On “Man” and “Woman” in Sports

Two articles in the past week, “Man Up,” about the situation with Incognito bullying fellow Dolphins football player Martin, and “She’s All That,” a profile on WNBA player Britney Griner not only examine the sports narratives of manhood and womanhood, they show how sports causes misdirection, re-evaluation, and redefinition of what these terms mean. They are prime examples of how sports turns a cultural subtext into a textual narrative we can dissect.

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Three Big Olympic Decisions in Buenos Aires

This weekend, the International Olympic Committee gathered in Buenos Aires and had a big party that I wasn’t invited to made some big decisions that would reverberate throughout the next few years on a very international scale. Luckily, each representative is chosen by democratic vote by all Olympic partici — wait, what am I saying? Actually, the IOC’s new members are chosen by the current IOC’s members, based on no criteria whatsoever. Well, maybe wealth, and fame, and networking. Yes, it’s exactly like high school. And yes, that means all their decisions can be made — and likely are made — based on personal interest.

Anyway, they decided a lot of important Olympic decisions all on their own. In each circumstance, the country or sport made an impassioned bid and the IOC voted privately.

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Every Participating Country in the Olympics Is Entering Women This Year

The past six months, all eyes have been on Saudi Arabia on whether or not they will enter women in the Games as part of their National Olympic Committee.

And I’ve been trying to write this story every week since May, but the answer keeps changing.

From the HRW website

In February, Human Rights Watch condemned Saudi Arabia publicly and called out the IOC in an extensive report called “Steps of the Devil: Denial of Women’s and Girls’ Rights to Sport in Saudi Arabia.”

In a press release:

“‘No women allowed,’ is the kingdom’s message to Saudi women and girls who want to play sports,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that women and girls cannot train to compete clearly violates the Olympic Charter’s pledge to equality and gives the Olympic movement itself a black eye.”

The International Olympic Committee demurred, stating they don’t issue “ultimatums,” even though they have done so before with a ban on South Africa entering the Games until the end of apartheid. In March, however, the possibility of Saudi Arabia bringing in female athletes looked promising. Then in April, they weren’t. In June, things looked good once more, with an actual woman in mind — show-jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas!

Dalma Rushdi Malhas

This is amazing.

Then last week, a female delegation from Saudi Arabia was “not guaranteed.”

On Monday, Malhas has become unable to compete thanks to injury to her horse, and no other women qualified to compete.

BUT YESTERDAY WAS DIFFERENT. Because finally, Saudi Arabia announced it would send two female athletes to London.

Sarah Attar, who will run in the 800-meter race.

So, the answer at this very moment is yes! Hooray! But there are two weeks until the opening ceremonies. The promise of Saudi women competing won’t be fulfilled until we see them on the field ourselves.

According to the IOC, this decision came after months of ongoing dialogue. Saudi Arabia is not the only country who is entering women in the Olympics for the first time.

Qatar’s Noor Al-Maliki via the Guardian

Qatar was easily convinced as they plan to bid for the 2024 Olympics (having failed to get the 2020 Olympics) and Brunei was not even able to send a delegation in 2008, so added a woman to their delegation this time with their list of qualifying athletes. Despite the fact that she would not qualify under normal standards, the IOC included her because the Olympic Charter dictates that “National Olympic Committees have the possibility of entering unqualified athletes in athletics and swimming should they not have athletes qualified in these sports.”

While the IOC’s ambiguity on the subject was definitely frustrating, Saudi Arabia’s back-and-forth in the face of international criticism was even more egregious. However, I believe that Saudi Arabia’s wavering on this has shown two things: first, that the government is holding tight to their values of restricting women’s rights, but also — also! That those values can be challenged if they are put under an international microscope like the Olympic Games.

What does this mean for the fans? Well, I feel that any sports where these three delegations are entered in are going to imbued with political justice. They’ll be the underdogs in their sport, but rooting for them will be even sweeter thanks to the political ideals they represent, and no matter how they do, they will be highly respected for it. That also means that the national broadcasters will (hopefully) see this crazy amazing thing for what it is, and hold on to that news narrative throughout the Games — women’s track and field will be an especially exciting no-more-than-15 seconds.

Olympic Tickets: Fraught With Controversy and, Well, Fraud

Of course God has an iPhone

Of course God has an iPhone.

Now, I don’t have tickets to the Olympics. I have no opinion on this, except to say that it is endlessly tiring to watch sports in real time when you are a short person (which I am). I mean, sometimes you’ll want to just sit down because your body is aching from trying to stretch your shortness to see over the 6 foot guy in front of you, but then when you do sit down everyone starts screaming over something they can see and you pop up again to look but then you remember you can’t actually see anything.

Wait, what was I discussing? Oh right: tickets.

Tumblr is filled with pictures of tickets from happy would-be spectators.

