Friday, July 19, 2013

Let's talk about Russia

The writing has been on the wall for a long time now in terms of the geopolitical direction Russia is headed in. I mean, they were not exactly a model of cooperation at the most recent G8 when it came to Syria. But what is on everyone's radar screen right now, of course, is whether Vladimir Putin will let American leaker Edward Snowden stay in his country. (Apparently residence in an aiport is fine.) I am sure the behind-the-scenes wrangling must be quite charged by now.
Is Russia just going to do what Russia wants to do? Or will the United States and its (reluctant?) allies exert enough pressure on Russia to get Snowden back where they would like him?
As much as I probably should, I don't really care about the Snowden thing.
I do care, however, about all the political capital the US and other nations might be using in negotiating Snowden's extradition. Why? Because I think more attention--and more capital--needs to be put toward dealing with the legal institutionalization of homophobia.
While some of us in the United States celebrated the Supreme Court's pro-gay decision in Windsor last month, and nations around the world held gay pride celebrations, Russia passed a very harsh anti-gay measure. On a personal level, this means I have crossed Russia off my places to visit (should have gone to St. Petersburg five years ago when I had the chance), I am more interested in how international sport governing bodies will respond. Or not respond.
Russia is hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the men's World Cup in 2018. Neither the IOC or FIFA has proven themselves especially good at dealing with gender and sexuality based conflicts (see treatments of female ski jumpers and anti-lesbian soccer teams).
While LGBT and human rights groups have been speaking out about the issue, especially as it affects the impending Sochi Games, the issue has received very little media coverage. 
The Global Post reported yesterday that the IOC has issued a statement which mandates that the Olympics remain open to all and free of discrimination for all participants, journalists, and spectators saying "We would oppose in the strongest terms any move that would jeopardize this principle."
I am sure Putin is quaking in his judogi. This is the man who basically stole a Superbowl ring off Bob Krafts's finger and pocketed it.
Of course then it doesn't really comport that he would ban homosexual "propaganda." What's so scary about a group of gay people waving rainbow flags and kissing? But I think dissent is probably one of the largest fears of a megalomaniac. After all, why would a confident leader fear three young female punk rockers who sing protest songs??*
The call for an international boycott will likely not go very far. And it is difficult to determine what such a boycott would accomplish. Is it better to go to the games wearing rainbow flags, as at least one athlete has vowed to do, and challenge the system? The problem is that I imagine some people--like international athletes, will be more protected than international tourists and maybe even journalists.

* The documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer about the arrest and trials of three members of the feminist art and activist collective Pussy Riot was quite informative. It wasn't splashy, confrontational Michael Moore style but I learned a lot more about the group and the situation than I did from listening to Madonna.

Monday, July 08, 2013

It's just not a major sporting event until...

...a male commentator makes a sexist remark.
Someone needs to start a blog or Tumblr or something entitled "Commentators Say the Darnedest Things"--and by darnedest I meant racist, homophobic, sexist.
Last winter the BCS Championship was marred by a one-sided game and the comments of broadcaster Brent Musburger who spent some of the game's downtime talking about the quarterback's pageant girlfriend.
At this year's Wimbledon, the comments focused on an actual participant in the event. BBC commentator John Inverdale noted, before the women's final on Saturday, that soon-to-be champion Marion Bartoli was not pretty. He surmised that Bartoli's father, who--like his daughter--has been considered somewhat of an oddity in the tennis world because of his style, told his daughter that she would have to work harder because she was never going to be a looker like Maria Sharapova.
The comments caused discord immediately and Inverdale apologized before the broadcast was over, issued a written apology to the new Wimbledon champ, and re-apologized on the air before the men's final yesterday.
His comments were not especially surprising. Commentators make note of women's appearances all the time. Usually it is within a fit/fitness discourse, i.e., "Serena spent the off-season getting fit" means that she lost weight. Men "get fit" too. But this is usually presented in terms of endurance, i.e. James Blake has really worked on his fitness this past year" means that he trained harder in order to not fizzle out in five-set matches and is no longer a "wuss"--a word I detest but which gets bandied about in such conversations.
But all the conversations about women's outfits are also comments on women's appearances. And as rude as Inverdale's comments were, I found the whole Serena/Maria feud discussions that opened this year's Wimbledon far more distasteful.
Also, Inverdale's comments implied that pretty girls--apparently as defined by being blond and tall--don't work hard. (Not sure where a muscular, Black woman falls in this pretty/unpretty spectrum.) When Sharapova came on the scene she had to prove that she was not another Anna Kournikova who, it was implied, relied on her looks to the detriment of her tennis career and thus was not a hard worker. I guess there really is no winning, even when you win.

On another commentators-say-the-darnedest-things note, there is John McEnroe. This should probably be a separate post but I am sticking it on here. McEnroe, when talking about the re-emergence of a former top player who spend some time on the Challenger circuit, imagined that his opponents would see it as a really good opportunity to gain some confidence. This is how he phrased the hypothetical player's inner monologue: "that will be a really good scalp if I beat this guy." And once again racism against Native Americans in sports goes unnoticed.
While scalping was indeed a practice some Native American tribes engaged in, it has been negatively associated with all tribes and furthers the stereotypes used to justify the extermination of many individuals and tribes, while also ignoring that colonizers too would scalp their enemies. Use a metaphor not steeped in a racist, colonialist  history next time, John McEnroe.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

I don't know who is responsible...

...for the Scoreboard for Equality Tumblr, but it is awesome. Thank you thank you thank you to whomever is compiling all this data. We in the world of sport and gender studies are grateful.

UPDATE: It's done by a woman imagenamed Molly Arenberg. You can follow her on Twitter too: @Molly_Arenberg