No More Podium Girls at the Tour Down Under – These Sports Should Follow Suit
By Sam Squiers
There’s one massive change you’ll notice in this year’s Tour Down Under and it doesn’t have anything to do with bikes, routes or riders.
It’s the podium girls. There will be no podium girls.
In a hallelujah moment for cycling, organisers have ditched the traditional young beauties who present the daily ochre jersey to the leading rider before kissing him on the cheek and smiling for the cameras. Instead they’ll have young cycling fans making the presentations.
The message this sends to both genders cannot be underestimated. Watching from lounge rooms at home or from the crowd in front of the stage, the most visible female to the impressionable minds of young boys and girls, is this podium girl. That image says a woman’s role in sport is reduced to a mere decoration, a play thing that smiles to the cameras and is ogled by men.
That image says a woman’s role in sport is reduced to a mere decoration, a play thing that smiles to the cameras and is ogled by men.
The move to ban the TDU podium girls came straight from the South Australian State Government. This same government also withdrew funding for grid girls at last year’s Clipsal 500 race. The SA Sports Minister Leon Bignall said “The Government’s paying for grid girls at the same time we’re putting money into mental health areas to help young women who have body image problems,”.
“What we actually want to do is inspire girls and young women who come to the motor racing to be car drivers or to be mechanics or to be engineers.”
Inspiring young women to play a role in sports beyond the mere ornamental is key here and there are plenty other sports we think should now follow suit.
The Clipsal 500 decision was groundbreaking for the sport and now it’s the Supercars organisation itself, not just the state governments, who should show leadership and end the use of grid girls for all events. This year the Championship will feature the first ever full time female driver with Simona de Silvestro joining the competition, what a paradox it is with Simona representing how far women have come, and grid girls show how outdated the sport is.
The TDU has showed initiative here but there are countless cycling events that are yet to do the same. Just last year the Flanders Diamond Tour, a UCI women’s race, thought it appropriate to have bikini clad women as their podium girls. Both the winners and the podium girls looked awkward and uncomfortable on stage as the presentations and photos were being taken.
— Marijn de Vries (@marijnfietst) June 14, 2015
Is there any reason at all to have the podium girls? Why should the winners share the stage at all? It’s not so at the Olympics, the athlete takes centre stage, they’re the ones who have done all the hard work and deserve the full, undivided attention during their moment. And no, the introduction of podium guys for the women’s events doesn’t make it right either as was tried with World Tour event Gent-Wevelgem in Belgium.
The objectification of either gender in this way is wrong. The TDU’s introduction of junior cyclists to hand the jerseys, trophies and flowers is a terrific alternative. The message that sends out to little boys and girls is that they too can achieve these great things, beyond their aesthetic.
I’m going to bring up the subject of cheerleaders in Rugby League. I broached it in an article back in 2012 and re-reading it, I notice some of my suggestions have come to fruition, like having junior footballers lead out the players onto the ground instead of simply the cheerleaders waving their pom poms and women’s matches as curtain raisers (although this only happens at major events). Now I know a lot of the cheerleaders are great dancers, have degrees and are hard working, but it’s not who they are but what they still represent which is degrading. Out on the field, they simply represent the objectification of women, like it or not, they’re seen as bouncing eye-candy.
Most of the time, with the size of the stadium, they’re simply a blip on the field, their gyrating, heavily sexualised clothing and moves do little to progress women in league. Clubs are starting to understand this, in 2007 the Rabbitohs dumped their cheerleaders after research found they made both men and women feel uncomfortable, in 2014, the Bulldogs transitioned the cheerleaders into other roles within the club and this year the Raiders announced they won’t have a squad performing at games either.
Let’s show our girls they can lift a World Cup not just push up a D-Cup
With the NRL desperate to boost female involvement in the game and when we have such talented women playing the game and playing vital roles in the game, why do we have to sink back into demeaning, backward-thinking stereotypes? Let’s show our girls they can lift a World Cup not just push up a D-Cup.
Boxing and MMA:
The bikini ring girls provide the biggest face palm moment of them all. Even with the rise of female boxing to an Olympic sport and UFC’s biggest drawcard being a woman, we still have ring girls parading around pre-rounds raising placards.
A top Russian promoter “World of Boxing” placed a ban on ring girls in their events in 2015 and it caused quite a bit of controversy. Their reasonings weren’t because of the objectification of women but rather the growing number of muslim boxers competing who took offence.
There’s a common reality for all these sports and that’s the show will go on. The podium girls aren’t the main attraction nor vital for the events’ sustainability. Sport will be entertaining and popular whether there are girls in bikinis there or not.