Rio 2016

The 2016 Rio Olympics are quickly approaching, team selections are being announced worldwide and athletes are focusing on their final stages of training.

But so far the Rio Olympics media coverage hasn’t been focused on in the news for the sporting spectacular that it hopes to be. More pressing issues have been pushed into the media spotlight, with the Zika virus being portrayed as the biggest issues that Rio is facing.

Greg Rutherford, the current long-jump Olympic champion, has recently announced to the media that he has frozen his sperm over fears that the Zika virus could affect his future off-spring. There may be many more athletes, both British and worldwide, who have done the same, however if this is the case it has been kept quiet and hidden away from the media. But why is Greg Rutherford freezing his sperm?

The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites and currently the World Health Organisation (WHO) admit that they know little about the virus. More worryingly though is that the WHO know less about the long term effects of the virus. The current known facts about the virus are limited, however what it known is that the virus is spread through mosquitos (as previously mentioned) and  through sperm, hence the reason for Greg Rutherford freezing his sperm. Birth defects have been linked to the Zika virus, alongside neurological syndromes and in some cases it causes adult paralysis. Knowing this information on the virus is all well and good however what isn’t known leads to concern.

The WHO don’t know what the long term effects of the Zika virus are and this will not become apparent for some years. More worrying though is that currently there is no cure, vaccination or treatment for the Zika virus, meaning that once you have it there is no way to recover. WHO have also said that it will take 18 months before vaccination trials can occur. But with the Rio Olympics only two months away is the Zika virus going to be the unwanted prize for athletes, spectators, officials and volunteers of the games?

 

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Invictus Games

Several months ago I was lucky enough to be one of the volunteers at the Invictus Games British Trials, held at the University of Bath. Tonight the BBC will broadcast the first Invictus Games footage from the Orlando Games.

It was an odd day for me, I have never been around so many people who all share such an emotional, traumatic past. However as I looked around at the injured and sick servicemen and women I was in awe of how cheery and positive they were. Even though it was 7am on a Friday morning the noise coming from the reception area of the Sports Training Village could have been mistaken for a pack of laughing Hyenas. Such was the atmosphere that members of the public were bring drawn in and were even talking to the servicemen and women like they had known each other all their lives. Looking at there laughing, smiley faces it was hard to believe that many of these servicemen and women had seen the harsh realities of war. Many of them were missing limbs, or were wheelchair bound, but there were others who on first appearance seemed to be physically able. However mentally they had been unwell, with many still struggling, PTSD, anxiety and depression had wriggled their way into the servicemen and women’s lives, affecting their everyday thoughts and feelings. But these injuries and illnesses were not going to stop the servicemen and women living their lives to the full.

A quick introduction to the organizer’s and the running order followed, with athletics being the first activity of the day. I was tasked with marking the discus and shotputt throws which the servicemen and women completed. So for three hours I stood with flags in my hand and waited for the call of ‘Alice’ to come from the edge of the throwing circle. My name being called to mark out throws become rather popular with the servicemen and women who were waiting for there turn to throw, in fact my name was repeated several times every time I was called to mark up, which as i’m sure you know is only amusing the first few times. After three hours I was sick of hearing my own name being called out, but that’s all part of volunteering, just keep smiling and don’t let them see that they are annoying you!

Suddenly there was a weird buzz going around the field, followed by excited whispers and the noise of hundreds of camera shutters clicking away. Turning around it was clear to see why, Prince Harry had just come into view and people were clearly excited to see royalty. Prince Harry is the founder of the Invictus Games and an appearance from him seemed to excite everyone. Following a brief tour of the athletics track and field everyone went inside to hear Prince Harry speak. The banter between the servicemen and women and Prince Harry was incredible to see, jokes were being thrown around like Prince Harry was just another serviceman, who had walked into the pub on a Friday night with his friends.

After Prince Harry’s speech everyone was provided with lunch, where volunteers, servicemen and women and organizer’s mingled together and discussed the mornings events. The afternoon sports then followed where I ended up helping with the weightlifting trials. The support around this event was amazing, with members of the public watching from the gym balcony and shouting there support. It was incredible to see everyone rallying together to support our injured servicemen and women, showing them how much we appreciate what they have sacrificed for this country.

