sports team players
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OPINION

Sex should not be an extension of team sport

The many stories of group sex and male sports teams reveal a pack mentality that appears to dehumanise women, says Rachael Sigee

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By Rachael Sigee on

There is a rape trial underway at the moment in Cardiff. A 24-year-old man has been accused of assaulting a 19-year-old woman after she had consensual sex with his friend. The prosecution has told the court she protested, "What are you doing? You can't pass me around." They have alleged that it did not deter him: “He proved he had no respect for the complainant – because his friend had had sex, it was OK for him to do so, too… He passed her on to his friend as if she were chattel."

The lead detail in most of the coverage is that both the men involved are professional swimmers. This has become a noticeable pattern: successful young sportsmen in the dock on charges of sexual violence.

But another pattern is how many of the cases involve more than one defendant or, at least, circumstances involving more than one man – multiple young men whose “promising futures” and “exciting careers” can be mourned.

And in these cases, it is not his word against hers – it is their word against hers.

Even when no crime is found to have taken place, the sexual practices, language and power dynamics in these cases are worrying. For example, the rugby players found not guilty in the Belfast rape case exchanged WhatsApp messages that read “There was a lot of spit roast last night” and “It was like a merry go round at the carnival”.

After the verdict, one Irish sports journalist wrote of stories he had heard during his time on the beat: “a female running from a hotel room when players emerged from a wardrobe; Olympians secretly filming themselves with an unsuspecting lady; a woman fleeing the country in shame after a night demeaned by rugby players”.

In June 2015, Leicester City football club sacked three players over a video of them engaging in group sex with Thai sex workers while racially abusing and humiliating the women. The three naked men high five each other in the middle of the action.

We know the problems with sport fuelling rape culture. How being fiercely competitive in games and trying to win “at all costs” can translate to blanket entitlement off the field. How sporting success is equated with being sexually desirable to women. The way that misogynistic language is a mainstay of locker rooms. That sportsmen are celebrated as heroes and notoriously difficult to knock from their pedestal.

What better way to prove one’s machismo than to literally demonstrate one’s sexual prowess, in front of teammates?

A great article on the topic comes from an unlikely source – the Daily Mail, back in 2014, when Ched Evans was released after serving half of his prison sentence for rape and before his conviction was quashed and a retrial found him not guilty. Sports journalist Martin Samuel wrote about how football’s culture of denial affects players’ behaviour off the pitch. He talked about the way footballers never accept responsibility for mistakes on the pitch and how damaging that approach is when it spills over into real life. In light of Evans’ acquittal, the piece is dated. But it is still a sharp observation.

And even Evans’ version of events includes him being casually messaged that his friend and fellow footballer Clayton McDonald had “got a bird”. Both men had sex with her while Evans’ younger brother and another man watched from the window and tried to film what was happening.

The finger can obviously be pointed at pornography, where women are routinely shown to be degraded, humiliated and used. The majority of porn accessed online does not prioritise a woman’s autonomy, desire or enjoyment when depicting sex, and what might be considered violence or abuse in real life is shown as simply part of sex between men and women.

The popularity of search terms like “extreme gangbang”, “bukkake” and “double penetration” illustrates that the sexual set-up of men outnumbering women is being normalised.

But everyone can access this stuff, not just sports players – there is more to this.

Group sex involving professional sportsmen is not about “one night of madness”. It is routine. It is not a story of sex positivity, thanks to a progressive approach to sex or a liberal attitude to pleasure. Often, this willingness of male sports teams to participate in group sex with each other is present in sports with appalling records on homophobia and few or no out gay players. There is absolutely nothing wrong with consensual sex that incorporates more than one person, but the frequency of these cases suggests that professional sportsmen are uncommonly keen on the group aspect and less than bothered by the consent element.

It is the result of a pack mentality on the pitch encroaching on real life and real women? Male sport teams are fuelled by hypermasculinity. And what better way to prove one’s machismo than to literally demonstrate one’s sexual prowess, in front of teammates?

Sports teams spend an inordinate amount of time with each other compared with other professions. They share locker rooms, hotel rooms and showers. They are absolutely familiar with each other’s bodies. What they also seem to share is the notion that sharing women is acceptable. That they can help themselves. That they are entitled to it. It might not always be a crime, but it is a culture.

@littlewondering

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Sex
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Sexual assault

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