Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What do women ruggers want?

Carbs. Some funky spandex. And maybe a smidge of recognition.
This article in WaPo did a great job describing the situation of many collegiate women's rugby teams. Most of them are club teams. That means they provide (or seek out through fundraising or non-athletic department institutional sources) most of the funding for participation. This is despite the fact that the NCAA has listed women's rugby as an emerging sport. That means that schools could elevate their women's rugby teams to varsity status and perhaps deal with some lingering Title IX issues by doing so. Rugby teams are large. Not as large as crew teams--but also not as expensive. And it's a growing sport, actually the fastest growing women's sport at American colleges.
But only four schools have elevated women's rugby to varsity status.
Because while it might help with Title IX numbers, there is some (legitimate) concern that NCAA and institutional oversight of rugby isn't really what the sport needs. Rugby has a pretty unique culture that includes, as the article states, hanging out with your opponents after games. Not that this would be impossible as a varsity sport, but it seems many of the traditions of the game just do not fit with athletic department mentality.
But others in the sport think elevation to varsity status would be helpful for the visibility of the sport, women's sports generally (having another women's contact sport on the program would be good!), and of course financial support from the athletic department.
I am pretty sure that women's rugby, though, will be taken off the list of emerging sports if more intercollegiate teams are not created--soon. So it may not be an issue much longer...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Australian women's sports club targeted

This story crossed my desktop earlier this month: A women's sports club in Darebin, Victoria, Australia has been (it seems) targeted by vandals and thieves for about a year now. The club has been broken into and graffitied. Money has been stolen (along with alcohol). And once, the windows were broken by marbles tossed at the Darebin Women's Sports Club.
I couldn't find much info in this article but I was surprised that the tone of the short piece was on the calm side, even as interviewees expressed concern over the repeated attacks. Some were thinking it might be because it is a women's club, but the fact that graffiti has been described as "fairly derogatory to women" (though no examples were shared) makes it more than likely. I do not know that much about the climate for women's sports in Australia. I do know that interest or adeptness in men's sports like rugby and football are nearly essential components of Australian masculinity. But I know there does seem to be support for women's national teams like basketball and softball. Not knowing much about the structure of women's sports in the country, I assume that a women's sports club is more of a recreational or semi-professional establishment. And perhaps these establishments are not as welcome.
Obviously I am doing a lot surmising here and waiting for anyone with more information to help me out. I still think it's troubling--whatever the status of these clubs or women's sports generally--that the space in which female athletes gather and train is being attacked.

PS. A little research goes a long way...
So the Darebin Women's Sports Club was founded in 1990. It provides its members (one has to pay annual dues to be a member) opportunities to play Australian rules football, soccer, and other sports (there is a picture of someone playing cricket on the website). Here is the club's statement of purpose.
a) to promote and encourage the development and participation of women in sport.
b) to promote awareness and encourage the games of Australian Rules football,
soccer and other sports as sports for women.
c) to provide women with the opportunity to participate in organised sports as
players, coaches and officials.
d) to promote the development of skills and fitness relevant to Australian Rules
Football, soccer and other sports.
e) to provide women with the opportunity to play Australian Rules football, soccer
and other sports in competitive teams.
f) to promote friendly sporting behaviour.
g) to assist other organisations in the promotion, encouragement and organisation
of women's football and soccer.
h) to provide women with the opportunity to participate in the organisation,
development and management of a sporting club.
i) to provide a friendly and harmonious environment in Associations premises and
at Associations social events.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Because Mexico makes you think winter...

...the IOC is meeting in Acapulco for the next several days to consider, among other things, which sports it will add to winter games program starting in 2014 when the games will be in Sochi, Russia.
One might think that with all the bad press the IOC received for the past two years over not allowed women's ski jumping into the Vancouver games, it would be an automatic in. But apparently not. Early word from IOC officials suggests that women's ski jumping may be added on a conditional basis. The IOC would then review the quality of the 2011 Women's World Championships and decide if it's worthy, I suppose. Talk about pressure to perform!
Other sports/events under consideration: ski and snowboard slopestyle, ski halfpipe, Alpine team skiing (head-to-head racing), and a team skating event.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Abby Wambach get air time on ESPN but...

