Former professional sportswomen, Victoria Pendleton, Ebony Rainford-Brent and Gail Emms speak about the sexism they faced in their careers
Olympic silver medallist Gail Emms has spoken of the time she was once told by a sponsor to ‘have a few sunbeds’ in preparation for a televised performance, whilst both Pendleton and Rainford-Brent have discussed how they had to be ‘one of the boys’ to get on in the early stages of their careers.
The three athletes were speaking at a panel event to launch the 2017 Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards in association with Vitality, and were being asked about gender equality in sport by host, Eleanor Oldroyd.
Emms said; “A sponsor once told me to please have a few sunbeds so the cellulite does not show up on the show court and for the lights on the TV court… They went ‘well you know, it’s a short skirt and we want to get the best photos when you are bending over, when you are lunging…’.”
Emms added: “Badminton is… twisting, turning, you don’t really want to show a lot… you want to cover up, and I swear the kit used to come and it would be like for a six year old… and I’d think ‘I can’t even get it over my thigh!’”
Double Olympic gold medallist and nine-time World Champion, Victoria Pendleton talked about her experiences in the early days of her career as the only woman on the team. She said; “For me I was always told to act more like a boy... I am wearing an extra small boys’ tracksuit, I am being shouted at like the boys, the bus driver’s calling me lad…. But (I thought) I don’t feel like I should be dressed up in a fancy dress costume to do this job. I still want to be Victoria… and be good at sport, if that’s ok.”
Pendleton added; “They told me to cut my hair off because it was getting in the way of the aerodynamics… and I was like ‘I don’t want to do that’… It takes a lot of energy to be someone you’re not. You don’t have that energy when you are performing to the best of your ability.”
Rainford-Brent, the first black woman to play for the England cricket team, winning the World Cup with the squad in 2009, was asked by Oldroyd if she was ever told she couldn’t play cricket because she was a girl. She replied; “Yes. I used to pretend to be a boy for quite a while, actually. I used to go to Lords to these courses, and I had this afro hair that I used to plait in to little braids and hide it under a cap… It’s massive that I was hiding that I was a girl… But it has changed, and to see the girls’ final (this years’ Cricket World Cup Final) sell out and have 1.1 million tuned in… that is incredible.”
Now in their 30th year, the Sunday Times Sports Women of the Year Awards celebrate the outstanding contribution to sport made by elite athletes, coaches, administrators, community volunteers and inspirational women.
Members of the public are able to submit their nominations for the awards across seven categories at www.sportswomenoftheyear.co.uk, with the winners being revealed at a ceremony in London on Thursday October 26.
Victoria Pendleton calls Cycling Weekly ‘the comic’ following the ‘token attractive woman’ controversy and says she was never able to consider taking up road cycling because of the gender inequality she would have had to endure
Victoria Pendleton referred to Cycling Weekly as ‘the comic’ at an event last night when asked about the controversy surrounding the ‘token attractive woman’ caption the magazine ran alongside picture in a recent article.
When asked about the incident at a panel event to launch the 2017 Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards in association with Vitality, the double Olympic gold medallist and nine time World Champion, said; “I always refer to Cycling Weekly as the comic, so you know, what do you expect from that nature of reading?”
When asked by the event’s host, Eleanor Oldroyd, whether British Cycling has a problem with sexism, Pendleton said; “I think there are changes being made which is positive and I’m very hopeful that, having spoken to the performance director (of British Cycling), they’re going to implement a lot of changes and different strategies in order to ensure that previous mistakes are not made again, which is very reassuring.”
Pendleton also said at the event; “Cycling is an interesting one. I was a track cyclist and the opportunities for men and women were very equal. (To begin with) I was the only woman on the team but now there is a 50/50 split between men and women on the track. But let’s not talk about road cycling because that, at the other end of the sport, could not be more different. You’re looking at your male counterparts on multimillion pound contracts, let alone the prize money, and you’ve got the girls living in dorms, living like students, training the same hours to achieve the best they can in the women’s game when the opportunity for sponsors, really, nothing’s there.”
“People would say (to me) why don’t you become a road rider because you have the ability, but I think it would break my heart to stand there next to a male road rider and give it absolutely everything, and could be the best in the world, and it still wouldn’t be even.”
Now in their 30th year, the Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards celebrate the outstanding contribution to sport made by elite athletes, coaches, administrators, community volunteers and inspirational women. Members of the public are able to submit their nominations for the awards across seven categories at www.sportswomenoftheyear.co.uk, with the winners being announced at a ceremony in London on Thursday October 26.
photos Janos Schmidt