Many female sports have faced an uphill struggle in the attempt to harbor the same level of support and interest as male sports. One of the ways in which the media and promoters of women’s sports have tried to rectify this issue, is by sexualizing female athletes, presumably following the mantra that ‘sex sells’. Whilst some would point to the success of very specific sports which have gone down this route, as a rule, it has proved wholly unsuccessful.
Research shows that women, who must surely be the main target demographic of female sports, react poorly to overt attempts to make sportswomen more sexual. Doing so portrays supremely talented female athletes as women first and athletes second. Unlike their male counterparts, the focus on female athletes tends to rely heavily on their beauty and sex appeal, more so than their on-field endeavors. In doing so, the accomplishments of female athletes are degraded and their self-esteem lowered.
Still, the situation faced today is still far greater than the one faced a number of years ago, when women in sport was almost frowned upon. Female athletes had to make do with far inferior facilities and were even banned from playing a number of sports. The sports on this list all use women in order to increase the public interest in the sport, yet the vast majority actually undermine themselves by lessening the perception of those sports. Here are the top 10 sports which use women to sell the sport:
It may not be as obvious as in other sports but the use of sex appeal to promote swimming certainly exists. Female swimmers often have wonderful physiques and, as such, are often asked to do bikini-type advertising and endorsements. Olympic champion swimmers such as Jenny Thompson and Ashley Tappin were even criticized by the swimming world when they refused to take part in such promotional work, and were mostly told to ‘lighten up’ and to not be so up-tight over such issues.
Female soccer has had a long and difficult battle since its inception. After huge popularity in the United Kingdom in the early 1920s, the FA banned women from playing the sport, despite having seen an attendance of over 50,000 at Wembley Stadium. When the women’s game returned in 1969, it received nowhere near that level of support, and still struggles today. In the U.S., the women’s game has seen varying degrees of support, more so than anywhere else in the world.
In 2004, disgraced FIFA president Sepp Blatter suggested that women play in “more feminine clothing like they do in volleyball”, adding “They could, for example; wear tighter shorts” and “Female players are pretty.” Blatter received widespread criticism for his comments, but some took heed. Dutch side FC de Rakt began playing in skirts and tight-fitting tops, whilst Russian team WFC Rossiyanka switched shorts and shirts for a bikini in an even more controversial attempt to improve attendance.
The Badminton World Federation (BWF) made a speedy U-turn back in 2011, following their plans to introduce a new law insisting that female players wear skirts rather than shorts in an attempt to “glamorize” the sport. The media backlash which followed, and particular complaints from Muslim countries, saw the BWF scrap the plans before they came into being, but showed the insistence of some sports to try and sexualize athletes in order to gain more exposure.
7. Track & Field
Track & field athletes are very often some of the most physically stunning athletes in sports and it is little surprise that they have been targeted for endorsement deals and the like. Even in conservative countries which we do not think of as focusing on the sex appeal of athletes as much, such as Taiwan, are at it, as displayed by former Olympic medalist Chi Cheng. Given that female athletes often earn a fraction of their male counterparts, many female athletes accept revealing endorsements with little consideration of the harm that it can do to the integrity of women’s sports.
There are countless beautiful female tennis players and whilst the earnings for women in tennis has improved greatly and is now largely on par with the men’s game, some players still make more money from endorsements than the game itself. The prime example is of course Anna Kournikova, who was, let’s be frank, not the greatest tennis player, yet is the wealthiest female tennis player in the world. This fact is drummed home by the fact that Kournikova never won a WTA singles title and only made $3.5 million in tournament winnings, yet she is valued at $50 million. From their short skirts and tight tops to the rather sexual in-game outbursts released by some players, many female tennis players have certainly used their sex appeal to promote themselves and the sport.
With titles like ‘Babe of the Year’ and ‘Diva of the Decade’, it is not difficult to see what the main criteria is when selecting WWE Divas. Even since the tradition began of female wrestlers in the 1950s, the contestants have been aesthetically pleasing athletes. Criticisms have been made of the WWE Divas on the grounds that they take models and try and train them to become wrestlers, rather than taking female wrestlers who are already accomplished with such a skill set. Many people have made cases in defense of the divas, but with events such as the ‘Playboy Pillow Fight’ as WrestleMania, one would have a tough time making a case that wrestling didn’t use women to sell the sport.
The adage has drastically changed now, with Triple H’s regime of recruiting talent focused more on in-ring ability, but you can’t say looks don’t help one in landing the top spots in the industry.
4. Beach Volleyball
Beach volleyball has become the quintessential sport of sexy women in skimpy outfits. In 1999, the FIVB made the swimsuit the required outfit for beach volleyball players, and since then the sport has become renowned for the ladies who play it and their appearances. Whilst the federation received widespread criticism for the move, many women spoke out that the swimsuit was the most practical costume for the sport, which does ring true and it is for that reason that beach volleyball is no higher on this list.
A study conducted in 2004 showed that 37% of TV footage was focused on the female athletes’ chests and buttocks, which led to complaints from some quarters that the appearance of the athletes rather than their athleticism itself had become the main focus of the sport. At the Asian Games only one Muslim nation took part due to the uniform requirements and in London 2012, the rules were changed to allow shorts and sleeved tops, although most still wear bikinis.
Some will say that cheerleading is not a sport, and they may have a case, but for the likes of all-star cheerleading where there is actually a competitive element as two teams compete, there is a stronger case. If you do concede that cheerleading is a sport, one must surely also recognize that it is one which uses very attractive women to promote itself. Even in high schools, cheerleaders are often represented as small cliques of attractive girls even if this is of course, not indicative of the sport in general.
The ‘sport’ has received much criticism in recent years. With some groups claiming that young, scantily-clad women shaking pom-poms in support of male sports teams only serves to re-enforce the stereotype that women are subservient to men. News of cheerleaders receiving less than the minimum wage and being extremely poorly paid only added to these concerns.
Almost any advert you see for poker will feature a sexy woman in a short, sparkly dress as the dealer. Poker, and casinos in general, have been using sex appeal to sell gambling for decades now. The Poker industry has defended itself by stating that 90% of poker players are male and, as such, it makes sense to use sexy women to market the card game. They miss the fact that the use of women in skimpy costumes could be the very thing which discourages women from playing poker.
1. Lingerie Football
When I first saw Lingerie Football I wasn’t quite sure what I was watching, why I was watching it and whether or not I was supposed to take it seriously. Years later, nothing’s changed. I’m still blown away that anyone proposed it as an idea, and even more surprised that someone else approved it. The media furor surrounding the original rules forced some changes in 2013, but the basic premise still remains. There are reports that some women have even been fined for wearing ‘too much’ clothing.
Some athletes have claimed it is the most comfortable attire to play in, but unlike in the case of beach volleyball, I’m afraid I’m having none of it. How would people react to the men’s game being played in only underwear and pads? Most LFL players are honest enough to admit that the uniforms are impractical and demeaning but hoped that it was a temporary measure to capture public interest , with the ultimate end being female football with full costumes. A more reasonable view but representative of the sad state of affairs still faced by some women’s sports.
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