...she's talking about hot dogs.

My friend, Dr. Pants, was kind enough to share this link with me. (I tried to embed the video but it kept shutting down my browser.)

So Abby Wambach gets some air time on Sports Center to talk about World Cup qualifying. But she ends up talking about the hot dog incident. The hot dog incident occurred when Wambach missed the goal and sent the ball into the stands while taking warm-up shots before a game against China. She hit a fan who was returning to his seat, hot dog and other items in hand. Said hot dog was knocked out of his hand when the ball hit him in the side/back. You can check out the videos of Wambach looking sheepish. But she was later told that the hot dogs were $10, which apparently adds something to this story. Not quite sure what though. Not sure why this is a story actually. It did make Sports Center's Top Ten.* Interviewer thought it should have been higher than the 8 or 9 sport it earned. (Someone needs to explain to the Sports Center interviewer why the word gypped should not be used.)

It's sad that when women's soccer gets any attention on ESPN (which as you will note does not cover anything that has to do with the WPS--not even scores on the ticker!!) it's around a hot dog! Wonder if ESPNW* will do a better job when it gets the opportunity?

* I'm not sure if Sports Center reported the score of the actual game or offered any highlights/commentary.

** Yes, I will likely write something more on the advent of ESPNW. And the Body Issue! Just haven't gotten through it/to it yet.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Olympic pricing: Equality? Economics? Gender?

What equality is remains contextual and questionable. I don't know much about economics. And gender continues to present so many interesting issues with which to contend.
Hence all the questions in the title of this post.
But what I really want to talk about (though I am actually still a little hesitant about talking about it) is the recent news that the organizers of the 2012 London Olympics have priced the tickets for men's and women's events differently. In many cases, tickets for men's events are more expensive--sometimes significantly so.
The IOC (though it does not set the ticket prices--the organizers do) is taking most of the flak for this decision. Critics contend that the pricing undervalues women's sports and sends a message that women's sports are just not as good as men's sports.
I agree that that message is being sent and that it is not good. But I do not see the pricing differential as entirely bad.
First, the difference reinforces prevailing beliefs about the status of women's sports. It did not create the difference. Will it turn anyone who did not have any thoughts on the differences between men's and women's sports? Not likely. Again, I do believe it has potential damaging effects. I don't know if the damage is new and/or severe.
Second, fans of women's sports benefit economically from this decision. I'm just guessing here but I wouldn't be surprised if fans of women's sports, as a whole, have less disposable income than those who are--exclusively--fans of men's sports. It's expensive to go to sporting events. It's expensive to go to the Olympics. I went to the Salt Lake City Games in 2002 and saw women's hockey--which was pretty expensive in itself--but not as expensive as going to a men's game.
I go more often to women's intercollegiate hockey games than men's games. I like both, but it's cheaper to see the women play, especially when I consider costs of travel. When I was in college, I saw many families at women's hockey games. It was cheaper to take a whole family (and easier to get tickets--a somewhat related issue).
And this brings me to my final point. You might actually get more people into the events that are cheaper. The families at these hockey games had both male and female children. So these children had the opportunity to see women play hockey. They grow up with access. They see in person what they will not see on television or in the newspapers; they have a greater likelihood of becoming fans of women's sports. This is their exposure to women's sports and a large part of that exposure is because of the fact that ticket prices are lower. It is possible that lower prices will bring people into the venues; people who might not be able to afford to bring a family of four (or more) to the Olympics.
Most men's sports already have an audience. I do not want to see half-empty stadiums because people won't pay the same (high) prices to see women's sports. I would rather make this compromise and see butts in the seats. And I am not trying to undervalue the very devote women's sports fans out there. But I know I wouldn't be able to go to as many women's events if the ticket prices were the same as those of men's events.
I am not completely ignorant of economics, of course. I am well aware of basic capitalist principles; and thus I know that higher prices signal (or are supposed to) higher demand. Do I wish women's sports were in greater demand? Yes! Until they are I am (somewhat) okay with what I am calling the economic incentives offered to women's sports fans.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

