Seemingly, for all the enthusiastic boasts of London 2012 being the most ‘gender egalitarian’ Olympiad so far ever the sports establishment somehow didn’t count on a female actually displaying physical prowess as near as darn it equal to her male equivalent – and potentially even faster. So predictably, like all pseudo-egalitarians, they got very upset when Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen – even at a mere 16 years’ old – happened to do exactly this and almost (within a hair’s breadth) swim as fast as a man.
“That’s as fast as a MAN!” screamed shocked BBC Sports commentator Clare Balding – instantly suspecting that the Chinese Olympian must be on some sort of sneaky doping regimen or else – shock horror! – there was something decidedly ‘different’ and or ‘tampered with’ about her biological sex make up. Leading US coach John Leonard described her performance as “disturbing” and, of course, it wasn’t long before reactionary British hate rag The Daily Mail dived onto the bandwaggon and gleefully ran a series of articles sniping at her for not looking ‘feminine enough’ – because she has short hair and isn’t plastered in make up, nail varnish and wearing ridiculously feet damaging shoes. You see, according to the Mail and much of what styles itself as the ‘popular’ media any woman who does not conform to this is basically a bloke!
Yet it transpires that she wears her hair short primarily for reasons of practicality when training – and who the heck is going to wear make up and high heels when diving into a swimming pool…erm well actually I must admit I do know a few. Besides, plenty of women don’t wear make up, high heels or have long hair – probably the majority – but this, of course, is lost on much of what passes for mainstream news media nowadays, which seems to bear increasingly as little relation to the real world with every day that goes past.
Depressing though, how instead of receiving instant adulation for her amazing feat, Ye Shiwen received only instant doubts and abuse; both with regard to accusations of doping and also questioning over her biological sex merely because of what was perceived to be her non-conformative gender presentation. By contrast, had a 16-year-old boy done as amazingly well as her then he would have been lionized as opposed to what (as a Guardian journalist recently put it) effectively monstered! So much for the Olympian commitment to gender equality – they obviously don’t like that when it actually happens!
As for Ryan Lochte though, the US swimmer whom the media held up as the male example that Ye swam almost as fast as, to his credit he totally rejects the media hounding, sexist gendering, and at times sinophobic furore that’s been hurled at Ye. In fact, he’s quoted as saying:
“We were all talking about it at dinner last night, it’s pretty impressive. She’s fast. If she was there with me, maybe she would have beaten me.”
At least some people still believe in fair play. Isn’t that what sports is supposed to be about – i.e. ditching prejudice by giving everyone a sporting chance to prove their ability? With regard to this – and also quite a few other issues – the Olympics don’t seem to be about this as they are chiefly about money and political power.