Look ‘radiant’ at cheerleading, says under-fire sports minister

Cheerleaders entertain the crowd before the start of an NFL match at Wembley Stadium, London.
Cheerleaders entertain the crowd before the start of an NFL match at Wembley Stadium, London.
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A MINISTER has been criticised for suggesting women should get into sport by taking up “feminine” pastimes such as cheerleading in which they can look “absolutely radiant”.

Sport and equality minister Helen Grant said women should be given “what they want” when it comes to sport and not forced to take part in football or swimming, adding that they can still look “absolutely radiant”.

She made the comments in an interview about how to increase the number of women taking part in sport, highlighting that 1.8 million more men than women play sport regularly.

“(Women) don’t have to feel unfeminine,” she said.

“There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.

“We really need to take a step back and actually ask women what they want and give it to them.

“Whether it’s a Zumba class or a game of rounders after they’ve dropped the kids off. That’s the approach we need to take - what works for them.”

Speaking of a recent YMCA rollerblading event for girls aged between seven and 17 she said: “Those girls arrived and they looked absolutely gorgeous.

“They were wearing their socks pulled up, beautiful socks with sequins and their hair was done. But my goodness they could skate.”

Ms Grant, a former judo champion, said the media needs to increase its coverage of female sport and businesses also need to offer support through sponsorship.

“I think we need to get to the point where women’s sport is looked on and regarded as equal to the men’s game. When we get to that point that’s when we get the balanced coverage,” she said.

Her comments have been criticised by anti-sexism campaigners as “discouraging” at a time when female Olympians are leading the glory for Britain at the Sochi games.

Lizzy Yarnold, 25, won the country’s first gold medal at the Winter Olympics in the skeleton while Jenny Jones took a bronze in snowboard slopestyle and so did the female curling team.

Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, said: “It’s really the wrong approach to suggest that the only way for women to get involved in sports is to be girlie and feminine.

“It’s actually discouraging for a minister to say this.

“With our great athletes performing fantastically at the Olympics, we still see media outlets focusing on the looks and femininity, which the comments seem to do too.”

However Ms Grant later added on Twitter that she “was making the point that there is a sport or type of physical activity out there for all women”.

Her comments were condemned as “outdated” by Anna Laycock, chairman of a healthy living project based in Bradford.

“I’m frustrated that her focus is on appearance - reinforcing the idea that women are valued primarily for how they look. The idea that physicality is somehow ‘unfeminine’ is very outdated.”

Women’s campaigner Karen Ingala Smith said: “I would also like to see women’s sport taken as seriously as that of men, but that isn’t going to happen if we focus on how women look.

“We aren’t going to close ‘the gender gap’ by reinforcing stereotypical notions of gender and suggesting that looking gorgeous and having sequinned socks is what is important in women’s sport.”

A spokesman for the minister’s department said had not suggested women’s participation in sport should be based on looks. “The point is that there is a sport or physical activity out there for all women.”