sport

Imaged Bodies

It was great watching the Paralympics, so many sets of wheels and carbon fibre in various shapes it was feast of material multiplicities. If there was ever a time to watch a rich, complex version of the diversity of human physical performance, this was it. But I am bothered by the fact that the only time functionally diverse bodies become noticed and appreciated is every 4 years through sport. Which begs a question about body image. Is it more what images of bodies we see that helps certain bodies be seen as acceptable, or more ‘normal’? Our usual programming of common functioning sport with the narrow choices normally offered is disrupted momentarily – for the novelty of both the Olympics and Paralympics. Which is why I view the Paralympics with mixed feelings. Body image is more like body stories, it’s the words and meanings that describe and give value to who we are – how our body matter ‘matters’ or doesn’t.

I can appreciate the achievement and skill of Sophie Pascoe and Liam Malone, but I also notice how their bodies function at a level that is almost identical to common functioning. Their athletic achievements are phenomenal and the camera loves them both – they are both (in my opinion) extremely photogenic people, with muscular, athletic physiques that few people can ever achieve. So they are perfect representatives with the perfection of lean mean body machines.

The irony then is these bodies break stereotypes and maintain stereotypes. Their stories of success and triumph in sport offer alternative ideas about what people can or cannot do. But not everyone with a disability wants to participate in sport or even likes sport! It sets up the ‘they are so inspirational’ theme, that while on the surface seems harmless, it confines disability as a lens through which people can maintain their sense of privilege. If that sounds a bit weird, this is a good explanation. But where are their images of success of disabled/functionally unique people doing other stuff? Because it’s not just the image it’s the stories we need to hear and share with each other about our own bodies that matter as well.

I’m also interested in the aesthetic of movement, and I love seeing the ways the physical can merge with the technological in new combinations. A future Olympics that genuinely celebrated human performance of the body might include a range of ages and function, I can imagine the games broken up into elements like ‘wheels’ ‘water’ and the 5 continents each hosting an element simultaneously. I’d like to see arts, music and creative festivals follow to break down the separation of mind and body, the arts and sciences. Unfortunately that might mean pruning back the number of sports, but I think I’d rather see more diversity of people than sport. But if I had the choose, if it involves wheels – it should be in there. Well, maybe wheelbarrow racing might be be pushing it.

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Sweet – up in smoke

I’m not sure my nervous system, endocrine system, excretion and intelligence system can take much more. After a rugby world cup final that sent my adrenal glands into overdrive while my kidneys processed excessive diuretics, followed by manic dressing up and serious sugar overload there were a few days to recover before the next round of loud explosions at the moment of just getting to sleep.

So I’m gonna simplify the picture and come up with some ingenious answers coz it’s Friday night and I’m wearing odd socks:

We waved flags, all sorts of flags, and won a cup, playing a game the rest of the world has never heard of. In a country that doesn’t exist on many world maps, we worry people can’t tell our flag from Australia’s. Fine – let’s just make it official and put a kiwi on a flag laying an egg shaped object. What is the point of having a flag if we aren’t even on a map? It’s like the world took a bad selfie and cut us off.

Now to deal with this Halloween thing at the wrong time of the year and our insistence on celebrating a failed terrorist plot in another country over 400 years ago by playing with explosives. So if we are going to hang on, borrow and butcher other rituals why not go the whole hog and just completely cluster f*#k it. I propose exploding sugar fire-works. Just shoot lollies and stuff into the sky and kids can run all over the neighbourhood finding it. Much more skill involved having to read the wind and calculate the range of a pineapple lump or jaffa vrs a marshmello. Could be future All-Black training fending off the competition, speed, reaction time.

Time to get a referendum going. Don’t worry about the price, it shouldn’t sky rocket.

Dirt-knee-dancing

Body’s struck by the dazzling light. A moment taken to gather nerves and step out for the first time. Hearts racing the crowd on the edge of their seats. This is it the moment we have all been waiting for. Months of build-up, the count-down is over, fighting back the tears of joy and delight. Tension and anticipation broken by the emergence of the performance. It’s awkward and a little uncoordinated but that’s ok, most of them are only three years old.

It’s their first ballet recital and the choreographed stage fright is nothing short of brilliant and is truly inspirational. Meanwhile on the other side of the world a bunch of other performers wait in their own test on the world stage. Their costumes will be worn with the same level of pride and a bit less tulle. They will wrestle with the same emotions, fear, excitement, triumph and satisfaction.

