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Supporting a sport has many benefits – socially and psychologically. Team association can drive our self-esteem, it gives us a sense of belonging.
According to the Washington Post, “A sports team is an expression of a fan’s sense of self” which leads to “pride, identity, belonging”.
It provides conversation fodder, even for the mildly interested fan. It can bring people from different countries and cultures together as they metaphorically stand shoulder-to-shoulder in support of their team. Of course, social media has enabled this like never before.
As a passionate supporter, I find myself getting into all kinds of lively discussions online. A difference of opinion has never been so easy to express. However, the phenomenon I find particularly interesting is the all too often change of tone that accompanies the realisation of my gender.
I go from being regarded as an equal (albeit, sometimes uninformed or biased) to someone who knows nothing – often in the blink of an eye.
I understand that, while in a verbal discussion, a person’s voice can usually reveal their gender. Unless a person is using personal pronouns, however, this isn’t the case in online interaction.
But why does it matter? Now I do want to state very loudly and clearly, this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen often enough (and I’m not alone here) for it to be annoying.
So why does gender matter to some men in online rugby forums? Surely, in 2019, rugby is still not considered a male bastion? For those who think it is, I challenge you to say that to one of the Black Ferns!
According to Dr. Stacy Pope of Durham University, “Female sports fans struggle to be taken seriously”. Her research on both female soccer and rugby fans in England, found that female fans “have to routinely ‘prove’ their status as ‘real’ fans” and that “common stereotypes of female sports fans have included that they lack sporting knowledge, are only interested in the sexual attractiveness of (male) star players and are not as passionate or committed as male fans.”
Obviously, while this might describe some, it certainly does not describe all.
Like any group of people, there are those who are accepting and those who are not. However, not accepting female supporters is contrary to the core values of rugby, and is therefore not in keeping with the philosophy of the sport.
I’m quick to admit that I didn’t play rugby – it wasn’t the done thing in my day. Once, at our all-girls college, my friends and I found a rugby ball in the gym and merrily played our version of the rugby (on the cricket wicket to prevent too much running!) a couple of lunch times.
Unfortunately our rugby careers were cut short by the head mistress, who caught us playing and promptly gave the ball back to the boys’ college in order to curb the unlady-like behaviour!
So, I have no rugby playing experience myself, but how does that affect my ability to know the laws or form an opinion based on what I see and read? Plenty of people have opinions on Trump without meeting him, or WWII without having fought – so how is it different?
It’s just a double standard, which is a shame in 2019.