abs to alert the passing traffic, I don’t know. So if that is the case are we going to have the men’s volleyball team in their skimpies outside St Pauls tube to ‘highlight’ the TFL campaign about finding alternative ways of getting to work during the games? Why don’t we dot the men’s rowing team around Piccadilly in their skintight lycra kit to promote the fact delivery vans won’t be allowed into the capital easily during the games? Fuck it, why didn’t avid cyclist Boris Johnson do a thong-clad tour of the capital to promote the bike idea he stole from Ken?
Somehow I doubt this will catch on and instead this stunt felt like a very cheap way of grabbing press attention by objectifying women.
Second up : Jessica Ennis is Fat.
Yes, Jessica Ennis, you know, UK’s golden girl with the beautiful face, fantastic body and steely determination? Well she’s been told by UK Athletics body that she is ‘fat’. Now I really really hope that what they actually meant was that Ennis only looks 99.9% solid muscle and that they’re concerned that if she doesn’t make the 100% muscle mark she may cause herself injury. If that was the case, though, ‘unfit’ was probably going to be a better choice of words. But no, instead UK Athletics chose to go with ‘fat’, causing every newspaper in the country to bound off with the story, filling our headlines with images of a honed and toned athlete being branded as overweight. (In case people do not know what Ennis looks like I have included a picture at the top for you to make your own rational decision as to her weight).
This media storm generates a whole world of pain for any charity, family or doctor either dealing with a young person with an eating disorder or trying to promote a positive body image. By filling the headlines of the national press with images of an athlete next to the word FAT, how is any victim of an eating disorder going to ever get well again? Only a few days ago promising young triathlete Hollie Avil admitted that a large factor of her early retirement from the sport was down to suffering eating disorders following the snide comments made by competitors’ coaches. Yet instead of supporting her, the press seem to only be adding fuel to the already dangerous fire.
‘Fat’ is a malicious word, a slur. It is often used against women to control and undermine them (although, of course, it obviously affects men too). Until now, Ennis had been up on the UK’s pedestal, adored for her talents and ability. Suddenly one bitchy and catty comment has resulted in everything becoming about how she looks and not what she’s achieved, something I doubt has ever happened to her male counterparts.
And finally: Being a virgin is harder than training for the Olympics.
This is the story of American world indoor hurdling champion Lolo Jones, who has admitted that she does not believe in pre-marital sex and that, at 29, she is now finding being a virgin far more strenuous than training for her 100m hurdles. Great, good for her for having her morals and sticking to them, and all that. I can’t help noticing, though, that there aren’t any similar stories publically discussing any male athlete’s view on sex outside of marriage, or even their general views on anything that isn’t based in or around the track/field/pool/court/velodrome/arena. Once again the UK press seem to have forgotten they’re sports journalists and instead are obviously living out some secret deep set ambition to write for Hello! magazine’s celeb lifestyle pages.
I’ve shouted down all those who have complained about the impending crush on the tube come the 27th July, chided anyone who has debated the upcoming complete fail of Transport for London to prepare adequately for those-sport filled weeks, and have tutted at any comment on the vast amount of money spent making London Olympic standard. Money which could have gone on, you know, improving our education system or clawing us out of the recession. I’ve even tried to find artistic credibility in the 2012 logo and refused to see it as Lisa Simpson performing a sexual act as we’ve beamed the image out across the world, but Olympics, if your journalists don’t start bucking up their ideas you are going to lose my love forever.