Overall it was a truly inspirational day. I learnt so much, but the main point which I took away from the trials was that you have to look at someones ability and not their disability. The stories behind each of the injured and sick servicemen and women were truly inspirational, and really highlighted that we must appreciate what we have in this life as we never know when it could be taken from us.

 

Sharapova: Meldonium…No

The main sports story of the week has to be that Sharapova, five-time Grand Slam winner, failed a drug test at the Australian Open. Sharapova was found to be using Meldonium, a substance which was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) back in September 2015 (Fordyce 2016).

Many people think of ‘sexy tennis’ when they are asked about Sharapova, due to her sexualised tennis outfits and ‘grunting’ (if anyone can explain to me why this is attractive then please do!). However this could all be about to change. As soon as Nike found out about Sharapova’s failed drug test they postponed her sponsorship deal. But Sharapova still have deals to support her right? Not any more, once Nike postponed her deal, Tag Heuer and Porsche were quick to follow, not wanting to be associated with a ‘cheat’ (Wilson 2016).

We have seen this before with Nike though, in fact we have seen it several times. Think back to Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius and Tiger Woods who all went of the rails and lost their Nike sponsorship deals. Sharapova has been branded as a ‘one-women marketing machine’ (Currie 2o16 cited by Wilson 2016), with many of the products she endorses not being related to sport.

Sharapova has been the highest earning female athlete for the past 11 years, mainly because of her sponsorship deals. This failed drug test could change all of that, Sharapova says she was only taking meldonium after being prescribed it by ‘the family doctor’ (Sharapova 2016 cited by BBC News 2016). But we have heard all sorts of excuses why athletes have failed drug tests before. Verroken (2016) has said that Sharapova’s team need to give ‘diagnostic evidence’ to prove that she needs to take meldonium. The president of the Russian Tennis Federation has said that ‘they (athletes) take what they are given by the physiotherapists and by the doctors’ (Tarpishchev 2016 cited by Hayward 2016). But doesn’t this show that athletes today are just commodities, being told what to do and being brought by sponsorship deals? Isn’t it time that athletes started questioning the reasons behind the actions?

Sharapova’s main goal was to be the best, but at what cost? Being used by Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche, to name a few, to sexualise their brands and ideologies. Or by taking prescribed drugs after being aware that the banned substances list had been updated?

It can, and will be debated, that it wasn’t Sharapova’s fault, and that her team should have been more aware of what substances were banned. However last time I checked Sharapova was a 28 year old women, capable of looking after herself and asking questions if she felt it necessary.

What the tennis world are waiting to find out though is how long Sharapova’s ban is going to be (as it seems to be inevitable that she will be banned). With Wimbledon and the Rio 2016 Olympics fast approaching many are questioning if this could be the end of Sharapova’s career.

References

Fordyce, T., 2016. Maria Sharapova’s drugs test announcement polarises opinions [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/35754677 [Accessed 9 March 2016].

Wilson, B., 2016. Are Sharapova and sponsors heading for break point? [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35752545 [Accessed 9 March 2016].

Verroken, M., 2016. Maria Sharapovo showed ‘courage’ over failed drugs test – Serena Williams [Online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/tennis/35752114 [Accessed 9 March 2016].

Hayward, P., 2016. Why Maria Sharapova does not deserve sympathy [Online]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/tennis/2016/03/08/why-maria-sharapova-does-not-deserve-sympathy/ [Accessed 9 March 2016].

Balls, Barriers and Bulldozers

Last night I was lucky enough to watch Balls, Barriers and Bulldozers. A documentary highlighting the issues between Palestine, Israel and women’s football. Filmed and produced by the Easton Cowgirls, the documentary was emotive, shocking but most importantly educational.

The Hebron International Resources Network (HIRN) plays a key role in supporting Palestinians who are most effected by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Whilst watching the documentary it was hard to understand why internationally more isn’t being done to support the Palestinians who are suffering in their own homes, or as the documentary shows, in their demolished homes. With 67 Palestinian’s shot dead by Israeli forces in the last year alone it is hard not to support the Palestinians call for peace, however there are still some Palestinian political groups in Hebron who are causing social unrest and conflict, these are the people who need to be targeted first if positive change is to occur (Baker 2015).

