Should we cheer for women in league?

By Ben Horne,


27 Have your say

    There's more to cheerleading than you might think. AAP Image/Action Photographics, Robb Cox

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    The obstruction rule, the shoulder charge, scrums and how Greg Inglis is eligible to play for Queensland are topics which will be debated for as long as rugby league is played.

    There’s no black and white in this game, only grey. And this week’s Women in League Round is no exception.

    If you take a step back from the on-field action for a moment, a vexing issue which just won’t go away is whether cheerleaders are a viable part of the modern-day NRL.

    Women in League round is promoted as a chance to say thank you and to celebrate women for the important roles they play in the game.

    It’s also about aiming higher for the future – with chief executive Dave Smith launching an initiative to ensure more females are employed in positions of authority and leadership in the game.

    But the fact is cheerleaders are the real face of Women in League.

    Dressed in lycra, short skirts and bikinis, they’re representing the game at the coalface.

    When you go to the footy, these are the women in league you see first hand.

    Cheerleaders enjoy what they do. They’re hard-working, dedicated, athletic dancing professionals, who are embracing an avenue for them to perform.

    But good or bad, they set the NRL brand apart from every other football code in the country.

    The AFL haven’t featured cheer squads since the Swanettes disbanded in Sydney in the late 1980s.

    The A-League don’t have them and Australian Super Rugby franchises in some cases feature dance troupes, but not cheergirls.

    Rugby league’s position at head office is they’re more than happy to leave cheerleading decisions up to the clubs.

    Russell Crowe’s South Sydney Rabbitohs got rid of theirs in 2007, concerned about the uncomfortable atmosphere they created for many spectators.

    When Raelene Castle – the NRL’s first female chief executive in 15 years – took over as Canterbury Bulldogs boss last year, one of the first items on her agenda was to review the club’s cheerleader program.

    A decision was made to employ a squad of women (The Sapphires) which focused first and foremost on charity, fan and corporate engagement, with cheering secondary and revealing outfits a thing of the past.

    The Canberra Raiders have also restructured their cheerleading approach for 2014, to make it more professional.

    Castle doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong with the more sexy approach utilised by most other clubs, but it wasn’t the image she wanted for the Bulldogs.

    “I thought it was a good time to review the cheerleading squad and give them more opportunity to be more engaged across all elements of the club and also make sure they weren’t just a game-day marketing ploy,” Castle told AAP.

    “The feedback we’re getting from the girls is they said it’s a big step forward for them and they feel more integrated in the club.

    “I don’t think one approach is right or wrong. I just think it’s about what your brand is and what your fans want.”

    Professor Catharine Lumby from Macquarie University has been the gender advisor for the NRL and says the game’s attitudes towards women have improved markedly over the past decade.

    “I’m pro bono because I would walk away if I thought they were doing a PR job on this stuff,” she says.

    “What I see now is a more zero tolerance attitude when something happens that involves violence towards a woman or demeaning behaviour.”

    In regards to cheerleaders and their place in this more gender-minded NRL, Lumby says it would be disrespectful to simply abolish cheerleading.

    However, she encourages other clubs to take a leaf out of Castle’s book and rethink how cheerleaders are used and promoted.

    “Some of these women are very proud of their athleticism and involvement in sport. They’re stereotyped as the dumb blonde cheerleader which is a bit offensive. But if they’re going to be part of the sport I think they need to be given a broader purpose,” said Lumby.

    “They shouldn’t be put in a position where they’re just decorative. That really needs to be rethought.”

    The National Council of Women of Australia are also unopposed to cheerleading, but are concerned at the sexualisation of it and hope the women involved are educated enough to understand the purpose of what they’re doing.

    Australian Women’s Sport and Recreation encouraged the NRL to also look at using women in other roles as well as cheerleading – something which the game promises it’s doing.

    Dr Emma Jane is a senior lecturer at the University of NSW and completed a thesis for her media and communications PHD on cheerleading in the media.

    As a former journalist, Jane was once given an assignment where she trained and performed as a Bulldogs cheerleader back in the mid 1990s.

    It gave her a completely different appreciation for cheerleading.

    “The idea was because I was a total feminist, it would be really funny to send me out to become a cheerleader. I was expecting to make fun of them,” Jane said.

    “But it was actually a real eye opener for me because I realised it was pretty damn hard and I also realised it was very different to what I thought it was from a feminist perspective.

    “The young women I was hanging out with weren’t feeling oppressed or objectified, they were just having a really good time on their terms.

