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Does Warwick have a problem with sexism in sport?

Last term, in a meeting with Warwick Sport, a women’s cricket exec member was forced to explain in graphic detail the humiliating consequences of having inadequate toilet facilities nearby. She was experiencing a heavy period and extreme pain during a cricket match, leaving her struggling to walk, and because the nearest toilet was a ten-minute walk away, she had no choice but to be driven there.

It’s impossible to put into words the pain and embarrassment that is felt by sportspersons in situations like these. After listening to her story, the all-male Warwick Sport representatives were dismissive –  the player characterising them as having not an ounce of sympathy. 

The outcome? A steadfast refusal to install even a portable toilet because there was no ‘legal requirement.’

It’s not explicit sexism but a much more insidious and malicious form, which often goes under the radar in sport

For context, the overwhelming majority of cricket clubs – or any sports clubs for that matter –  have a pavilion directly next to the playing pitches. So it’s a 30 second to one-minute walk maximum to the closest toilet and changing rooms.

Put bluntly, this lack of facilities is a form of indirect discrimination against women. While men also need nearby toilets and changing rooms for ‘emergencies’ – and the lack of priority and funding given to sports facilities plays a role too –  this specific issue disproportionately impacts women’s participation as the majority are menstruators. It’s not explicit sexism but a much more insidious and malicious form, which often goes under the radar in sport.

Research shows that sexism manifests itself in a unique way in sports. While explicit sexism remains a common feature of sport, in other organisational settings discrimination is becoming more subtle and ambiguous. In sport, explicit sexism is much more normalised, making it even harder to tackle the more subtle and nuanced forms of sexism such as the lack of toilet facilities outlined above.

The Boar Features, in collaboration with The Boar Sport, has investigated further instances of sexism against women at Warwick University. Our investigation revealed a range of ways sexism surfaces in the Warwick Community. The anonymous testimonies given by the 48 Warwick sportspeople surveyed –  37 of them female and 11 male –  can be seen to shed a light on the overt and covert sexism experienced while playing sport at the university. 

One notable element of the testimonies is how women’s sport continues to be seen as secondary to men’s at the University of Warwick. One student from women’s rugby reported that: “Someone from the men’s rugby union said to another man who they deemed not good enough for the team, ‘maybe you should ask the women’s team if you can join them.’ This was incredibly insulting to our team. They don’t view us as professional, competitive, or high level.”

Female sportspeople also noted how coaches using gendered language discriminated against them

Other linguistic slights were also noted, such as club names and coaching language. “Why do the men’s club get to be called Rugby Union and why are we called Women’s Rugby? Why can’t they be called Men’s Rugby Union – men’s rugby is not the default!” stated one student. 

Female sportspeople also noted how coaches using gendered language discriminated against them. In emails, female players were referred to as ‘girls’ or told that they were “good girls” by coaching staff –  effectively infantilising them. In other circumstances, they were excluded by the use of the words “lads or guys” by coaching staff during mixed sports events.

One student noted: “An all-male team in the 5-a-side league making derogatory comments to my teammates and openly sexualising us, saying things such as ‘go get the fit one’.” Another incident experienced by female football players was when “men on pitches next to us commented on the women’s warm-up techniques with disparaging comments like ‘get those legs up ladies.’”

Sexist attitudes also appear in University circling events. Students told The Boar that circle chants and songs which both objectify women and comment on their sex lives still occur.

For some, sexist attitudes were reported to have come from the top of the sports infrastructure at Warwick. “During a meeting with Warwick Sport, they interrupted and talked over us, and belittled us making it seem that we were always wrong and just silly girls, whilst they respected and listened to the men in the same meeting,” said one female exec member.

Beyond meetings, training slot allocation and facility preparation were noted as being another way that sexism manifested itself in sport at Warwick. “Men’s teams are always prioritised for training times. How can women’s sport be expected to grow if we’re always given the graveyard slot? It’s a vicious cycle.”

As well as for team development, training slot times are also of concern for personal safety. One women’s rugby player wrote: “Over the last three years we have fought for our Monday slot to be earlier than 8:30-10pm because many of our members do not feel safe getting home at night. The men are always given the preferable time even after we became a performance sport. Many of our members were getting home after 11pm having walked in the dark alone.”

Issues with changing room availability arose as a common problem too. “We tried to access the changing rooms last term for the visiting team to use. It took 30 minutes after the scheduled time to get the changing rooms even open. Once open, we found the changing rooms being used as storage, filled with equipment, and yet the men’s was left empty.”

“Many times in term three we arrived to find the Cryfield pavilion locked so we couldn’t access our equipment. This resulted in having to call up and send someone down, resulting in us losing precious time at the start of our training sessions. The pavilion is always open when men’s Union are training.”

The poor upkeep of facilities led to Warwick Women’s Cricket Team’s first BUCS match since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic being cancelled after one of the pitches was not covered correctly and experienced water damage. The 2020/21 club committee received an unapologetic email the day before the fixture saying it had been cancelled. 

[I was] patronised, belittled, and objectified by certain male members of other execs

– Female sportsplayer

“Yet the men’s game was allowed to go ahead. Although this could easily be a coincidence it’s repeatedly frustrating to have games cancelled as a result of the pure negligence of the Warwick Sport staff,” wrote one of the former committee members.

Female sports students also reported their negative experiences of trying to work with their male counterparts. Many characterised their experiences as being “patronised, belittled, and objectified by certain male members of other execs.” 

The relationship between team members can be seen to play into executive committees, with female exec members stating that they have been “ignored by and spoken over by exec members of male clubs in conversations I am intrinsically involved in.”