Hebron is split into two zones, H1 and H2. It is estimated that around 140,000 Palestinians live in H1, under Palestinian control, where as 30,000 Palestinians live in H2 with around 400 Israeli settlers. H2 is controlled by the Israeli Military. Economically zone H2 in Palestine has suffered, the main market street in the city is now abandoned, with 1829 shops being forced to close due to the Israeli Military stopping transportation of goods across the border. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross,  77% of Palestinians in H2 now live below the poverty line, a statistic which in today’s world we shouldn’t be seeing anywhere.

Whilst Palestinians are trying to develop and make a better future for the younger generations the Israeli’s are doing everything they can to delay this progress. The documentary shows the Cowgirls visiting a kindergarten, which has recently been built, with colorful walls and smiley happy children, you almost forget about the conflict which is raging outside the walls. But you soon learn that the Kindergarten faced problems of its own. People who were found to be helping build the Kindergarten were arrested by Israeli forces, simply for trying to develop a torn city. Whilst visiting the Kindergarten however the Cowgirls were alerted to a bigger issue, by HIRN, which was going on outside of the city.

A Palestinian settlement on the border of Israel was being destroyed by Israeli forces. Approaching the settlement the Cowgirls were told that they were too late to try and stop the demolition, Israeli bulldozers had driven across the settlement destroying everything in their path, with no prior warning residents were forced to grab as much as they could before their homes were destroyed. As a viewer this was devastating to watch, but it only got worse when residents told the Cowgirls that this had happened before, in fact it had happened four times before. Each time the Israeli’s had destroyed their homes and then driven off, leaving the residents to pick up the pieces (literally) and rebuild their lives. To make matters worse on the other side of the border, which is visible from the settlement, Palestinians could see and hear Israeli’s clapping from their luxury homes as Palestinians lives were once again destroyed. To try and rebuild your life when everything around you has been destroyed is hard enough, but only 24 hours after the Palestinian settlement tried to rebuild their community the Israeli bulldozers once again turned up and destroyed the work they had done. With no consideration for the Palestinian’s it is clear to see why there is still conflict between Palestine and Israel. This conflict is not something that can be fixed overnight, but with most of the world having little knowledge of what is going on (me included before I watched this documentary) it is hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. This conflict should be highlighted around the world as the Palestinian’s wish to seek further international support.

During the trip the Cowgirls had the opportunity to play against local female teams and the National Women’s football team. Unfortunately the Cowgirls lost all of their games but watching the footage showed how women’s football in Palestine is a different world compared to women’s football in the UK. Whilst playing the National Team the Cowgirls were told that many members of the squad were missing and couldn’t attend training and games due to Israeli Border Controls preventing them from crossing the border, and it seemed that the Israeli forces never gave a reason as to why they couldn’t cross the border. From my point of view it seemed that the border controllers did what they wanted, letting some people past and stopping others, no reasons were ever given as to why people couldn’t cross and no one seemed to question the Israeli border forces. Whilst playing the National Team filming was allowed, although this wasn’t the case for other teams that the Cowgirls played. When the Cowgirls arrived at Hebron University to play the University women’s team they were told that no cameras were allowed and the event would happen behind closed doors. There were reasons for having a closed door policy, the main one being for security, however several of the women also highlighted that women’s sport still wasn’t fully accepted in Palestine. Women were expected to carry children, clean the house and do anything their husband asked them to do. This was the general thoughts of many men in Palestine, thoughts which have been socially constructed over time as women have always been seen as the weaker, less able sex. The women of Hebron however were changing this conception by regularly playing football and trying to break the cultural, social and inequality barriers, which they faced on a day to day basis.

The city of Hebron has a rich history with many stories to tale, however the Israeli forces are only interested in the land that they claim to be theirs. Digging deep into the land, claiming that they are doing archaeological digs, the Israeli forces are ultimately trying to prove that they own the land by digging up and disregarding Palestine’s history. The Israeli forces are looking for evidence that the land belongs to them and they don’t care what gets destroyed in the process. This selfish act by the Israeli’s is destroying the history of Palestine and wiping out historic cultures and settlements, which have been kept safe for many years.

Overall I feel that this documentary really highlights the problems that Palestinian’s face on a day to day basis. However through sport the women’s football teams based in Palestine believe that change can occur, but people need to be educated on the power of sport and how it can be used as a mechanism to bring about social change.

