Sunday, 9 July 2017

Equity and Body Image in Sport

This article was prompted by a story brought to my attention about the USA Women’s Ice Hockey Team, but more on them later.

Our sports personalities are often accused of being one or more of, selfish, self-centred, arrogant, over paid, indulgent, petulant and even over sexed.

In reality, anyone who achieves at a very high level will have needed to be selfish and self-centred to some degree, be they sportspeople, high business achievers, artists, politicians or writers.

The accusation of selfishness is often also linked to pay and contract negotiations summarised at times as “all for me, stuff the rest”.

And then there is gender selfishness. Historically, in sports played by both Men and Women, the later almost always appear to be the second-rate citizen. Women are often subjected to more scrutiny about appearance than their skills with many confessing to body image concerns. It must be daunting for a young woman to present on the pool deck before a race, in front of packed grandstands and a worldwide TV audiences, dressed in a 2 millimetre thick skin suit, let alone deal with comments about their weight. I cannot recall a male swimmers body shape being questioned at an Olympic Games.

There have been several recent examples where solidarity of all players over terms and conditions, including in some cases for both Men and Women has held firm and Administrators have struggled to deal with the lack of selfishness. They usually rely on divide and conquer but it is not working this time.

Australian Rules Football launched the Women’s AFL competition to much fanfare. All players were signed to contracts however when the success of the competition looked assured, the contracts seemed incredibly inadequate.

A number of high profile male players including Geelong Captain Joel Selwood, publicly supported better renuneration for Women. In addition, the recently signed agreement between the AFL and the Players Association included specific income and conditions requirements for the Women’s AFL. The Men could have taken all the spoils however they didn’t, insisting a degree of equity for all.

Cricket Australia is struggling to deal with the Australian Cricketers Association in striking a new agreement with players. Since 1 July, all Australian Professional Players are out of contract and are free agents.

The highest profile Men players would receive considerable income hikes under the proposal put forward by Cricket Australia. If they took the approach “it is only about me”, they would have signed new contracts and booked armoured vehicles to take their extra cash to the bank.

Instead, they are leading the charge to ensure fair and sustainable incomes for all players from first year base contracts through to Women’s Cricket and the upper echelon. They also want to ensure a set level of revenue is allocated to junior cricket development. The Administrators do not want this and the CEO will not even meet with the Players Association.

The players are not exactly cricket’s assets, but without the best players, there is little of value.

Let’s see how this plays out as the lure of the most prized contest, ‘the jewel in the crown’ that is Australia v England looms later this year. Will the players hold firm? Let’s hope so.

One group that did hold firm are the USA Women’s Ice Hockey Team.

Fed up with their pay and conditions, they united saying they would not compete in their World Championships, the biggest event for their sport. They put their ‘jewel in the crown’ on the line.

They were seeking equity with the Men’s Team. The Administrators attempted to bypass the senior players, offering team places to younger players but they refused, instead trusting the process and believing in the merits of the stand being taken.

They achieved a fair and equitable deal and put the biggest event on the table to do so. Their courage is to be admired something for which the next generations of players will be forever thankful.

And they won the World Championship.

The full story of this outstanding group of women athletes is here. I urge you to scroll down past the pictures and read about the positive example these athletes are providing to all sports people including about body image, loyalty and success.

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