Playing on the stage and field with dirty knees and hearts filled with pride. Where both try-d. Today was a first for many and many cried.

a-fend-did

I’m fortunate to be living with a seven year old. She gives me a great insight to the realities of the role schools play in shaping ideas about what is normal and expected of boys and girls. It stretches my capacity to listen without commenting or launching into a modified feminist deconstruction. Figuring out what is helpful and practical in the playground is perhaps the biggest challenge. So tonight the conversation at the dinner table was about the boys saying she couldn’t play rugby because she was a girl. Now in my head I was working through hegemonic power and wondering what does she really want? Answer – she wants to play! To have access to sport and physicality without it feeling like a requirement to challenge stereotypes. Yip – she just wants to play!! It wasn’t my fight, she isn’t me because I would be just playing – I grew up thinking I was a boy most of the time anyway.

So it needed to be something short and simple. Something she could say that fitted with her personality that could both challenge and accept the situation for what it was. Knowing her wicked sense of humour and brilliant acting ability as well as a profound intelligence (far beyond what I had at the same age) it boiled down to pointing out the facts in response to the statement “but you’re a girl”. It seemed so obvious but the simplicity of saying ‘really? I hadn’t noticed, thanks for pointing that out’ and getting on with playing was the approach that she wanted to take.

I don’t know if it will work but the conversation was important for exploring the determined ways genderedness enters consciousness and becomes reinforced. It woke me up to the daily normalising minefield children and young people negotiate at school. I hope teachers doing duty in playgrounds can see the important role they can play in gently challenging ideas and creating inclusion on the basis of interest and enthusiasm. Then we need to work on the media showing more women’s sport including rugby. Visibility defines acceptability.

She also has quite a good fend on her so I reckon she’ll be right mate.

Glory or gory days

A little red flag popped up on my facebook page last night terribly exciting for this digital introvert. I was in the middle of writing my previous post and I had momentary smirk as the strange synergy of the universe seemed to be toying with my sense of irony. Someone was inviting me to play a game of football tomorrow. Back to kicking balls, something I spent many hours doing in my youth and was pretty good at it. Of course this is all in the past, in fact my last real club game was last century. As I was pondering my response – which could only be a yes or a no, I wanted to understand the simultaneous excitement, dread, and curiosity. It’s a division 3 game and apparently won’t be that serious…yeah right. Problem is my default setting has always been extremely competitive at least when it comes to football/soccer. The other is my aging body that while reasonably fit has done nothing of the explosive kind in so long I am worried about my fragile scar tissued hamstrings blowing. I’m also not sure how I will feel playing for fun but I figure it will be a good litmus test of identity. The beautiful game brought out a bit of an ugly side of me long ago so perhaps I will allow myself to be reborn tomorrow. It’s a 10am kick off which in the old days would be like 6am, but will feel more like 3pm now, so at least I will be awake. I’ve dug out my boots, I did upgrade about 10 years ago for coaching so at least they are from this century!

Maybe I just need to remember why I started playing in the first place and why I fell in love with the game. It’s a team sport, it requires multiple skills and ways to use your body. It’s simple and you cannot hide behind your gear or equipment, if you make a mistake, you do everything you can to fix it yourself. The ball doesn’t pick sides, both teams are using the same ball.

If there is one other memory I hope stays the same then I hope it will be that the bar will be open after and asparagus rolls at the after match function. Stay tuned for the over exaggerated post match blog full of colourful hyperbole.

Playing political football

I remember a time when the idea of sport and politics mixing was about as palatable as the concept of raspberry beer. We were split as a nation over playing rugby against South Africa in the late 1970’s and early 80’s due to the countries apartheid policies. I was old enough to remember the images but not old enough to understand the significance. New Zealand wanted the sanctity of its national sport to be untainted by the social policies of other countries that denied certain citizens their dignity and human rights. But many did see the contradiction and through the conflict and protest the public were forced to confront the possibility that there might being an ‘All Black’ in some parts of the world didn’t get you a free drink at the pub.

Fast forward to 2015 and apartheid as a policy has been dissolved. Our love of rugby is no less diminished and Richie McCaw is gearing up to defend the Webb Ellis Cup. There are even calls for our esteem AB captain to enter politics, with whispers of him becoming the next PM. So much for oil and water not mixing. But I suppose it comes down to branding in the end. Richie is perfect, most people either want to be him or do him…well…it’s true – I think there are plenty of people who suddenly find themselves not believing sexuality is fixed.

