Over 60s, under 16s

I recently umpired the county over-60s cricket team in a match against another county, at one of the finest village grounds in the home counties, its pedigree amply  demonstrated by the oak panelled lists of former captains, the excellent teas, and the presence of one of the former England cricket captains. I was advised to officiate one of these fixtures as it would be a good learning experience for me compared to the U13s, 15s and 17s games I’ve been doing a lot of recently. What I hadn’t anticipated was the marked social differences which accompanied the day’s play.

Cecil Wright
Some players carry on for an impressively long time – Cecil Wright (former West Indies international) is still playing at 82!

Given the distance involved and my preference for cycling, I was kindly offered a lift to the ground by two of the players, along with the scorer. These turned out to be affable and boisterous individuals, aside from the extremely quiet scorer who smiled at their jokes and rarely said a word. The other two spent much of the journey following a fairly standard, if upbeat, script of the sort of conversation I’ve learned to engage with and take an interest in with people where the only initial connection is a sport: mostly about the state of the roads and the cricket pitches of Cambridgeshire.

While these players were very jovial and confidently jokey, I hadn’t considered the casually sexist and offhand misogynistic language that my dad and uncles sometimes use when together at family gatherings, and hadn’t drawn links between the generation of that group of older blokes and this; at least not until we pulled into the ground.

When we were momentarily held up on the driveway by a reversing driver in a sports car, the initial comments of ‘what is she doing?’ carried the scent of everyday sexism without overt malice or objectification. When she then drove past us with an acknowledgement, however, the driver commented to me:

-Bet you’d like to share a car with her.

This was accompanied by some knowing looks. They fell short of elbow nudging and shouting ‘weeeyy’ as younger lads do, but it was the same culture, the same “boys club” of sexualisation and objectification which exists in any privileged “male” space.

My response – a simple ‘it is a very nice car’ – did at least achieve the purpose of closing the subject with a few slightly awkward looks and a quick change of subject. Not in your club, guys, and not a fan.

Once the players were all gathered, many of them with decades of playing against one another behind them, the important business (drinking and socialising) started. Lots of familiarity and friendly greetings ensued, though some of them were of this nature:

– Where’s your lady wife? Gone home to do some ironing, housework, cleaning?

Even in jest, this massively underlines the established and still prevalent prejudices and casual comments that women have to put up with on a daily basis. This article outlines it far better than I ever could. Those who argue that feminism is outdated in our modern, Western culture need only wander down and listen to our dads and uncles chat when they’re in one of their temples – the pub, the sports pitch or the men’s clubs.

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Governing bodies

One of the most disappointing experiences I have had in a sporting context was while attending a hockey coaching course aimed at new coaches looking to contribute to training sessions at clubs, schools and in the community. The course was held at a local village school which also serves as a ground for a major club in the area with a wide range of men’s, women’s and junior teams.

In preparation for the sessions, we were all asked to complete an online training question-and-answer activity. This was focused on child protection, inclusivity and accessibility to the sport, and outlined the FIH (hockey’s governing body)’s policies on these concerns. As you would hope from a modern governing body, these were emphatically positive and widely called for awareness and the greatest possible involvement of all enthusiastic people, regardless of gender, sex, social background, sexuality, race, etc.

Given this emphasis on fairness and inclusivity, it came as a big shock when, after a brief preamble and introduction to the course contents, the course leaders made several statements which seemed to immediately contradict these values.

The two organisers, both male-presenting, stated unironically to an audience largely comprising female-presenting prospective coaches that boys make better hockey players than girls. Their reasoning? Because ‘boys naturally like to run around outside and play with balls and sticks, while girls prefer to stay indoors and help out with house chores and cooking’.

Naturally, quite a few of us there present objected to these comments, and after discussing it afterwards, we submitted a complaint to the sport’s governing body as part of our feedback for the course. Unfortunately, we never received a response to this, and I have no way of knowing whether this was followed up.

For me this was representative of a common prejudice held by more traditional-minded individuals. Even when sports’ governing bodies enshrine equality and celebrate diversity in their codes and rules, there remain personal opinions which can affect the delivery of these messages, such as in this instance. Of course social factors do play a part in childhood development, but the assumption that these preferences stem from biological rather than societal expectations is a significant factor behind the massive disparity in sporting uptake and enjoyment between men and women.

Questions arising from this week: how can we combat individual prejudice when senior/authority figures in a sport express such unhelpful opinions? How do we encourage more girls and women to get involved in sport when faced with disparaging remarks?