No transfolk on the LPGA

Not sure why I thought the LPGA was allowing MTFs play on the tour. The USGA has adopted a policy governing the participation of transgender people, as has other international golf organizations. Mianne Bagger, a woman who was born a biological male, plays on the Australian and European Tours. I probably should have questioned why she was not playing in the United States and given the LPGA's fairly conservative philosophies (except when it comes to posing its tour members in bathing suits on golf courses in an attempt to gain some publicity), I should not have been so surprised.

Whether the LPGA will be able to keep its no-trans policy is the question inspired by a lawsuit by Lana Lawless. I have blogged about Lawless before. She won, in 2008, the women's world championship in the long drive. The competition is run by Long Drivers of America which did not have a female-at-birth policy at the time which meant Lawless, who was born a male but had sex reassignment surgery in 2005, could participate. But no longer. The LDA changed its rules to mirror those of the LPGA, which do not allow women who were not born women.

Lawless has also been interested in playing in LPGA qualifying tournaments but has been told she would be turned down.

The lawsuit also includes the LDA and some of the sponsors of the championship including Dick's Sports and CVS and requests an injunction against the LPGA from holding tournaments in California so long as it continues to discriminate against trans people.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Student-athletes and anti-bullying efforts

Given the homophobia that has--historically--swirled around sport, as well as the recent spate of high-profile anti-gay bullying incidents around the country, this article was very welcome.
At University of Michigan student-athletes have stepped up to support their student body president, Chris Armstrong.
Armstrong has been targeted by Andrew Shirvell, an assistant district attorney in Michigan, for his allegedly radical homosexual agenda. Shirvell has followed Armstrong around protesting his politics and--seemingly--his sexual identity. Armstrong is currently seeking a restraining order against Shirvell. Shirvell has been making his feelings about Armstrong's politics known since Armstrong, the first openly gay SBP at Michigan, ran for the position last spring. Shirvell has also used his blog, Chris Armstrong Watch, to attack Armstrong. One post contained a swastika. I won't get into a discussion of free speech versus threatening speech, but I will note that it's kind of curious that a state official is taking such an interest in the politics of a student body president.
The student body, including student-athletes, have rallied around Armstrong. At the above link you can see photos of student-athletes sporting tee shirts that read:
Elected by us. Respected by us. I expect respect for myself and my community. When one member of our community is targeted, we are all attacked.
Good work, Wolverines!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Student-athletes and domestic violence

Saw a very good article today by Jerome Solomon in the Houston Chronicle about the spate of alleged and actual violence perpetrated by male student-athletes against women. It was inspired by the allegations against Baylor student and basketball player LaceDarius Dunn. Dunn allegedly punched his girlfriend, with whom he has a child, in the face possibly breaking her jaw. Solomon notes that while the justice system, in such a case, might see this as a misdemeanor and issue a fine and/or community service, Baylor has an opportunity to send a message about what it thinks about domestic violence and suspend Dunn for the season. I'm a little doubtful the administration (and, hello? when did Ken Starr become president of a university???) will take such a (what I am sure they see as a) drastic step.
Solomon reminds us that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I know, you probably forgot what with every woman on Facebook telling you where she likes it in an attempt (I guess?) to titillate men into caring that it is Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention Month.
It would be a good time for Baylor to step up and make a statement. What Solomon does not mention, that I will, is that Baylor University is a Christian university. Not so Christian-like to hit someone last I checked. This is the same university that is not so down with gay people. If Baylor fails to harshly reprimand Dunn for his actions, it would be like saying (t0 me) that it's okay to hit people but it's not okay to have same-sex relations. Hmmm....non-procreative sex between consenting people in an overpopulated world versus hitting someone. It's a tough call.
Guess I'm going to have to wait to read the latest version on the Starr report on this one.

