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Friday, 25 November 2011

Old farts and sexy skirts

The former England cricketer Ed Smith has claimed that sport is a condensed form of life, and it has a lot to teach us about 'the game of real life'. I suppose he is arguing that sport is like a model village that we can look at and study from different angles without getting run over. And in some ways he is right.

In other respects, though, sport is very different from real life. And nowhere is this difference more pronounced than in that strange land called sports administration.Administrators are the people who attend meetings, make rules and punish wrong-doers. They run their sports because nobody else has the time and inclination to do so.

Will Carling
famously described the Rugby Football Union committee as "57 Old Farts", and was punished by losing his captaincy of the England team; a severity of punishment reserved for those who have unwisely and willfully stated the bleeding obvious. I have been told that things have changed a lot in recent years, but, now I think about it, my informant was a sports administrator. I have absolutely no doubt there are young, smart and forward-looking people, just as I have no doubt there are also ridiculous old farts smelling up the system.


One of the best-known examples of silly old men reveling the extent of their distance from normal, civilised life was Sett Blatter's suggestion a few years ago that women footballers wear sexier, tighter clothes: "Female players are pretty", he said. "Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball".

On another occasion, when asked about possible difficulties for gay people in Qatar
, hosts of the 2022 World Cup, Blatter's advise was that gay fans "should refrain from any sexual activities".

Now, this is not the opinion of a random old man in a park; Blatter was (and still is) the President of the world body for football.

Boxing, not surprisingly, has its own old farts. Women's boxing first appeared in the Olympic Games at a demonstration sport in 1902, and a mere hundred and ten years later it will return in London. It is well-known that many of the old-guard of boxing are still horrified by the very idea of girls hitting each other, but their influence is clearly waning as women are showing themselves to be equal to their male counterparts in skill, fitness and heart.

Losing the argument on the grounds of boxing, the old farts have recently tried another angle. The
AIBA, the world body for amateur boxing, which is ultimately responsible for the sport in the Olympics, has suggested that women boxers wear skirts to help them stand out from the men.

'Stand out from the men'? I think the AIBA is confusing elite athletes with Bangkok ladyboys. Why is it necessary for boxers to be obviously men or women? Surely the main criterion for their value is their boxing ability.

Or perhaps I am being naive. Some have suggested that the main motivation for this move is what we might call the 'Beach Volleyball Strategy'. In other words, the claim is that the AIBA wants to sex women's boxing up. This was, of course, Blatter's plan with football.

Is this marketing, 1950s style? Or are there more libidinous thoughts here? Frankly, I don't know. I do know that the suggestion is crass, and reveals a lack of confidence in women's boxing just as it is about to be properly launched into the world.

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