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No longer cheering for the NRL’s Cheerleaders

What role do cheerleaders play in the game? Are they still relevant?

What role do cheerleaders play in the game? Are they still relevant?

If the new ARL Commission wants to do something positive about the involvement of women in rugby league, then they can get rid of the Cheerleaders.

The NRL can dress the players in pink, dedicate a round, hold lunches, media conferences, use supportive, inclusive language about women in league, but there’s an obvious hypocrisy when they still allow an outdated, irrelevant and demeaning use of women in the sport to take place at every game in every round.

They prove the game might have grown, but is yet to grow up. It’s baffling that when women can play such big roles in this sport as players, administrators, referees, physios, fans and commentators, why we still have these cheerleaders who do little more than objectify women into bouncing eye-candy.

Cheerleader2They don’t send the right message to young girls about Rugby League. While the A-League uses junior players, both boys and girls, to lead out the players to the pitch before a match, girls in the NRL as young as five can get involved in the NRL clubs’ cheerleading groups.

It basically tells the girls, you too can play a role in Rugby League and one day perform in front of 80,000 people, in a big stadium, under lights, with TV cameras, media and a wide reaching audience…. you just have to dress up in tight low cutting tops, short skirts, knee high vinyl boots, looking pretty much like, well… hookers.

The Rabbitohs dumped their cheerleading squad 5 years ago because research found they made both men and women feel uncomfortable at the games. They do. My mother-in-law came to the footy with me last year and turned and said “why do we even have cheerleaders, I don’t like that”.

Cheerleading is now a sport in itself. It has competitions, grades, championships and titles. It’s a combination of dance and gymnastics, using aerobic moves and aerial stunts. It’s a creative, physical and difficult competition that has moved away from its core roots of supporting a football team to become a sport. But you really don’t get a sense of that at all on game days in the NRL – it does little for Cheerleading’s profile, it diminishes it instead.

It’s not tradition keeping Cheerleaders in Rugby League in 2012. The game is over one hundred years old and yet the cheerleaders only hit the scene in the late 60s and the skirts were knee length back then. It’s an American tradition, not Australian.

In terms of entertainment value, they really don’t add much to the game either. They are given next to no TV time and are just a blip on the field – most people in the stadium stands would struggle to even see them from their vantage point. The pre-game music entertainment gets more attention.

Sure they cheer after every try, they bounce up from their seats at the corner of the stadiums form a line and bum-out, bum-in, chest-out, chest-in, turn around, flick the skirt, slap the bum and jump, yeah! Go Knights!

Yet by the time they’re in position the fans have already jumped up, spilled their beer, punched the air, roared out to the players, given a stranger a high five and turned to the big screen to watch it all over again in slow motion.

You can’t tell me that cheerleaders are?a) entertainment, and?b) help to work the crowd up, or?c) excite the crowd – but not in the way that the league would like.

The NRL remains the only football league in the country to use cheerleaders. The A-League’s use of junior players from clubs to lead out the players onto the field is a worldwide football tradition and it’s a great one. It sends out all the right messages to the public and its viewers both male and female while at the same time encouraging a whole new generation of footballers.

Imagine the buzz, excitement and endorsement those kids get from being involved in the game, being on television and most of all, standing side by side, hand in hand with their heroes.

The AFL has long had a strong female following and involvement in the game and that’s not through the use of cheerleaders either. The Swans did trial Cheerleaders in the ‘80s The “Swanettes” were brought in when Geoffery Edelsten reigned at Sydney and were, no surprise, his idea. They didn’t stick around too long, struggling to get much time or space on the field in between the quarters, they were discontinued and never reinstated nor missed.

So it’s time the NRL grew up and gave the cheerleaders the heave-ho. When we have such talented girls playing the game and playing vital roles in the game, why do we have to sink back into demeaning, backward-thinking stereotypes?

I’m not about to burn my sports bra or anything but why not have a female match prior to the game? Especially when the NRL is so desperately trying to increase female participation and competition in the game? Let the little girls out there know they can play an important role in the sport, hold up a World Cup, not push up a D Cup.

Or focus more on what it is we’re there to see…the game.

First published in The Punch 22/03/2012


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