 

References

  • TIPH, Temporary International Presence in Hebron., 2015. Hebron Today [Online]. Jerusalem: TIPH. Available from: http://www.tiph.org/en/About_Hebron/Hebron_today/ [Accessed 24 February 2016].
  • Baker, L., 2015. Hebron becomes focus on conflict as Israel backs Jewish settlers [Online]. America: Forward. Available from: http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/323885/hebron-becomes-focus-of-conflict-as-israel-backs-jewish-settlers/ [Accessed 24 February 2016].

Women and sport

Before people start judging me and saying that I am being sexist towards women I would like to highlight that I do belong to the female population.

However I have an issue with how women are viewed within the sporting world, to summarize in a couple of words how women are treated in sport, in my opinion, would be, unequal and weak.

Take my Taekwondo class for example, on a regular training evening there are around 9 boys/men and me, one female. I don’t have an issue with being the only female in the class, however I do have an issue with the way certain exercises are adapted so they are more ‘female friendly’. In other words exercises are adapted so that ‘the weaker sex’ can participate alongside men, even though what they are doing does not require the same strength or physical exertion as the ‘male’ version of the exercise. Press Ups are something which in my opinion everyone should be able to do. Being able to support your own body weight shouldn’t be an issue, if you are carrying an injury or have another problem then the rules are different, but an average, healthy person (whatever that means nowadays) should be able to complete at least ONE press up, without the exercise being adapted to be ‘female friendly’. However on starting Taekwondo over a year ago, I discovered, almost instantly, that women are treated as the weaker, less able sex. When I was challenged to do ten press ups, the first comment from a male member of the class was, “Why aren’t you doing female press ups?” at the time I let this comment fly but looking back on it it highlights how males (not all, but a vast majority) are brought up thinking that such comments are acceptable in today’s society. Well in my opinion they are not acceptable, if women want to do ‘male’ press ups then they should be able to without such petty comments coming from the opposite sex.

This to me is a problem which society has engineered, and not just in England but on a Global scale. If you go anywhere in the world you will see male sports stars everywhere, if you want a towel, mug or plate with Lionel Messi printed on it, no problem. But if you want a towel, mug or plate with Jessica Ennis-Hill printed on it then you will struggle to find such as thing. Female sports stars are pushed aside for male stars as they are money makers and role models (apparently). This ideology has created a belief that women are less important within the sports world, and therefore they don’t need products with their faces and quotes printed on them, because of this there are a lack of women getting involved in sport worldwide, as people are less aware of female stars and therefore don’t have positive role models to look up to.

To get more women involved with sport and more accepted (within the male society) there needs to be a push on female sports stars successes and stories. How can we expect women to try a new sport if they only see men participating? For example, many countries still see football as being a male dominated sport, with male football matches being shown constantly, live or on reply. But if you want to watch a female football match it is not as easy. Through this media belief that men’s sport is more interesting and exciting than female sport women have very few role models who can inspire them to try something new.

In this day and age, women shouldn’t be second to men for anything. We should live in an equal society where both sexes are treated with the same respect and importance as each other. Not a society where it is still acceptable for men to make crude comments at women based on their sport choices or exercises that they participate in.

Uni Life…

I wouldn’t class myself as a ‘normal’ university student, but then what is normal? In this day and age to fit in at university you have to have a very active social life, which involves drinking (this seems to be the number 1 hobby of most students) going out until 4am, and then getting the cheapest, most horrible kebab you can find on the way home, and that’s only the start. Playing for a university sports team seems to be the ‘cool’ thing to do, but then again so does joining the University’s dating site (not something I would recommend). I don’t think I have missed out anything important…I mean the only other thing to consider is your degree. Turning up to lectures hungover, complaining about the banging headache that you have and how many times you have already been sick, seem to be the main conversation topics between students.

But none of what I have mentioned is me. For starters I live at home, and I have done since my first year (I am now in the second semester of year 2). This means that I didn’t experience drunken mistakes or the awkward conversations which occurred during freshers week. But I wasn’t bothered, I have only been drunk twice in my life, the first drunken experience was when I was 18 and I discovered that I was a crying drunk, not cool, and the second being at my school leavers, where I recall shouting at a teacher about going to the gym. So I think it is far to say that drinking is not for me. The other social side of university life, e.g. playing sport and getting involved with other events, is another area which I shy away from. Being someone who feels that they are slightly socially awkward, makes university life hard. But despite all of this I am glad that I chose to go to university, even though I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my future it just seemed right for me, and it just so happened that the best university for my course was right on my doorstep.