Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: Get yer gear off, girls, it's sexploitation time

If you look at this picture of Adrian Purnell of Tampa Breeze and Chloe Butler of LA Temptation upside-down, you'll see a certain Da Vinci Code-like symmetry. Photo / Cameron Spencer
If you look at this picture of Adrian Purnell of Tampa Breeze and Chloe Butler of LA Temptation upside-down, you'll see a certain Da Vinci Code-like symmetry. Photo / Cameron Spencer

It all started as a bit of a laugh - a cheap, unashamedly tacky gimmick invented as an alternate halftime entertainment special in the over-the-top spectacle that is the Super Bowl.

Models and C-list celebrities eager for exposure of any kind, donned little more than a bra and undies and masqueraded as serious, tough NFL footballers.

Introduced in 2004, the Lingerie Bowl became a staple of the Super Bowl Sunday festivities for millions worldwide and soon spawned a professional "sport" - the Lingerie Football League.

The league, which features 12 teams with names like the LA Temptation, Philadelphia Passion and Orlando Fantasy, pits scantily-clad women against one another in bone-crunching, full contact football.

It's the type of thing at which you'd shake your head and say "only in America", right? Unfortunately not.

Plans are advanced to introduce the game in Australia part of the league's aggressive overseas expansion plans.

Over the next two weekends exhibition games will be held in Brisbane and Sydney, with the stars from the US league facing off in an eastern versus western conference showdown.

From next year Australia will have its own competition, with four teams in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Should the league become established, surely it will undermine efforts in this part of the world to have female athletes respected for their performance, rather than their appearance and shape of their bodies.

Australians should be doing everything they can to prevent this denigrating and sexist form of entertainment arriving on their shores and thankfully, pressure from some very vocal opponents is mounting on organisers to scrap the league.

An online petition says it is the ultimate sexual exploitation of women in sport.

"The LFL reinforces sexist stereotypes about women and further entrenches men's sense of entitlement to women's bodies," said one post on the website change.org.

Australia's Minister for Sport, Kate Lundy, described the LFL as a "cheap, degrading perve" which promoted an unhealthy image of women in sport.

The outrage from Lundy prompted a response from Mitchell Mortaza, the perma-tanned founder and chairman of the US league.

"It was only the consistent persistence of Aussies wanting to see an LFL game live that convinced us to move forward with the upcoming All-Star Game Tour," he said.

"As a government official, Mrs Lundy should be a representative of her entire constituency and not try to impose her own personal morals and what she deems as sport or entertainment to the entire country."

Much like the rhetoric of the LFL's chief enforcer, the sport is littered with contradictions.

It is beauty and brutality, athletic and exploitative.

As much as Mortaza may claim the league is about football and that the women who play in it are not being objectified, the uniforms, the equipment, and the way the sport and its athletes are marketed would strongly suggest otherwise.

Even the league logo, which features two female silhouettes looks like something you would associate more with a strip club than a sporting league.

The largely male crowds that flock to the games are not there to see talented female athletes showcase their skill. They are there hoping for a peek at an errant nipple or an exposed bum cheek.

Unintended exposure is part of the deal; the players' contracts include a clause in which they willingly consent to "accidental nudity."

The players rather optimistically suggest that maybe one day they won't need to get their gear off to draw punters to their games.

But the promoters of the sport appear to care very little about the evolution of women's football. Making money is their chief concern.

Their website boasts of "consistently drawing sell-out crowds, setting record television ratings and developing strong corporate partnerships", yet the athletes in the LFL are not paid.

The LFL provides players with uniforms and pays for travel to and from games, but the players are responsible for all other football-related expenses - including their own health insurance.

These women deal with broken bones, torn ligaments, concussion, and nasty burns from playing on the indoor turf in their knickers.

It is no longer just a bit of a laugh. It is the ultimate in exploitation.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

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