Action Replay – Abuse of position

It started with a kiss, when in August last year the head of the Spanish FA kissed one of the players, Jenni Hermoso, on the lips at the award ceremony for the Women’s World Cup. This led to a great many protests, with the president (who has been the subject of other complaints) being forced to resign, being banned from football activities for three years and then being charged in a court. Except of course that it didn’t start there at all, as women athletes have frequently been subject to discrimination and sexual harassment.

Many women coaches in football, for instance, have encountered prejudice of various kinds, including verbal and physical assaults, and even being completely ignored by the male coach of the opposing team at a match. Only about one professional coach in ten in UK sport is a woman.

Swimming is an area that is particularly problematic. From girl swimmers who have problems with periods during a training session to those who just don’t want to appear in a swimming costume in front of the whole school, young female swimmers can encounter all sorts of difficulties. The appearance of women swimmers can lead to body shaming if they have big shoulders. Last year two Italian TV presenters made sexist remarks at an aquatic championship, describing a Dutch woman diver as ‘big’, adding, ‘They’re all equally tall in bed’.

Women who are swimming just for fun and exercise often encounter sexist behaviour too: being followed into the showers, having their bottom pinched or being leered at from the public gallery, and men swimming slowly in front of them or taking up excessive space,

Prejudice in sport doesn’t just affect women, of course, as male swimmers can also be subjected to remarks about them gaining weight. In football there was an appalling scandal involving sexual abuse by coaches and scouts of young male players, starting in the 1970s. The true scale of this only emerged from 2016, with fourteen men being convicted. However, it does seem to apply to women more often, and girl gymnasts have been starved and body-shamed by coaches, with the ostensible aim of improving their performance, and very many have described physically abusive behaviour,

It’s not just in sport: in education, entertainment, business and so on, people in authority can harass and even abuse those they have power over. All in a society based on hierarchy, with pervasive sexism.


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