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Sexism in sport still very real problem

The inherent gender binaries in sport have meant that it has been and remains to this day a public sphere particularly prone to misogyny, both explicit and implicit. The latest in the line of chauvinistic high-profile sporting figures is the Russian Shamil Tarpischev, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation and a member of the International Olympic Committee since 1994. On a TV chat show, he referred to Serena and Venus Williams as “the Williams Brothers”, comments which Serena described as “very insensitive and extremely sexist”. Far from offering a full and frank apology, Tarpischev described his comments as a “joke” before claiming that what he had said had been blown out of proportion. Notwithstanding such side splitting jokes, the silence of the International Tennis Federation – under whose authority he falls – is far more worrying than the lazy and tired stereotyping of one ignorant individual.

The sacking of Richard Keys and Andy Gray aside, there is little sign that sport as a cooperative is taking sexism seriously. Examples abound, but take the tennis commentator John Inverdale, who, during Wimbledon 2013, magnanimously postulated that Marion Bartoli was “never going to much of a looker”; or Richard Scudamore, the CEO of the Premier League, whose incisive wit was illustrated in email exchanges which joked about the irrationality of women with children, and about keeping a female colleague “off your shaft”. Both kept their jobs, and all was forgotten.

To say that sexism is not endemic to sport would be to give it far too fair a hearing. Even to ignore the questions about whether women should be able to compete in F1, or be part of the Tour de France, or participate in a woman’s decathlon (the answer to all three is yes), can anyone, for example, justify the male only membership policy of Muirfield golf club, the 16 times host of The Open? Admittedly, a private society can restrict membership however it likes, but would it be so hard for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to host the championships elsewhere? The idea that women cannot compete in the same way as men is condescending; the idea that women cannot appreciate sport in the same way as men is completely absurd.

With only 2% of mainstream sports coverage dedicated to women’s sport, the usual cry of “men’s sport is just more interesting” is superficial and not capable of waving away the problem. People aren’t interested enough, quite simply because women’s sport doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. Arguments about the differences in quality between genders hold no water, since even if this is the case in some sports, plenty of people would happily watch Morecambe v Exeter over a premier league match. No one watched Jessica Ennis-Hill crown off her Olympic Heptathlon victory in the 800m, and thought, well she’s a bit slow.

Gender divisions within sport are a real problem with real effects – despite a recent upturn caused by the Olympics, participation rates by women remain far lower than government targets. It is the sporting bodies who fail to react sufficiently to instances of sexism, along with blockheads like Shamil Tarpischev, who only further entrench such divisions.

Esarhaddon
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Review: Esarhaddon, The Substitute King

 

✮✮✮

 

Slumped on his throne, dishevelled head raised and haunted eyes surveying the scene, Thomas Lodge creates a commanding portrait of a rapidly deteriorating monarch. As the newest addition to his court, exorcist Damqi, professes loyalty to Esarhaddon the audience are inducted into the ancient world of Assyria.

Following many of the conventions for classical tragedy, playwright Selena Wisnom’s background in Babylonian poetry lends an authenticity to the affair. Reviving characters from the annals of history, Wisnom reimagines the 680 – 669 BC saga of Esarhaddon and his mother Naqia. Bringing to the forefront Naqia’s unprecedented authority, the play emphasises the power of women in past as well in the present (due to the gender-blind casting of Sarah Wright as Damqi).

Through Damqi’s eyes we learn the ritual of the substitute king. An ordinary man must act as Esarhaddon for one hundred days before dying in his stead. Purportedly the only way to alleviate the true king’s suffering and save his kingdom, the sacrifice involved ought to be extremely emotive. Unfortunately the denouement is almost too obvious.

Despite the historically fascinating premise, the innumerable lengthy soliloquies are not quite enough to sustain interest. The Chorus remains rather detached and unconvincing whilst anachronistically lighting incense sticks with a box of Cook’s Matches.

However, Jacob Mercer’s disgruntled physician coupled with loyal scholar Balasi (Soham Bandyopadhyay) are a striking duo. Navigating the Assyrian Court, they remind the audience of the human warmth that lies beneath court politics as well as the disastrous ends that can befall a man riddled with jealousy.

Perhaps a few more slips than are forgivable and a conclusion that lacks dramatic power – Esarhaddon: The Substitute King leaves the audience slightly dissatisfied because it has such potential. The show’s saving grace is undoubtedly Lodge’s masterful portrayal of an honourable king, forsaken by the gods he worships. Esarhaddon’s physical deterioration is convincing and compelling, his mercy and desire to trust are fully-realised in a touching performance.

Maybe a little too niche and unintentionally alienating for the casual theatregoer, the play is nevertheless a fascinating example of classical tragic modes and a stimulating introduction to an otherwise obscure ancient Assyrian world.

Throughout the intrigue, family politics and elaborate rituals it is Esarhaddon who, rightly, commands the spotlight.

Esarhaddon: The Substitute King is playing at The Simpkins Lee Theatre, LMH, until 1st November

 

IMAGE/Elyn Vandenwyngaert

chrispike
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OUSU VP Chris Pike suspended

Oxford University Student Union Vice President for Welfare and Equal Opportunity’s Chris Pike has been suspended following a complaint from an unknown source. His suspension will be in effect a full investigation by OUSU Complaints Commission, at which time a report will be published.

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