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chicks with balls: the problem with podium girls

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons


Chicks With Balls is Lip’s new column for women’s sport news and opinions brought to you each fortnight by Ally Van Schilt.

Around this time of the year, there is an annual buzz around the Tour de France and the epic challenges it puts towards the athletes daring and courageous enough to participate in the gruelling and occasionally hellish event. But I’m not going to be writing about these amazing athletes this week, despite the challenges which they overcome day after day in this race, which we should all know by now (the Tour de France is hard, people!), nor am I going to write about the drug-fuelled controversy which has surrounded the event in recent years. Nor am I even going to write about what has the Internet and the news world abuzz with the latest trend of ‘#TDFselfie’, which recklessly endangers the lives of both cyclists and spectators all in the name of a semi-decent selfie. No, that’s not what this will be about.

Instead, I’m going to draw attention to one of the more ‘traditional’ (and I use inverted commas for a reason here) aspects of the TDF, and whether we should be examining just how beneficial this tradition is, and not just for this particular event. I am talking about podium girls – you know, the ones who wear the stylish yellow dresses at the end of the stage and present the yellow jersey, flowers, teddies, wine, chocolates, whatever, to the victorious champion.

The Internet has been rife with both criticism siding with and against podium girls after one of these models rebuffed a congratulatory kiss from the Stage 2 winning cyclist Vincenzo Nibali. The criticisms have ranged from a ‘who cares lol’ response, to a ‘what a bitch lol’, and an ‘it’s within her rights’.

Of course, it is completely with the woman’s right to kiss or to not kiss whomsoever she chooses. A kiss for the winner is not an obligation nor a right for either the cyclist nor the model, therefore her response was completely of her own choosing, and we should not be critical of her choices. Particularly when, as is pointed out by this piece from the Telegraph, the attitude to kissing differs from country to country.

The issue here isn’t really to berate this particular model, or this particular cyclist, but rather, the ingrained nature of the institution itself, and this ‘tradition’ of podium girls. This is not exclusive to cycling, nor to this event, but can also be seen in motor racing sports with their grid girls, even cheerleaders and dancers at football and basketball games. These women are seen as supplements to whichever men’s sport is in question, and are not regarded as athletes in themselves (this concerning cheerleaders, dancers, and even lingerie football, all of which are as physically demanding as any other sport).

Is the tradition of podium and grid girls something that needs to be thrown out as a dated relic of days gone by? It’s something worth considering, especially when a woman is considered a ‘bitch’ by the Internet for refusing a kiss, which is her right, and not his privilege. It is easy to see how male privilege and entitlement over women has been ingrained  – but that certainly does not make it right.

Grid girls and podium girls are victims of male athletic privilege. I mean, you don’t see shirtless men presenting female cyclists with medals, do you? That being said, how many female cyclists have we even seen or heard about with regards to the Tour de France? This issue raises a whole new can of worms about these such events, but only serves to further reinforce this issue of privilege.  Maybe it’s time to start seeing women at sporting events more as athletes and accomplished professionals, rather than simply being there as an accessory to men’s sport.

Stay Tuned for Ally’s next instalment of Chicks With Balls next fortnight on Lip!

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