But if we are going to go down the path of Kiwi athletes having political potential well then lets throw this around a bit a see what happens. I’ve got a few other contenders for the top job:

Cameron Brown is first on my list. This guy knows how to go the distance. 10x NZ Ironman Champ. I’ve seen him run down his opposition in clinical form. If a political party wanted someone who knows how to come from behind and knows it isn’t over until you cross the line.

Lauren Boyle. One of our most understated athletes. As a swimmer she has to do the hard yards in training and again has to squeeze every ounce of potential out of her body in every event. I also get the feeling the best is yet to come from this amazing athlete.

How about Nathan Fa’avae? Here is a multisport guy who can find his way if dropped into the middle of no-where (maybe one of the minor parties could grab him). He can make do with basics and won’t mind burning the midnight oil and running on empty. Throw him a couple of barley sugars and he’ll be good to go.

Any of our rowers – sure they go backwards but when you are out in front you can keep an eye on the opposition and counter any moves. Mahe would do.

Sticking with the water, how about Lisa Carrington – her races might not last all that long but she knows how to win no matter what the margin. Her shoulders are big enough for an entire political party to cry on and have room to spare.

Speaking of powerful women. Valerie Adams has been at the top of a world class event and taken down the cheats. She’ll deal to any dirty politics. Val can also deal with dead weights and would ‘put’ anyone who doubted her out her inner circle.

William Trubridge – the guy going for the world record for swimming to great depths on a single breath. For a political party on their last gasp he could probably help get them out of a dark hole.

Notable exclusions: anyone from Team NZ – Dean Barker might have been an alternative to Richie but no – sorry Dean that epic fail will probably take some serious work to forget. Too soon for the political winds of change Dean.

A couple more who could fit the bill are any of our top cyclists over the years – tactical bunch riding, hiding and then attacking. Cyclists also know at some point they will crash and it will hurt. Maybe someone like Anton Cooper our Olympic mountain bike champ. He would know how to take the spills and deal with varying terrain and conditions. Even better his last name is ‘Cooper’ so it will tap into the deep unconscious of those who know their beer brewing history and so the intimate psychic link to the celebratory consumption of alcohol will fit like a hand in a sweaty glove.

So there you go, some other pickings and perhaps a bit of a reminder that we are successful at other sports not involving balls. And as we learned this week, it’s not always good to be too pumped. If someone puts the boot in and you come apart at the seams well your career might end in a bang. But if Richie had been PM when that rugby ball exploded I am sure there would have a national press conference, referendum on the use of Adidas as a sponsor and perhaps a piece of legislation to ensure no other balls would be deflated under his watch.

Two little bits of advice, practice your handshakes Richie and stay away from pony tails.

Same sport, different game

Two teams opposing sides playing the same sport, same rules but not the same game. It’s a beautiful game football, a simple game with speed strength power and agility utilising Newtons laws. Bodies in motion with the crowds devotion. But this is not a level playing field. It’s the perfect game to demonstrate gender equality on the world stage with a world cup where the winner takes all. But players in this cup are the fairer sex. Here in lies the flaw and cloaked misogyny, the winners earned less than their male conterparts who were knocked out of the first round it simply does not add up.

They got a parade, yes they were shown off, objectified and used like tokens of national pride and patriotism. There you go girls wave and smile and enjoy the blatant sexism. Be grateful for the opportunity to play and suck up the unfairness with grace and humility, stay silent when the media suggest you’d earn more if you wore less. Your femininity contested and questioned incessantly. It will take a lot to kick the habit of patriarchal hegemony. The athletic woman challenges the gender rule book so penalties are given. You’ve crossed the line, offside with your expectations of equality. Success and victory mean your body is still someones property.

The beautiful game is indeed an ugly reminder that sexism is alive and kicking balls.

 

Hard to swallow

I often wonder if I met someone from another world or a parallel universe what I would find difficult explaining to them. It’s a nice yardstick for checking myself in relation to life. Competitive eating would rank pretty highly on my list. It might just be the weird head space I’m in currently but after a good night sleep I doubt my feelings will change much. I can only watch for a couple of seconds before I truly just want to scream ‘slow down you’re eating too fast’. Not only is the speed at which these ‘athletes’ eat outrageous the kind of food that is downed isn’t exactly nutritious. It might have a history of some kind heck most weird things can be traced to something if you find the right social anthropologist to share a pie with (or 40), but does that make it worthy of becoming a sport? Maybe the word eating needs to be dropped because it isn’t really consuming food for the purpose of fueling the body. Even the word ‘food’ could be dropped given most of the contents of a hot dog are not grown in any way shape or form.