    “I think there’s a tendency to shift the blame for (poor attitudes) onto the cheerleaders.”

    © AAP 2018
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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • May 17th 2014 @ 7:39am
      Football United said | May 17th 2014 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      Still waiting for someone to give me a decent excuse why we still parade these girls as pieces as flesh at games while on the other hand play the hypocrite with pink jerseys and making a big deal over “woman in league”. It’s about time we stop calling them cheerleaders because they are not, they don’t “Cheer” or “Cheerlead” nor are they “involved in the sport” more than any supporter in the stands, their role is to dance around suggestively for bored old men and horny teenagers. Footy Stripers would be far more accurate for their role.

      • May 17th 2014 @ 9:02am
        Kurt said | May 17th 2014 @ 9:02am | ! Report

        Because they enjoy doing it, and I enjoynwatchin them do it

      • May 17th 2014 @ 9:45am
        Axle an the guru said | May 17th 2014 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        Maybe you ( Football United) need to go to a strippers bar so that you can see what a stripper is. They take all there clothes off . BTW it is there choice to do so.

      • Roar Rookie

        May 17th 2014 @ 2:00pm
        Squidward said | May 17th 2014 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

        As a relative of a former cheerleader, I can say she loved doing it, cheered basically for free, had it as an avenue to continuing dancing for fun, and made life long friends from it

      • May 17th 2014 @ 3:51pm
        Banana man said | May 17th 2014 @ 3:51pm | ! Report

        So football United is that how you see all cheerleaders as football strippers? I only ask because a lot of those girls are ages 8 and up mate so you might want to choose your words more carefully in the future!!

      • May 17th 2014 @ 7:47pm
        Ra said | May 17th 2014 @ 7:47pm | ! Report

        Hehe maybe football united, you want to watch a troupe of guys jumping around with Pom Poms pre-match instead of gorgeous hard working young babes. What a difference that would make for bored old men and horny young fellas. The old men would be in the bar, the young teens will be playing computer games and you will be in the stands by your miserable self. Have another VB sport !

      • Roar Guru

        May 18th 2014 @ 11:46pm
        Reginald Bomber said | May 18th 2014 @ 11:46pm | ! Report

        Most of them do it to stay fit and also do aerobics and dancing.

        Or maybe they just want to end up like Jennifer Hawkins, former Newcastle Knights cheerleader.

    • May 17th 2014 @ 8:06am
      Johnnyball said | May 17th 2014 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      Can’t help feeling this is all over analytical with a lot of whoo ha thrown in.
      At the end of the day it is a tough sport played by generally tough men (debatable as all actions being dumbed down)
      Can we have something even more sensitive like men with pets, ice creams etc.
      Fair dinkum, let’s concentrate on the sport and not the peripherals.

    • May 17th 2014 @ 9:13am
      the Barry said | May 17th 2014 @ 9:13am | ! Report

      What a waste of time. They are not strippers, they are professional or semi professional dancers.

      If softies like football united think their routines have anything in common with strippers they’re kidding.

      I suggest that anyone who automatically thinks cheerleaders when women in league round is brought up instead of celebrating the contributions of people like Raelene Castle, Catherine Harris, Katie page and thousands of others has the poor attitude to women.

      Anyone who hears cheerleader and thinks stripper has a poor attitude to women.

    • May 17th 2014 @ 10:12am
      Sir Jamie Lyon said | May 17th 2014 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      Yes yes and Yes. Sefton play house… Where every man is king!

      • May 17th 2014 @ 10:27am
        Slain said | May 17th 2014 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Some of go to a game and lose interest half for very reasons on field….than we look at the side lines and see the wonderful pretty human speciments, enjoy the beer, pie and the go …it was money well spent…..

        the Cheer leaders just need to reinvent themselves, to suite the times as they are intergral part of the RL game day package…alone with the beer and pie ofcourse!

    • May 17th 2014 @ 10:23am
      Johnnyball said | May 17th 2014 @ 10:23am | ! Report

      Well said Barry!

    • May 17th 2014 @ 10:59am
      Bearfax said | May 17th 2014 @ 10:59am | ! Report

      For mine, if you are going to have cheerleaders, they need to be professional and quite frankly would be better off with a fully choreographed dance routine with men and women involved and perhaps lasting at least 5-10 minutes, perhaps with a vocalist backing. Adding other entertainment elements to a game I think adds to the atmosphere. I would also like to see women’s rugby league matches played before the main fixture. The more variety added, the better.