Sexism in Sport: 4 Instances When Female Athletes Were Wronged

The history of female athletes goes back to the 6th century BC, where the women in Ancient Greece stood up for themselves to organise their own event – the Heraean Games – alongside the Ancient Olympics for men, which was contested from 776 BC.

Pausanias was a Greek traveller who documented everything he discovered about Ancient Greece in his book, the ‘Description of Greece’. Going by the records from the Greek author, the equal participation of women in sporting events can be traced back to more than 25 centuries.

However, even as we gallop into the new-age world, female athletes continue to be treated with a pinch of sexism even today – at times blatant, at times not.

62 years after its inaugural edition, Norweigan Ada Hegerberg became the first female recipient of the coveted Ballon d’Or.

Also Read: Ballon d’Or’s First Female Winner Hegerberg Asked to Twerk by Host

Lyon FC striker Ada Hegerberg, who already has 284 goals to her name at the age of 23, scripted history by becoming the first female footballer to be awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or on Monday, 3 December.

However, an occasion as momentous as this was marred by an abhorrently sexist comment by host Martin Solveig, a French DJ, who asked Hegerberg if she could twerk on stage to celebrate her award.

It was yet another example of the discrimination and patronisation women face in the sports industry. Some continue to defend Solveig’s comments under the tag of ‘casual humour’, but what they fail to realize is that ‘casual’ sexism – at times – poses a greater threat to gender equity than its outright form.

Let us take a look at previous instances when international female athletes faced blatant sexism.

The Battle of the Sexes (1973)

Bobby Riggs (left), 55 and well into retirement, challenged the world’s top female tennis players in the 1970s.

In an attempt to garner fame and fortune, Bobby Riggs – a retired tennis player – challenged one of the world’s best female tennis players of the time, saying that women’s tennis was so inferior that none of the top players could beat him even at 55. He first challenged Billie-Jean King to a match against him, but after she declined the offer, he went up against Margaret Court and defeated her in straight sets.

King decided to take Riggs up on the offer thereafter, so as to stop the toxic wave of sexism that spread through his comments and victory. King, at 29, took on the former six-time Grand Slam champion, and in a display of ferociousness and resilience, clinched the contest in straight sets (6–4, 6–3, 6–3).

Mithali Raj, ICC Women’s World Cup 2017

At her first press conference ahead of the 2017 Women’s World Cup, Indian captain Mithali Raj was asked to name her favourite male cricketer.

Participating in a World Cup is something every aspiring cricketer dreams of. Donning that prestigious jersey, walking out on the field before thousands, representing your nation at one of the biggest sporting events in the world – it doesn’t get better than this.

However, when Mithali Raj addressed her very first press conference ahead of the 2017 Women’s World Cup, she was asked to name her favourite male cricketer.

In an angry – and justified – retort, the India ODI skipper said, “Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?”

Raj’s team went on to put up a fight which would silence all doubters of Indian women’s cricket, finishing runners-up at the tournament.

FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015

The entire 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, won by the USA, was played on artificial turfs in Canada.

Can you imagine France winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but on an artificial turf?

That’s exactly what happened with the participants of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, who were not even given the opportunities of competing on regular football surfaces. The entire tournament – hosted in Canada – was played on artificial turfs, which have more traction, thus leading to more injuries than grass turfs.

Speaking about the issue, American player Sydney Leroux said, “It is a gender equality issue. No chance men will ever play a World Cup on turf. I think the women are being treated as guinea pigs.”

Chloe Kim, Winter Olympics 2018

17-year-old Chloe Kim was subjected to derogatory comments on a radio station after her remarkable achievements at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Chloe Kim, at 17, became the youngest woman to win a medal in the women’s snowboard at the Winter Olympics earlier this year. However, her gold medal wasn’t enough to prevent a radio-host from ogling her on live radio.

Here is a conversation that unfolded on Barstool Radio, between former baseball player Dallas Braden, comedian Brody Stevens and host Patrick Connor – who was later fired by the media house.

Stevens: Me, personally, I’m on Twitter, I see Chloe Kim, I’m thinking Khloe Kardashian, Kim [Kardashian], I don’t want to deal with that. So I missed out on the whole Chloe Kim thing. But it’s a good story. She’s into it, a little kid – I’m inspired by it.

Braden: Chloe Kim, famous for riding a very different board than Kim Kardashian.

Connor: No doubt, and in fact just to keep it on that tip, her 18th birthday is April 23, and the countdown is on baby, ’cause I got my Wooderson going. That’s what I like about them high school girls.

Stevens: I love it P-Con, I’m right there with you.

Connor: She’s fine as hell! If she was 18, you wouldn’t be ashamed to say that she’s a little hot piece of a**. And she is. She is adorable. I’m a huge Chloe Kim fan.

As female athletes across the world continue to face sexism in this day and age, they must look out for inspiration from extraordinary figures like Hegerberg.

In her acceptance speech, the Lyon FC forward said, “I would like to end this speech with some words to young girls all over the world. Please, believe in yourself.”

(Rupin Kale is a freelance writer, who believes in the power and purity of sport. She is extremely passionate about sport and has learnt a lot about life by just following it through the years.)

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