This Girl Can returns, and rugby revolution

In a previous post, I introduced the incredibly successful and well-renowned This Girl Can campaign, which claims to have hugely increased the numbers of women involved with sport.

Some of my friends were scathing of the scheme, claiming it was at times patronising and failed to encourage genuinely equal footing in sport by focusing on rebuffing existing stereotypes. The argued that it ought to focus on creating a sense of genuine acceptance and intrinsic belonging. However, it clearly struck a chord with a number of people.

Its relaunch earlier this year had led to ongoing support and encouragement for many women of different backgrounds and parts of the country, as can be seen on their website. On there, you can read and view all manner of examples, stories, and events in which women are redefining sports in their community.TGC.png

With this relaunch, I was reminded of some adverts I saw on an underground train station platform a few years ago. These were encouraging women to participate in touch rugby, a sport in which the rules of rugby are roughly followed, but in smaller teams and with the majority of the physical contact removed. The main focus of the adverts was on the fun and social aspects of the game.

While I completely understand that physically demanding sports are not favoured by everyone, and there are people who simply couldn’t and wouldn’t want to play them, it seemed disappointingly focused on the softer values of the game, assuming women would primarily focus on these for their involvement rather than the fitness and challenge aspects.

Because of this, I decided to have a look at recent adverts for women’s rugby – not the touch variety, the full-contact, demanding variety in which women have been competing this month for the World Cup. My findings were very reassuring – some genuinely encouraging and at times very bold images, which treat women as the potential warriors and athletes that they are, in their own right:

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One step forwards, one step back

Keeping an eye on international news, it was heartening to see recently the IOC’s announcement that from Tokyo 2020, there will be mixed gender events in a number of events at the Olympic Games. This follows on from events in a handful of other sports, most prominently tennis, where mixed doubles are a regular part of major tournaments.

As is often the case with these mixed events, there are some issues still. The binary nature of gender continues to lie at the centre of their categorisation of the teams, excluding or complicating life for people with non-standard genders or born intersex. Some sports fans will query the importance of these events by comparison with existing, single-sex competitions.

Mixed runners
It would be good to encourage participation regardless of gender, and helps to normalise pursuing this career for women and girls. 

However, it is at least an acknowledgement by the Games’ governing body that opening up the sports to a more diverse and equal playing field is a positive move. Hopefully in promoting and encouraging these events we will see greater long-term normalisation of people competing in the same events on the basis of ability rather than being boxed into categories and segregated events.

Sadly, it seems the world of academia is lagging somewhat behind in normalising a more even society, after news that a university in Belgium sent out an unbelievably sexist statement to students set for graduation. These women were actively encouraged to wear dresses with ‘a nice revealing neckline’ as these were considered more aesthetically pleasing.

Much as I am quick to condemn and criticise the world of sports for being behind the times and outdated in its values, sometimes it surprises me in a positive way. The world of academia has many problems of its own in terms of gender balance and representation, but it doesn’t often produce shock stories such as this one, at least in the public sphere. It just goes to show how widely we must cast our efforts to combat everyday sexism.