The 2012 London Olympics will be the first time in history that women have been allowed to compete in every sport at the Games. Despite this milestone, all is not equal on a modern female Olympian’s trip to London.
If a female athlete overcomes all the inequalities in funding, resources, media and coaching and qualifies for the games, she will be lucky to get a seat on the flight to London which is as good as the men’s. This week, Fairfax reporter Sam Lane broke a story criticising decisions that forced the Australian women’s soccer and basketball teams to fly economy to London while their male counterparts flew business class. In both instances the women’s teams are ranked higher than the men’s.
Fairfax printing an article calling out anyone on sexism in sport is a little like Ricky Nixon giving Grant Hackett relationship advice. Fairfax’s unequal reporting of men’s and women’s sport is undeniably sexist and causes far more problems for women sports people across Australia than the Olympics flights incident. Nevertheless it is good that Lane broke this story and that commentators around the country are finally criticising one aspect of sexism in sport.
Basketball Australia quickly pointed out that the women’s basketball team has received more funding than the men in some Olympic years but nevertheless has ordered a review of its policies and seems genuinely keen to ensure that male and female Olympic teams are treated equitably.
But arriving in London female athletes are expected to take another back seat – in the Opening Ceremony behind a man carrying the Olympic flag. This has been the case in 18 of the last 21 Olympics but some athletes are calling for the ratio to be evened up. Natalie Cook, gold medallist and five-time Olympian announced in an interview about the Olympics this week that it was about time for a woman to carry the flag. The misogynists could control themselves no longer. Cook has been called a “whinger” by sports writer Todd Balym and according to Lindsay Gaze, father of former flag-bearer Andrew Gaze, Cook should definitely not be allowed to carry the flag now that she has spoken out. He told the Herald Sun, “I don’t think her characteristics or qualities are typical with those of the past.” Apparently pointing out sexism is not an Olympic quality. Father of the modern Olympics and critic of female participation in sport, Pierre de Coubertin, must be looking up from his grave and nodding with approval at Gaze’s comments.
The flag-bearing role in the opening ceremony is usually given to one of the athletes who has competed in the most Olympics. This has been used as a merit-based argument for giving the flag to another male athlete this year. Given that female athletes are often at child-bearing age, their Olympics careers have a tendency to be derailed. This, plus the many other barriers facing female athletes should mean that longevity in the Olympic team is not the only factor in the decision as to who carries the flag. There are many women who deserve to walk out the front of a group of super fit people carrying a symbol of colonisation and Aboriginal repression as much as the men.
No doubt that once the female athletes start competing they will be faced with a barrage of comments about their “hotness”, and be derogatorily called “girls” as opposed to “women”. Just another Olympics in the life of a female athlete.
Let the games begin.
First posted on the Socialist Alternative website.