Alf Young: Feminism offers a sporting chance
WOMEN in power should display the qualities of our female athletes, rather than aping the alpha males.
The Games in London are almost over and there is much talk of what legacy, if any, they will bestow. I’ve even seen it suggested that, given the continued global dominance of Team GB’s elite cyclists, the Welsh wizard behind these velodrome pyrotechnics, British Cycling’s performance director Dave Brailsford, should be brought in by the warring coalition at Westminster and given the task of putting the UK economy back on track.
I see Brailsford is a Welsh speaker with an MBA, who studied psychology as well as sports science. I’ve no idea what his politics are. Maybe he’ll start popping up among the contenders to take over from Sir Mervyn King as governor of the Bank of England. Or perhaps David Cameron and Nick Clegg could seek some tips from the world of team pursuit on how to work together effectively, so they can both win something from their next big race, currently pencilled in for 2015.
As the gold medal ego that is London Mayor Boris Johnston squeezes every last drop of personal political capital out of what has been an exhilarating couple of weeks, I suspect his desire to see every child at every school across these islands doing two hours of sports each and every day will very quickly succumb to the lactic acid of a stagnant economy and austerity as far ahead as the eye can see. We shall see.
However there is one significant and heart-warming legacy I will certainly carry away from these 2012 Olympics. It is the dignity and resilience shown by the women members of Team GB. For the most part, both in triumph and in defeat, they put some of their male counterparts to shame. I first noticed the contrast when the judoka Euan Burton crashed out at an early stage from the men’s under 81kg category.
The poor guy was in tears as he faced the cameras. Fancied by some to go far, he had gone out after 105 seconds to an ippon in his very first fight. “I feel I’ve let myself down, let my coaches down, let everybody I’ve ever trained with down, let my mum and dad and brother down,” said the 33-year-old. “I’ve been working for this for over a quarter of a century. There are no positives to be taken from it.”
Happily his girlfriend Gemma Gibbons later took a judo silver medal. However contrast Burton’s reaction with Keri-Anne Payne, emerging from the Serpentine after nearly two hours in the women’s 10km open-water swim. She too was fancied for a medal, but had just been pipped for the bronze by an agonising 0.4 of a second. Keri-Anne told Clare Balding she had been “hurting for most of the race”, had missed the bottle when she went in to feed and had never quite got back on terms with the leaders.
“It goes to show they played me at my own game, I guess, by leading from the front. She [The Hungarian Eva Risztov, who led from the start, to take gold] did such a great job. The top 25 swimmers in the world are here today. So, I guess, to come out fourth… is not too bad.”
These are not isolated examples, cobbled together to make a general point. Again and again I was struck by this gender gap at the heart of these Games. Women, responding to the outcome, whatever it was, with measured realism and great good grace. But some of the men, winning or losing, either indulged in alpha-male antics or collapsed into something close to self-pity.
Did you see American sprinter Justin Gatlin, twice-banned drugs cheat, barrelling his chest into Churandy Martina of the Netherlands, the man he beat into second place in the semi-finals of the 100m? Contrast that with the way GB heptathlete Jessica Ennis and her rivals behaved after she powered to victory in her final event, the 800m. They all lined up, linked hands, and bowed together to the crowds.
Listen again to Team GB’s Martyn Ronney after finishing fifth in the semi-finals of the 400m in a time 0.71 of a second slower than he did in Beijing. “I don’t really know why it wasn’t there. I trained really hard and made all the sacrifices people talk about. I lost a social life… with the training I did this year. It just was not good enough and that’s all I can say.”
Or to three men in the British rowing team, Alan Campbell in the single sculls and Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase in the lightweight double sculls, after they won bronze and silver respectively. They were all distraught. “We gave everything. We’ve tried everything. We wanted to win so badly. We’re just sorry to everyone we’ve let down,” said Hunter.
They could all take lessons from veteran track cyclist Vicky Pendleton, in her last Olympics, who was twice denied by the judges in her three events and still came away with a gold and a silver. There were tears, of course. And some resentment about being nudged by her great Australian rival in the first leg of her final race. She could still, however, acknowledge that their great rivalry had made both of them better cyclists.
The women in team GB won fewer medals than their male counterparts. As of Thursday evening, they had won a grand total of 31 against 64 for the men. But 17 of their medals were gold, compared with 27 of the men’s. This being the Olympics, the only places they competed head-to-head in the same events were in the tennis mixed doubles and in horse riding.
If I am right about the legacy women have left us all from the 2012 Games, the next big question must be how, in an age of great upheaval in the world we are about to return to, we can bring these same resilient instincts they have shown in the sporting arena to bear on sorting that out too?
Not a single woman features at the senior levels of the Westminster coalition. There are no women in the nine-strong monetary policy committee of the Bank of England. When Barclays bank went looking for a new chairman it predictably came up with a man , a 72--year-old City grandee.
There are more women at senior levels in public life, in the professions and in business. But too many of them, to get there, feel they have to adopt male ways of thinking and behaving.
There are shafts of hope, nonetheless. A woman is about to take over as general secretary of the TUC. And the regulator on this side of the Atlantic who fingered Barclays over the Libor scandal is a 42-year-old mother of two, from a Catholic comprehensive in Rotherham. Last time I looked Tracey McDermott, who worked her way up from associate level in the Financial Services Authority, was only acting head of enforcement.
But a woman who can go into the City and make a speech condemning an industry that thinks “selling a 94-year-old with a three-year life expectancy a five-year product” gets my vote. To start the Olympic legacy ball rolling, make her role at the FSA (and at its successor body) permanent. And do it now.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west