Olympic Tickets!

A lot of people on Tumblr use Instagram.

However, the problem with the tickets is that LOCOG decided to play hard to get. According to James Pearce at the BBC in May, the tickets are in danger of not being sold out.

Last year there were an astonishing 22 million applications in the first round ballot for the 6.6 million tickets available to the British public….

Fast forward a year and the story is very different.

Basically, after holding on to several rounds of tickets, almost a million tickets remained unsold two months before the Games. This decline in excitement could be a number of reasons: it’s too late to book a hotel, the prices are too high, etc. Fellow Fan Olly Offord spoke about his personal frustrations with the ticket process:

Weren’t we told that all sessions were oversubscribed a year ago? Why has the system put so many people off. Only 150,000 of the 1.2million people disappointed in the first round bothered to try again. That is some serious disaffection.

…My problem on Wednesday, when the tickets went back on sale, was the waiting and the system which allowed you to put tickets in your basket that no longer existed, and it’s only 30mins later that they tell you that deflating fact.

The other reason was the price. I’ve tried to enter into a few European ticket releases, but have had to stop dead when I see what they want to charge.

The most oversubscribed event in the initial ballot was … the Men’s 100m, duh. But there are still tickets available for the one event that is likely to grip the whole nation. Who doesn’t want to go? The only snag, they cost £4,500 a pop.

With that kind of exclusivity, is it any wonder that most people are starting to distrust that this is an Olympics we can all get involved in?

Then yesterday the LOCOG decided to really annoy British fans by having the tickets “distributed on an internal sales system to sponsors.” Though they promised 75% of the leftover tickets would eventually go to fans.

Hearing this news, the BBC asked fans who they thought deserved the tickets:

“I think it is fair that the sponsors were given tickets because without them the London Olympics wouldn’t be as good. However, I think the majority of tickets should be sold to the public and a small number to the sponsoring companies.”

Sasha, Swansea, Wales

“I think unsold tickets should go to soldiers who have come back from places like Iran as they deserve it the most not companies.”

Leah, Southampton, England

“I think I should have one because I have tried millions of times.”

Bob, Shropshire, England

“I think that they should donate some to orphans and homeless children who would love to go because they would never be able to afford them!”

Penelope, Blackburn, England

“I think people who give their lives to sport should get ticket and half price.”

Lara, Ireland

“I think the Olympic tickets should be given to the Beavers/Brownies/Cubs and the Girl Guides. Other countries have their children involved in major sporting events and I think we should also be given this opportunity.”

Alice, Bedfordshire, England

“I think that they should go to the Queen and she should select as many tickets that are left and give them to members of the public that have done something good or have been through hard times.”

Angelia, Northamptonshire, England

Add this to the scandal of tickets being resold on the black market by national committees! Which, even though the British public is expected to get all its tickets and the IOC and LOCOG are not at fault, is still really frustrating for the people who were hoping to watch the Games:

Many of those who have struggled to secure tickets for the biggest events and already feel ill disposed towards what they see as preferential treatment for sponsors and blazers will see this as yet more evidence for the prosecution.

The timing is less than ideal for London organisers, just as they were hoping to capitalise on the groundswell of goodwill created across the country by the torch relay and the looming excitement of the sporting spectacle. They hoped that growing buzz would translate into an acceleration in sales for almost 2m remaining tickets for football and high-priced options for less popular sports and drown out complaints over sponsors, Games lanes and selection controversies.


Are You A Fan of the Olympics?

Chris Savage's Alternative Logo

via BBC’s alternative logo contest in 2007


Oh, sure, the sports. Surely that’s not it. You can go to local game. Or join a team and play yourself — or if you used to play, I bet you have some old tapes of you doing so. Maybe you can switch to digital and get nostalgic for an afternoon.

But no, it’s important to you to watch the OLYMPICS. IN LONDON. IN 2012 (only half a year left till the end of the world, everyone!).

Well, of course! It’s the most prominent, public international event ever — and definitely the most fun. In this case, a fan can be anyone who watches the Olympics for the sports, the athletes, or perhaps something else: the idea that playing games together brings the international community together. It’s an amazing display of diplomacy as associated with one of the top five things that makes us happy: sports.

Well, that’s supposed to be the point, but then McDonald’s is the official Olympic restaurant (?), NBC is going crazy over it being Michael Phelps’s last Olympics (!), and Saudi Arabia apparently has No Female Athletes — wait no now they do — wait, nevermind (?!). And then the LOCOG is telling fans they can’t make free commemorative pillows for the athletes, while Ryan Lochte is going to dazzle us all with his…swimming. Then there’s the IOC, who are like the Dumbledore of the Olympics (but only if you read the last book).

But what are the “medal-heads” in it for? Why are you a fan of the Olympics?