Dana Johannsen 's Opinion

Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald’s chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: Fifa could learn from Castle about how women are portrayed

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Former Netball New Zealand boss and now Bulldogs head Raelene Castle has overhauled the role of cheerleaders at the club. Photo / Dean Purcel
Former Netball New Zealand boss and now Bulldogs head Raelene Castle has overhauled the role of cheerleaders at the club. Photo / Dean Purcel

For an organisation that claims they are committed to "championing equality for women and girls" Fifa gets it wrong far too often when it comes to how women are portrayed in their sport.

Much of their mis-steps have occurred at the top level, with president Sepp Blatter delivering a volley of clangers over the years. At this year's Fifa congress in Mauritius, Blatter proudly boasted of having three women on the board, before adding "say something ladies! You are always speaking at home. Now you can speak here". That same week he also referred to a candidate for a new female position on the executive committee as "good and good looking" in an address to the Asian Football Confederation.

Having also once famously suggested women soccer players should wear tighter shorts to improve the profile of their sport, Blatter wouldn't have seen much wrong with the choice of host for the 2014 World Cup draw over the weekend either.

Organisers of next year's World Cup in Brazil have been accused of blatant sexism for using model and actor Fernanda Lima to help conduct the draw. Wearing a tight gold dress with a plunging neckline, the South American beauty was clearly there for the purpose of adding some "eye candy" to the proceedings, in what at times resembled a comical pantomime.

If you missed it, it went something like this:

Busty blonde: "Gosh the draw is all so confusing";

Male presenter: "There, there allow me to explain slowly using simple language".

The spectacle, watched by a worldwide audience of quarter of a billion, completely undermines one of Fifa's apparent objectives in promoting equality in their sport as set down in their women's development programme guidelines released last year.

As Karren Brady, vice-chairman of West Ham and former managing director of Birmingham City, said: "Football is not only a game for everyone but incredibly influential. So for Fifa to put at centre stage a woman only there to be gawped at sends out a terrible message."

Fortunately some sports are starting to be more conscious about how women are portrayed in their game.

Former Netball New Zealand boss and now head of the Bulldogs Raelene Castle has caused a minor storm in NRL-land by overhauling the role of cheerleaders at the club. From next year the revealing uniforms and knee-high white boots will be high-kicked to touch, in favour of a more conservative and tasteful get-up.

While most stories have been primarily focused on the concerns of male fans who fear the game will self-destruct without any D-Cups on display, of more significance is the new role the women will play in the club. They'll be ambassadors for the Bulldogs, with pre-match and halftime performances set to be abandoned for off-field work such as hospital visits, corporate hosting and further education.

The decision, which was described by RadioSport as "ballsy" (because bravery is apparently an inherently male trait), is only a small step in re-framing how women are viewed in the sport. But hopefully it will encourage more young girls to aspire to be like the Bulldogs chief executive rather than the entertainment for men at the footy.

- NZ Herald

Dana Johannsen

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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