What would I say if I had to explain it? Maybe I could just shrug my shoulders and say it is simply part of the strange and bizarre relationships human beings have with their bodies and the rituals we have invented to make our lives meaningful. Then I might politely guide my visitor to a local bar for their next lesson. I really need some sleep – now a competitive sleeper might be something I’d sign up for right now.

There’s some food for thought…just give it some time to digest.

Games represent our common wealth

Our flag might be the topic of much debate for some but when I see that black shirt, singlet, togs or lycra onesie with the silver fern I recognise a symbol that has etched its way into our cultural heritage through sport. But competitive sport can polarise people and I suppose being brought up with my parents coaching gymnastics and then squash it has formed an integral part of my identity.

But with the commonwealth games I feel there is an opportunity to perhaps reflect on the rich diversity of sport that spans gender, age, culture and disability. This is the place where lawn bowls boasts a team of youth and ‘experience’ blond locks beside silver haired foxes outwitting opponents with strategy, skill and determination. Where para swimmers sit in readiness alongside every other swimmer with nerves and anxiety matched with excitement and pride. For something other than rugby and netball to take centre stage in our collective sporting psyche. Watching athletes congratulate each other after giving it their all but perhaps not quite making it – that is the spirit of competition where regardless of the flag that is raised pushing each other to strive to the next level is what I enjoy.

The common wealth of sport is in danger of being lost in the market place of commercial and professional sport where athletes are brands, billboards and pawns in the global economy. Of course they train hard and at a personal level athletes have desires, hopes and dreams and still represent strong personal values. However the obsession and personal investment or association with the success of teams does boarder on sociopathic at times – but don’t try telling these people it is just a game!

So lets not get distracted by medal tables, yes they offer a comparison of relative success but they do not show the values and potential worth of that common and uniquely human drive to better ourselves and each other to be the best that we can be. This is an opportunity to join in appreciating the full spectrum of physical performance and see bodies move in extraordinary ways and I for one am enjoying watching people explode with joy, pride and ecstacy or collapse in sheer and utter pain and suffering.

But lets be honest if you are a kiwi – black and silver should always beat green and gold.

Racing ahead without looking behind

Down here in NZ where the oval ball rules, we have not escaped the global phenomenon of more spherical ball games including basketball. Why we have our very own Stephen Adams playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder – and all of a sudden I love basketball. That’s just how we roll sometimes, we connect personally with our fellow nest flyers…walkers (silly me forgot we are the land of flightless birds), and adopt them. It’s like living in a very large extended family. We can of course double our chances with the Adams family – sister Valerie is quite a good athlete herself. Olympic Gold, World Champ, Commonwealth Champ – yeah she puts that heavy round thing out there!

You don’t need to follow sport anymore – it follows you! Sport is a business and whilst we want children and young people to be active and enjoy the positive aspects of sport, in the end it is about generating profit. The relationships between marketing and promoting brands and sport is about as in your face as a ball in the face. What happened over the last week with the ‘racism scandal’ and the Los Angeles Clippers will be picked up as an issue around human rights, racism, justice and rightly so. NBA commissioner Adam Silver has ‘cut out the tumour’ excising as much removal powers as possible by cutting ties with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. But what will be the follow up treatment and overall recovery regime for the NBA?

While this decision has been lauded by most and is probably the right one, it is hardly a brave decision. It doesn’t require any party involved to deal with the fall out or be genuinely accountable. Legal teams are probably rubbing their hands together gleefully. Silver will be the ‘good guy’ cleaning things up and taking a hard line, Sterling the ‘bad guy’ and merchandise, new branding will probably be created to ride the wave of unity while the ground swell of public awareness is firmly fixed on the NBA. Sponsors will be running to advertisers to ensure they don’t drop in too late. Rest assured it will be ‘business as usual.’

What to learn and take from this? Money talks. Everything is for sale. That is the sad truth. This was never really about exposing racism – someone cashed in with that tape. If it does generate conversations about any form of discrimination in sport or generally, then great, but these will be fleeting and more about political point scoring.

I will be keeping an eye on proceedings but so long as my boy Stephen is playing well and representing the silver fern I will ride my own wave of national pride vicariously and cross my fingers he gets the respect he deserves as a player because of how he plays. I’m also hoping coaches with a homophobic streak get a bit of a wake up call. A note to Mr Silver then – you might want to look into that to.