Monday, July 30, 2012

Women's Beach Volleyball should be compulsory viewing

Two days into the Olympics and I'm loving it as much if not more than usual. Saturday was a really busy day for me - a demo, a meeting and an underage driving lesson for Anna - so I only managed to settle down for the swimming finals in the evening.

Yesterday, however, was a veritable cornucopia of sport. Along with the normal F1 (and the less said about the winner of that race the better), I watched Lizzie Armitstead win a thrilling silver in the pouring rain in the women's cycling road race. Then there was dressage. There is something very therapeutic about that and I marvel at the relationship between horse and rider that allows such fine, detailed movements. Then there was a little bit of Archery. Who knew that could be so exciting? In the evening there were the swimming finals - Ellen Gandy's excellent 5th place, Becky Adlington's fantastic against-the-odds bronze medal and France making Europe proud by beating hot favourites USA and Australia in the 4 x 100 men's freestyle relay. I'm such a soppy git and was in tears as Gandy walked out to take her place for the final. These next two weeks are going to make me cry, a lot, I can tell.

The event that had me really jumping up and down and screaming, though, was a thrilling beach volleyball match between British women Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin. Their Canadian opponents won the first set and looked on course to win the second and therefore the match until a gusty fightback from the British pair led to a deciding third set. This was eventually won by a pretty narrow margin by the British pair after some excellent and determined play.

It was really strange seeing the heart of Establishment London, Horse Guards Parade, the scene of the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony transformed into a sandy beach for what's seen as quite a frivolous sport. By the way, I challenge anyone who thinks it's frivolous to actually try playing it and see how far they get. Everyone who works in the Scotland Office will get a fantastic view of proceedings.

However, the different dress codes for male and female players have annoyed the hell out of me. Men get to play wearing a t-shirt and baggy shorts and are a lot more dressed than they would be on a real beach. Spectators might be forgiven for thinking, though, that there must be some rule specifying that women's outfits must cover no more than 2% of their bodies which is a cue for a significant part of the country to ogle. The bikini bottoms don't leave a huge amount to the imagination, and close ups on the backside are required from the cameramen who want to make sure we have a view of the signals team mates give to each other behind their backs to indicate tactics. 

The Leer Factor in this sport is significant, in real life as well as on social networks. These women were being ogled by, to be honest, most of the country. Is this typical objectification of women? Probably. It has a saving grace, though. These women are a fantastic example of what the female body in prime condition should look like. There is no place for the emaciated lollipop with silicon-enhanced boobs which provides the unattainable standard for girls today, a standard which, if they can't reach, drives many to desperation and depression.

If these Games lead to this generation choosing sportspeople as role models, that won't be a bad thing. They eat healthily, keep themselves in excellent physical condition, work incredibly hard and show unfashionable discipline and self control. It was quite funny to see ex footballer Gary Lineker be told in no uncertain terms by Lizzie Armitstead that, no, she wouldn't be having a massive party to celebrate her silver medal because she has an event midweek (the time trial) to prepare for. 

I still have issues with the Leer Factor and the double standards in dress for men and women, but, you know what, if these Games lead to men and women taking note of what healthy female bodies look like, then it might not all be bad. Maybe we should make women's beach volleyball compulsory as well as compulsive viewing. 

One thing is for sure - with the excellent performance of our female competitors in the opening weekend, there will be no excuse for an all male BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist again. 

The achievements of Team GB's female athletes are being celebrated by the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation by way of their Go Girl campaign. WSFF CEO Sue Tibballs said:
The London 2012 Games is a great opportunity to celebrate our female athletes – and to be inspired to get active. This is a celebration so we want our supporters to have fun. But there is an important point to be made. Female role models are essential to inspire young girls to be more active, particularly in a culture that tells them that it is more important to be thin than fit.
With only one in ten teenage girls and one in five adult women currently doing enough physical activity to maintain their health, we are launching Go Girl as a celebration not just of our elite athletes but of the idea of creating a nation of active, healthy and sporty women.
They have a Facebook page that you can like here and you can follow them on Twitter here. Hat tip, by the way to The F Word.

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