Monday, October 04, 2010

What and who counts: Another defense of Title IX

I have not been surprised by the renewed calls to abolish/reform Title IX in the wake of University of California Berkeley's announcement that it is cutting five intercollegiate sports.

Yes, it's lousy that this happened. But California is not in good financial shape--as we all know. So it's not surprising that a department in one of its state schools--a department that has been running a $10-13 million annual deficit*--has been forced to tighten the belt.

And some are saying that the men are paying for this financial mismanagement more than women because more male athletes are affected by the cuts than women--because of Title IX.


And yes, I do think that it is fair that the gender that has more opportunities should bear more of the cuts.

But The publisher of Forbes, Richard Karlgaard, does not. This is an attack of excellence, he says, because we are putting equality above excellence. I will just state right away that in intercollegiate athletics, I will always choose equality over excellence. In part this is because I measure excellence and merit a little differently than Mr. Karlgaard. But I will get to that in just a moment.

Karlgaard is upset that two successful Cal teams, baseball and rugby, got cut. I kind of have an argument about the popularity of college baseball and the international influence on this so-called American game, but I that is kind of a post in itself.

So let's talk rugby, a sport I find interesting, a sport at which the Cal men excel. They have won the national championship 25 times since 1980. But it isn't an NCAA championship. Because the NCAA does not sponsor men's rugby. Most colleges have men's rugby as a club sport. I do not believe this diminishes the accomplishments of Cal's teams. But it does explain, in part, why it was cut. Cal was funding as a varsity team a sport that other colleges do not and one that the NCAA does not govern.

Also, the rugby team gets a lot of money from outside of the school. The coach himself has said the program is largely self-sufficient due to private donations. And rugby hasn't been cut the way the other sports has. It has been given some new category: varsity club status. I personally think Cal is going to get itself into trouble with this one, but that's just my preliminary hypothesis. But according to administrators, the team will still have access to school facilities and medical personnel. I have read conflicting reports about whether the team will have to pay something for this access.
In other words, it does not look like that much is changing for Cal rugby except for its status as a varsity sport. And since it competes against teams that also are not varsity sports, I don't understand what the big deal is. The coach has said that varsity status athletically validates the team. Again, very few other schools (if any?) have men's rugby as a varsity sport. Isn't the arms race in intercollegiate sports bad enough already? Do we have to create one out of nothing? The coach also has gone to battle with the administration to reinstate the team and has said the university could add women's rugby to balance things out. Good idea--except for that whole money thing that prompted the cuts in the first place.
Back to the meritocracy thing. Karlgaard thinks it's just "sick" that teams that have been successful are being cut (rugby, baseball) while less successful teams have been retained. He picks on women's track and field specifically noting that their times are not good enough to beat some high school track teams. This all breeds mediocrity, he says.
He values winning over participation. I do not. Not in intercollegiate athletics, anyway. I think it's pretty impressive for any young person to try to balance academically rigorous coursework and DI athletics and the general life issues that arise for 18-22 year olds. I think that's success. I think just getting out there and doing the training and competing is success. And I am not some kumbaya-singing, hand-holding, let's all share person either (not that there's anything wrong with that). I believe in healthy competition. I believe you learn from wins and losses and challenges and having to make choices.

But what really got my attention--and why I chose to address Mr. Karlgaard's piece in particular--was his opening line:
This [the cuts] is one of the saddest stories you'll read--and all the sadder because it has received so little attention across the country.

Let's get a little perspective and drop the hyperbole. In a week when a young man at Rutgers killed himself because his roommates outted him--on the internet--as gay, I think it's pretty hard to say that the Cal cuts are the saddest thing in the news and that the country isn't paying attention. Excuse the soapbox aside but...we have been ignoring sexuality-based bullying for far too long.

* I've seen a range of figures.