Turning sport into a raunch spectacle is sexist and damaging.
A YEAR after the faltering arrival of the glitz-style girls' beauty pageant in Australia, we are soon to endure an attempt to import another sexist American spectacle to our shores.
The Lingerie Football League is a women's seven-a-side gridiron league that began in 2009 after the success of the "Lingerie Bowl" pay-per-view event broadcast at half-time during the Super Bowl. The game is full-contact like the men's game, but the uniform of bra, panties and garters bears little resemblance to the male uniform, with the exception of shoulder padding.
The LFL will hold exhibition matches in Brisbane and Sydney from next week to generate hype for an anticipated season launch in 2013.
Sport Minister Kate Lundy has called the LFL a "cheap, degrading perv", while young Australian women unafraid of having their backsides exposed to millions have indicated their interest in taking to the field.
The US and Canadian "games" are largely orchestrated for cable television and the primary audience, according to LFL founder Mitch Mortaza, is young college men. The teams have names such as Los Angeles Temptation, Chicago Bliss and Orlando Fantasy, which are more sexually suggestive and less evocative of athletic prowess than the Broncos, Lions and Bombers.
The "players" effectively take to the field in underwear. Tackles and manoeuvres inevitably reveal even more buttock and breast. No wonder players must sign a contract that includes an "accidental nudity" clause.
The Lingerie Football League is little more than jelly wrestling repackaged for a mass television audience. Private viewing of porn or a strip show is different to selling the objectification of women as an innocuous "sporting" event. The LFL is damaging to all women in addition to making a mockery of women's sport.
We need to consider the effect of the movement of raunch culture out of adult venues and into the mainstream. LFL is not restricted in the same way as an exotic dance or a men's magazine, and so the upcoming Australian exhibition matches include "family tickets" that offer discount admission for children aged between two and 12. Women tackling each other wearing lingerie is being marketed as a family night out.
In a recent interview with Melinda Tankard Reist about the LFL, Derryn Hinch asked: "What about male divers, they wear very brief shorts . . . will you ban them?" Next time there is a male diving pay-per-view event, predominantly subscribed to by women, in which other men tread water poised to dislodge a competitor's Speedos, perhaps we should consider it.
Other supporters propose that the LFL is a legitimate sporting event because many of the women who participate have played sports professionally. The truth is there are dedicated women footballers in the US in the Ladies Gridiron League but no one wants to promote or watch their games, in which players are clothed. The LFL selects women who look like centrefolds in their bra and panties, not muscular or stocky women who might be athletically most suited to football.
Female athletes are regularly undervalued for their sporting abilities, but rewarded for their appearance. This is why tennis player Anna Kournikova was often scheduled on centre court, while higher-ranked players without model looks were relegated to outer courts. It's why the prettiest female swimmers such as Giaan Rooney continue to receive endorsements after retirement, while equal or greater athletes who are not as photogenic aren't considered suitable for promoting products.
The mere fact that women choose to participate in the LFL because it is the only way they can be paid well to play football in front of a sizeable audience does not make it acceptable or a triumph in a society still striving for sexual equality.
There is nothing wrong with admiring athletic bodies, male or female, nor with adults choosing sexual entertainment, but marrying women's sport with adult entertainment is undoubtedly sexist. That anyone who questions what the LFL means for how girls and women are perceived and how they see themselves is labelled a prude says much about the way sexism is more insidious than ever.