MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Shamefully, sexism in sport is alive and well

Not a good week for fully developed human beings interested in sport?

Depressing exhibition A: the devastating YouTube video posted by sports journalists Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro, in which they get random men to read out some of the messages they get from men.

Vile messages, that is.

A random selection? ‘I hope you get raped again’. ‘I hope a hockey player beats you to death’. ‘I hope your boyfriend beats you’.

Not that random, admittedly.

Some of the tweets that were read out don’t have any place in a family newspaper that gets passed around the table at breakfast time, though clearly some people feel they have a rightful place anywhere a person with a smartphone or internet access can read them.

The men in the clip reading out those messages aren’t the actual men who wrote them, and they’re clearly abashed by the assignment, as you’d expect, or hope.

The messages in question raise a spread of questions, including the culpability of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook in enabling this kind of abuse while also maintaining an arm’s-length distance from it.

But it also begs the more specific question: why are men so hostile to women in sport?

What specific trigger is set off by women’s involvement in sport at any level — participation, commentary, reporting, even presence?

With that in mind consider depressing exhibit B: the departure of top coach Shane Sutton from British Cycling after allegations of verbal abuse ranging from telling cyclist Jess Varnish to ‘go and have a baby’ to derogatory comments about paracyclists, one of whom said: ‘The term used to refer to us was generally ‘gimps’, with another word in front of that.’

In fairness to Sutton, other cyclists have spoken out in support of him, with the likes of Chris Hoy having praised his approach, though for every name in the pro column there seems to be another high-profile rider, like Victoria Pendleton, speaking out against a hostile working environment which existed in the organisation.

To this observer, though, this notion of a toxic culture within an elite sports body appears to be on a continuum with the abusive tweeters.

The hostility towards women seems so ingrained that it makes little difference whether one is a mouth-breathing keyboard warrior or a hard-driving High Performance coach whose day job is, after all, to facilitate and improve women and men alike.

Both sides of the coin, participants and observers, appear to facilitate each other’s misogyny; it’s an

unfortunate truth that there is hardly a mass-participation male sport which doesn’t have some episode which reinforces this assertion, and it’s even more unfortunate — though there are harder terms — that embarrassing faux pas are on the mild end of the spectrum compared to some of the horror shows associated with a few popular male sports.

If you take any pleasure in sports at all it’s embarrassing. Too many men see sport as the last refuge of the immature, the only place they can unburden themselves of views they can excuse with the preface, ‘this is probably not PC but . ..’

I was going to preface that last sentence with ‘unfortunately’, but that word isn’t going to cut it.

‘Shamefully’ would be more accurate, and even that doesn’t have quite the power you’d like.

Regrading could be backfire on burnout

Following Saturday’s All-Ireland U21 football final I see people are lamenting changes to that grade on the basis of the quality of the entertainment on view.

This seems a dubious enough basis for a decision — you agree with the changes, then, if the particular match is boring? — but Cork U21 manager Sean Hayes made more sense in last Saturday’s newspaper than many observers with some objective points about snipping a year off the U21 grade: “Parents don’t want their kids playing extra ball when they’re doing the Leaving Cert. 

“And a lot more kids are doing the Leaving Cert at 19 now because of the Transition Year. We lost a few players this year because of the Leaving Cert. . . And you also have the problem of guys in college for their first year, who tend to go for the J1.”

It’s ironic a move which was intended to counter burn-out on the training field may end up increasing pressure on players off the field.

Bravo to families who never gave up

You probably clocked the development last week regarding Hillsborough and Liverpool, specifically the inquest finding that the 96 supporters who died in that stadium back in 1989 were killed unlawfully.

To my shame, over the years I haven’t paid that much attention to this long-running saga, and catching up in recent days has been a sobering experience.

The bravery and commitment of the families involved must be saluted, just as the horrific lies and inadequacies of those responsible for the deaths must also be registered.

It was heartbreaking to see the family members outside the court during the week and to track their faces now to what they probably looked like 27 years ago, when they lost their loved ones; one-quarter of a century takes a toll anyway, but what these people endured surely added to their burden. 

Their testimony — much of it relayed by David Conn of The Guardian — made for reading that was truly harrowing (‘adj. distress, trouble, afflict, grieve, torment, etc.’).

The children still waiting for fathers to come home, the man who lost his two daughters; here’s one reader who couldn’t make his way to the end of many of those stories.

They were all remembered in a memorable ceremony in the city of Liverpool last Wednesday.

I don’t know about you, but when the man who managed the club back in 1989 read ‘Footprints’ to the crowd, you didn’t have to be a Liverpool supporter to be moved.

Bravo, Kenny Dalglish. 

Bravo, the families who never gave up.

The dark side of Leicester fairytale

I was chatting to someone in the office the other day and one or both of us said we’d like to see Leicester City win the Premier League; I can’t speak for my colleague but a small, ignoble part of me (small? — everyone) wants to hear the experts in this area explain away Leicester’s race to glory by retrofitting their views from last autumn.

I wasn’t aware until later last week, though, that one of Leicester’s key men, Danny Simpson, narrowly avoided a six-month custodial jail sentence for assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Last year a British court heard police found Simpson straddling his ex-girlfriend on the floor of her house, both hands around her throat. 

He got 300 hours community service.


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