Recently, organizers of the professional cycling event the Tour Down Under made the decision to eliminate “podium girls” and replace them with male junior riders on the men’s tour, thereby breaking from the tradition of other major professional cycling events like the Tour De France, Vuelta a Espana and Giro D’Italia. Podium girls are a highly visible component of the awards ceremony at the conclusion of bike races. The women are often impeccably dressed in matching outfits while presenting winners with prizes, flowers and kisses on the cheek. The role of podium girls and, in some instances, podium boys provides a snapshot of the ways in which traditional gender norms are reinforced in sport.
Six months ago, the world watched on in wonder as the 2016 Olympic Games opened with a colourful ceremony in Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracanã stadium. Just over two weeks of heart-stopping drama, superhuman performances, incredible feats of power and precision and one lying swimmer later, it was all over. Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, closed the Rio 2016 Olympic Games claiming that “history will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games”.
As NFL fans gear up for Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons, some fans are apt to feel more included in the broadcast than others. Advertisers, as critics have long noted, tend to assume that American football fans are straight men. Many long-awaited and expensive Super Bowl ads tend to be, well, pretty sexist. While the most egregious examples of sexism in Super Bowl broadcasts and advertisements seem to be decreasing as the NFL tries to acknowledge the presence of women fans (at minimum as a new marketing demographic), many women continue to feel left out of the Super Bowl spectacle.
Each year, universities in the United States spend millions of dollars and college football coaches invest countless hours in an effort to lure top players to their schools. The recruiting process culminates with “National Signing Day,” on which high school seniors are officially able to sign National Letters of Intent that bind them to attend a particular university. As National Signing Day 2017 approaches this Wednesday (Feb. 1), millions of people will visit recruiting websites, such as rivals.com and scout.com, to follow who signs with which school. College football fans will alternately experience joy when a top prospect commits to their favorite team and devastation when a recruit goes elsewhere (this is often how I’ve felt as a fan, at least).
As Donald Trump assumes his new role as President of the United States after a bitterly divisive campaign, it is increasingly relevant to examine the ways in which politics intersect with sport. While much attention has been given to the proliferation of national anthem protests by athletes and spectators, and the modest group of NBA coaches speaking out against Trump’s rhetoric, no examination of politics and sport would be complete without discussing how this intersection is brought to bear on those who report and/or comment on sporting news for a living.
Although sports journalism has long been viewed as the “toy department” of the mass media, rarely reporting on serious topics such as political corruption or healthcare reform, sports journalists play an important role in society, working to meet the demands of a seemingly insatiable appetite for sports news. In spite of this appetite, sports journalists and sports media personalities are increasingly discovering that some of their patrons don’t want the extra side of politics that sometimes comes with the sports news entrée.
President Obama knows the importance of sports in American culture. After all, he’s married to a Princeton University sociology major. This was evident on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 16th) when the Chicago Cubs were the 86th and last championship or elite sport team to visit the Obama White House.
After acknowledging the significance of Martin Luther King Jr. and the community service and charitable activities of people in the Cubs’ organization, Obama highlighted the ways that sports can create unity amidst diversity—a connection he also mentioned in his final press conference. Choosing his words carefully, Obama made sociological observations about sports:
“. . . throughout our history, sports has had this power to bring us together, even when our country is divided. Sports has changed attitudes and culture in ways that seem subtle, but that ultimately made us think differently about ourselves and who we are. It is a game and a celebration, but there is a direct line between Jackie Robinson and me standing here. . . . And sports has a way, sometimes, of changing hearts in a way that politics or business doesn’t. And sometimes it’s just a matter of us being able to escape and relax from the difficulties of our days, but sometimes it also speaks to something better in us. And when you see this group of folks of different shades and different backgrounds, and coming from different communities and neighborhoods all across the country, and then playing as one team, and . . . celebrating each other and being joyous in that, that tells us a little something about what America is and what America can be. So it is entirely appropriate that we celebrate the Cubs today, here in this White House, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday because it helps direct us in terms of what this country has been and what it can be in the future.”
Professional tennis, like every other “good” sporting organization, does its part to “give back” to the communities with which it interacts. If you’re a fan of women’s tennis you may have noticed that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) donates money for every ace that a player hits during a season. Some of the aficionados may know that former World #1 and teenage phenom, Martina Hingis, was an ambassador for polio eradication. You might even know that the WTA has worked with Habitat for Humanity International and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. But I’m willing to bet that even the most ardent tennis fan doesn’t know that ten yeas ago, the WTA started a partnership with UNESCO in the hopes of achieving Global Gender Equality.
The recently knighted Scotsman and new world-number-one-ranked tennis player, Andy Murray, will be entering the Australian Open with his confidence sky-high, looking to start this year just as he ended the last. After defeating Novak Djokovic in the end-of-season ATP Tour final in November and, perhaps most crucially, in the process, finishing above him in the world rankings, this might represent Murray’s best chance of winning “down under” after eleven previous attempts. In the event’s history, Murray is one of the best players ever to have not won here, despite reaching five finals (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016). All except for 2010 when he lost to Roger Federer, Murray has been defeated by Djokovic. This year, for a change, Murray will enter the event as top-seed and favourite, which is a position he has tended to relish.
My PhD research explores South Asian experiences in ice hockey. Why, you ask?
- Because the South Asian community in Canada has become some of the most devout and enthusiastic hockey fans you will find on this planet.
- We don’t talk about race in Canada; therefore, there is very little literature about what it is like to be a “visible minority” playing in Canada’s game (a game that remains pretty white-dominated).
- Lastly, because the Punjabi broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada has become a significant development for hockey culture and Canadian media more broadly.
Two years ago, I conducted a study via Twitter to try and see how people made sense of Hockey Night in Punjabi. It was a term paper that eventually made it’s way into the Sociology of Sport Journal. This was well before the “Bonino Bonino Bonino” call went viral during the 2016 NHL playoffs and before the broadcast moved from CBC online to OMNI television. This post is compiled from excerpts from the article in an attempt to translate some of the material for a popular audience. Please keep in mind that a lot has changed with the broadcast and it’s online presence since the study was first conducted.