Let’s just talk about the game for once

When did commentary change from analysis of sport to analysis of women? And why are we so quick to scrutinise the female athletic body, yet so happy to commend the dedication of men? Hera Mag‘s Alana Meaney reckons it’s time to cut the crap and get back to discussing the important stuff: sport.

You can be more muscular than your partner and one hundred per cent a woman, too. You can have the inverted pyramid of a swimmer’s build, or the slender form of a marathon runner.  You can have the arm span of a professional basketball player, or the petite frame of a gymnast. I am no referee, so ladies, why should I be your judge?

I beg the question when it was that we stopped valuing the dedication of female athletes to their field, and became so obsessed with what is external and irrelevant. Their clothing, their body shape, their hair, their relationships. I’m talking about female athletes not the Kardashians, so when did these things become so important?

The sad truth, however, when looking at female athletes, is that we could never stop valuing their dedication, if we never valued these remarkable women’s efforts in the first place.

Sport, whether at a professional level, or in the playground, has always had too male an image. Sport was not something that women watched, let alone participated, let alone became professionals or world champions in. It was not part of their domain, all of that bravado, the egos and the testosterone. The chanting, the biffs and the guzzling of beers. None of this is what we equate with femininity, but for some abstract reason we equate it with sport.

Image 2I tell you though, that is not what sport is and the idea that it is like this is so damaging to female athletes who are at the receiving end of sexist commentary, rather than sports commentary.

Earlier this year, Canadian tennis megastar Eugenie Bouchard (left) refused a request from Australian tennis commentator, Ian Cohen, to “give us a twirl” – and understandably so. The notion that we are more interested in discussing the outfits sported by each of the female opponents in the post-match interview rather than the game itself is a disgrace. Besides, would Rafa or Federer ever be expected to answer to such questions?

But it’s comments like these that are all too common when it comes to the coverage of women’s sport. The scrutinizing garbage that comes out of the mouths of commentators and qualifies as air space is what we expect, and even worse what we accept.

In 2013, esteemed British tennis commentator, John Inverdale, said that Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli (below, right) was “never going to be a looker”. I was foolishly under the impression that Wimbledon was a tennis championship and that John Inverdale was a sports commentator, not a member of the judging panel for Miss Universe.Image 3

Studies of Olympic games coverage showed that athletes are spoken about differently dependent upon gender, and there is a tendency for luck and chance to be mentioned when female athletes succeed. This is in contrast to the focus on ability, skill and commitment that are noted when male athletes succeed.

For some absurd reason, we find it hard to applaud the female athletic form. Perhaps it comes down to the fact that the athletic build does not exemplify a traditional female physical ideal. Perhaps it is because we equate muscularity with power and dominance and we have always been led to believe that women are not powerful, nor should they be dominant. Perhaps it is threatening within a male dominated society to watch female athletes at their physical prime with the ability to out run, out jump or out play any of their male spectators.

But you see, the athletic body – in whatever shape it takes – serves a purpose. It is a tool, and it is the physical representation of an athlete’s dedication to their sport. This is the very reason why I argue the athletic female body, in all of its forms, should be celebrated and not condemned.

Because it is simply not fair that we are so quick to participate in the wins our female athletes give to our country. We claim these prodigies as our own, but later criticise the very vehicle that made these wins achievable, which is the body. So, let’s start to applaud the women behind the bodies, and the bodies that serve a purpose.

The disproportionate level of female to male sports coverage is yet another reminder of the fact that female sport is considered to be of little value to society. But, we can only hope that an increase to the coverage of female sport will also result in an increase to the quality of the commentary that airs. I want to be able to watch women in sport and hear about women in sport without having to drown out sexist commentary. If I was interested in what these women wore, I would buy Vogue.

Image credits: Twitter, flickr.com/creativecommons

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