Not enough people are taking opportunities to speak out, educate or challenge teammates, friends or colleagues

A female exec member also reported that a men’s club did not want to do socials with them. This was, “because, to put it bluntly, our members would be less likely to have sex with them than other clubs.”

Interestingly, when men surveyed by The Boar were asked if they felt they or their club had contributed to sexism experienced by women’s clubs or sportswomen at Warwick, 90.9% said no. This suggests a fundamental lack of awareness of the difficulties that women’s sports clubs face at the University of Warwick.

The general feeling from those surveyed who are a part of female sports clubs can be summarised by one student’s response: “This repeated lack of care for sport, and women’s sport in particular is draining and extremely aggravating when trying to create an inclusive environment to play in an already difficult and male-dominated environment.”

In sport, discrimination due to gender is the norm because it is normal to think of women as secondary to men, and that their gender impedes their ability to succeed. This ideology negatively affects girls and women in all facets of sport. 

Inadequate facilities, lack of participation, lack of women in leadership positions, lack of high-quality media coverage and lack of sponsorships are just some of the consequences that sexist attitudes and beliefs have on women. These can be much worse if individual characteristics like race, sexual orientation, nationality, or social class are added to the equation.

It also results in women internalising sexist beliefs and attitudes. This means they don’t register their experiences as discriminatory, leading to feelings of incompetence, self-doubt, powerlessness, and shame.

And the impacts of sexism are not exclusive to women. Men learn from a young age that ‘to throw like a girl’ is the worst thing they can do, and that any display of emotion or stereotypical feminine traits are unacceptable. The pressure to ‘act like a man’ is incredibly harmful and further warrants that sexism in sport at Warwick University must be contested. The notion that women are secondary to men hurts everyone.

Not all men are perpetuating overt sexism towards female sports players. But, if there are such overt examples of sexism still occurring today at the University – clearly not enough people are taking opportunities to speak out, educate or challenge teammates, friends or colleagues.

Many feel that enough is enough – that it is our collective responsibility to call out sexist comments and attitudes, to look inwards at our prejudice and bias, and to unlearn the masculine ideology that we have perhaps unknowingly internalised and maintained. Work from all members and sectors of society is required to prevent such problems from perpetuating into the future.

The testimonies here indicate that change is urgent. The Warwick Values Moodle course and SU exec training resources appear to not be enough, although an ‘anti-Warwick Sport’ sentiment could be counter-productive. Rather, an open dialogue between the staff and management of Warwick Sport, the SU, and Team Warwick could better address the nuances of sexism in sport at Warwick University.

I hope that this year everyone sees an improvement in the SU’s response to sexism

– Will Brewer, Warwick SU Sports Officer

Potential solutions include more education on the use of appropriate language and how to deal with sexism amongst executive committee members, staff and club members; more women in leadership roles and female representation at the higher levels of Warwick Sport; more joint social events in a year; and more mixed sports training and events.

In response to The Boar, Will Brewer, Warwick SU’s Sports Officer said: “My hope is that the results of this survey act as another reminder to people and clubs that sexism is still prevalent at our university and within our clubs. We should all be striving to ensure that sexism is called out and tackled everywhere, not just during club sessions.

 “A key aim of mine this year is to make the Active Bystander training for clubs more effective and I will be working on this with one of the Women’s Officers, Naomi. This includes both reviewing the training to make sure that it is still highly tailored to club requirements; whilst also ensuring that the training is completed by the most relevant people. 

“In particular I would like to require more exec members to complete the training and also specify which members must take it. I see the training as a must for presidents and welfare officers, but additionally social secretaries and captains should also be completing the training given the number of events/trainings they attend and run.

 “I will be continuing to work with Naomi on tackling sexism in sport and I am more than happy to discuss any of my projects with anyone. I hope that this year everyone sees an improvement in the SU’s response to sexism and the wide range of issues we must tackle at Warwick,” Brewer concluded.

As a community we share a set of values which ensure that everyone on campus feels equally respected, safe, [and] supported

– University of Warwick

Lisa Dodd-Mayne, Director of Sport and Active Communities at Warwick, issued the following statement:​​ “We welcome this survey and wish to thank the organisers and those who took part by providing their experiences. We are committed to providing an inclusive, positive experience where everyone can enjoy the benefits that come with sport. As part of this continued effort, we will look closely at the survey’s findings and will continue to work with our Student Union’s Sports Officer so we can help address the issues raised.” 

A spokesperson for the University of Warwick said: “While we are unable to comment on individual cases, our policy on sexual misconduct is clear – it will not be tolerated. Individuals who are found to have broken our values, either by the police or by our own comprehensive disciplinary processes, will face sanctions – which include expulsion or withdrawal from the university.

 “As a community we share a set of values which ensure that everyone on campus feels equally respected, safe, supported, and able to succeed without fear of discrimination or harassment. We expect every member of our community to follow these principles and we have introduced extensive training, including the Warwick Values Programme, consent and bystander training — which are mandatory for all students — as well as clear, accessible signposting to our Wellbeing Support Services.

 “We strongly encourage anyone who has experienced sexual misconduct to disclose via Report and Support so that we can take action and support them. They can report anonymously if they prefer. As well as using the web tool itself, there are multiple routes to reaching Report and Support – individuals can be signposted via contacting personal tutors, wellbeing support service staff, resident tutors, campus security staff or SU staff.”

Overcoming the pervasive nature of sexism in Warwick Sport is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity to harness the transformative power of sport. Sport can and should bring us together regardless of sex, race, religion, culture, political beliefs, or sexual orientation. Mary Jo Kane said it was “one of the most powerful economic, social, and political institutions on the planet.” So let’s not be divided because of our gender.


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