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'Balance Ton Sport' campaigns against sexism in Belgian sports

23:02 09/05/2021

Sports collective #balancetonsport has published an open letter, co-signed by high-level sportsmen and women and academic and associative supporters, denouncing the spotlight focused almost exclusively on male athletes, wage inequalities and gender-based and psychological violence.

Lola Mansour, judoka and initiator with Charline Van Snick of the collective, denounces an "omerta" on gender-based behaviour and violence in sport.

"Sport remains a fairly closed environment," she said. "When there is violence or abuse, it rarely is reported, in part because of the ability that athletes have to tolerate suffering. But also because the Federations do not live up to their responsibilities.

'If an athlete encounters a problem, she does not know where to turn. In addition, she is often dependent on a precarious contract. The athlete will not sacrifice her dream of a medal, of a career, to assert her rights.

"It's very difficult. We saw it again in publishing this open letter. It was very interesting to go in search of signatories and to see the reactions. The athletes were afraid of reprisals and also of losing sponsors.

"Beyond abuse and violence there is the ‘ordinary sexism’ of gestures and words and a lack of investment in the female teams and athletes. In judo, for instance, the uniforms are made according to male standards. The women get by with it but it’s so loose on us that we look like we are dressed in sleeping bags.

"Another problem is media coverage of events. There is a big gap between the coverage of male and female teams.

"To improve matters we need a deep questioning by the authorities, but also by us; we have sometimes accepted situations that we should not have done. On a daily basis, we must be more careful about the words we use. In politics, in the management of clubs, we must include women."

Written by Richard Harris