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Reporter’s comments spark debate on gender stereotypes and sexism in sport

Belgian Cats' players pictured at the return of several Belgian athletes, after the 'Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games' in Tokyo, Japan, in the arrivals hall at Brussels Airport, in Zaventem, on Saturday 07 August 2021. (BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN)
07:24 10/08/2021

The offensive comments directed at members of the Belgian Cats women’s basketball team by VRT sports journalist Eddy Demarez live on air during an Olympics programme have led to widespread condemnation in Belgium.

The sporting and political world reacted with shock to the insulting and homophobic remarks made by the journalist against the Belgian Cats during a Facebook Live broadcast on VRT’s Sporza sports channel on Saturday. The basketball team’s captain Ann Wauters called the incident "unacceptable" and "repugnant", while Flemish Media Minister Benjamin Dalle said "these homophobic and offensive remarks have no place on social media."

The Belgian Olympic and Interfederal Committee (COIB) stated over the weekend that the comments were "clearly not in line with the values of the COIB, the Belgian team and the Olympic movement".

In a joint statement, the Belgian basketball federation and the Belgian Cats called for the journalist's resignation. VRT moved quickly to distance itself from Demarez and his comments, suspending the journalist and removing him from future broadcasts.

For some, however, the comments came as little surprise. Despite women being more present in top-level sport and on television, sexist comments are still part and parcel of an industry created and run by men.

"Historically, the world of sport was built by men, for men,” says Natacha Lapeyroux, professor in Sociology of Media and Sport at the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris III University. “It has been commented on by men and is still mostly commented on by men. There is this idea that team sports require the acquisition of certain skills such as virility, strength, a taste for competition, attributes ascribed to men."

For the sociologist, this concept is still relevant in our society. Through her theses, Professor Lapeyroux has demonstrated that society masculinises women who practice those sports historically determined as 'masculine,' even at the highest level.

"For some, the fact that women play sports suggests that it could divert them from motherhood, from the family and that it would virilise them,” she says. “They would then be diverted from heterosexuality, and it would direct them towards lesbian sex. These conceptions, these prejudices are obviously very stereotyped, but they still exist."

For Natacha Lapeyroux, it is possible to deconstruct these clichés through education. "There should be training on these issues in sports and journalism schools. We've all been raised in a certain way; we all have stereotypes that are ingrained in us. It's important to deconstruct them and that there are specialists who talk about them."

Professor Lapeyroux also stresses the importance of highlighting sportsmen and sportswomen who practice a sport that, historically, is not associated with their gender. "We should show more and more women involved in certain sports in the media. But we should also show men invested in so-called 'historically female' sports. This would make it possible to evolve the representations and break down prejudices about the "gender" of certain sports."

The help of the federations will be important. "Just showing or giving a voice to a man who does classical dance or a woman who plays football, helps to say, 'I can practice this sport',” says Professor Lapeyroux. “It is also necessary that the federations set up a communication campaign to promote these disciplines to these audiences with a discourse that values them, that puts them forward and that encourages them to practice these sports."

 

Written by Nick Amies

Comments

Frank Lee

Girls who play sport tend to develop a pretty good self-esteem, are proud of their achievements, and feel empowered. Also, it probably makes them healthier. Personally, I find that great, but I know many guys who like unsure, needy, subservient girls. Those guys are the ones making stupid comments.

Aug 11, 2021 15:15