Badminton, not cheap thrills
The Badminton World Federation’s (BWF) recent decision to implement a new dress code for female players has been met with much controversy, particularly in Pakistan. Conservatives in the country are predictably outraged by the demand that women have to play the sport bare-legged, in skirts.
For what’s probably the first time in my life, I find myself agreeing with the religious zealots of Pakistan - albeit, for entirely different reasons.
While the BWF insists that women must wear skirts, religious pundits argue that women must be covered up - both positions are unacceptable. Neither dress codes are a necessary constituents of the game, and attempts to enforce either one are equally patriarchal. By forcing women to dress a certain way, you deny them their autonomy - something which they are fundamentally entitled to.
Violation of women’s rights
So, although the BWF assures that its new rules do not “in any way discriminate against religious beliefs,” it fails to protect a woman’s right to her own body, and thereby discriminates against an entire gender. What should instead be promoted is the freedom for women to wear what they feel comfortable in - providing it meets all health and safety standards set by the BWF.
Moreover, for many reasons, women are marginalised from sports the world over - this is especially true of Pakistan. Instead of imposing restrictions which will inevitably exclude women even further, the BWF should be making the sport as inclusive and accessible as possible.
But, perhaps the most appalling thing about this whole debacle is the BWF’s motive behind its new clothing regulations:
“to raise the profile of women in badminton.”
This is presumably to help attract viewers, supporters and corporate sponsors.
Badminton players or strippers?
I’m confused. Last time I checked, ‘women’s sport’ was not a code for strip club.
The implication of the BWF’s new ruling is that “a raised profile” means sexing up female players. It means that they think businesses and corporations will only invest in the sport, and viewers will only watch the sport, if they are delivered the cheap thrill of peering up a woman’s skirt and are promised a glimpse of pink, lacy underpants now and then.
Asking corporations to throw money at the sport because viola! Badminton now has sexy girls, is obscenely derogatory, or derogatorily obscene. It’s the sporting equivalent of having corset-clad women swing around a pole and have them bend over so that bored, obnoxious and emotionally-stunted men can insert crisp banknotes into their g-strings. And this is not acceptable.
This is of course is a wider problem and the BWF recognises this fact. Unfortunately, this is how the world of sports operates. Funding for women’s sport is particularly thin on the ground, and turning sporting figures into sex symbols is a tried and tested, fool proof formula.
We are all responsible
And we are all guilty for this phenomenon. From the culture of celeb-worship, gossip columns which discuss the girth of the Williams’ sisters’ thighs, to the realm of advertising where the face/arse of a tennis star sells diamond studded watches, this is a world that we willingly buy into. But, this needs to change.
Sport for sport’s sake needs to be encouraged in all areas of society, including schools, workplaces, government and at home. Governments and funding bodies should be lobbied to make sports more accessible to sections of society that are deprived – women and lower classes particularly. Both men and women need to demand that sports be recognised as significant for itself and they should promote the social, cultural, community and health benefits of it.
And for all our sakes, let’s stop objectifying women. Whether it pleases religious sensibilities or sexual ones, we need to stop demanding that women dress a certain way. A woman’s body is her own property and however high the bids, it is not up for sale.