'Up the Slope without a Pole:' an Examination of the Relationship between Fair Play and Gender Norms at the 2006 Winter Olympics

By Weaving, Charlene | Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research, October 2006 | Go to article overview

'Up the Slope without a Pole:' an Examination of the Relationship between Fair Play and Gender Norms at the 2006 Winter Olympics


Weaving, Charlene, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research


The purpose of this paper is to examine from a North American liberal feminist perspective, the relationship between fair play and gender ideals and norms demonstrated at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. Three specific examples of fair play that took place during these Games will be analyzed, and I will attempt to draw a connection between each instances and socially perceived gender norms. This paper involves the following: (1) an explanation of fair play; (2) a discussion of gender norms in sport; (3) an analysis of three specific examples from the 2006 Winter Olympics; and (4) summary and conclusions.

Fair Play

Prior to engaging with the specific examples, the notion of fair play needs to be briefly addressed. It should be noted that the primary purpose of this paper is not to focus on the conceptualization of the notion of fair play, but rather to briefly describe it in order to concentrate on the three main examples from the Olympics. The term 'Fair Play' is regularly addressed in the sport philosophy literature, mainly because of its unclear meanings and lack of conceptualization of the term. To demonstrate why the notion of fair play lacks universality, consider the following six conceptions of the term:

* Fair play as formalism

* Fair play as respect

* Fair play as contract or agreement

* Fair system of rational norms

* Fair play as play

* Fair play as virtue (1)

The multitude of values, virtues, actions, and expectations espoused within these descriptions of fair play demonstrates the difficulty in fostering agreement on one particular definition.

It should also be stressed that fair play is not a "new" concept, for its roots, according to some but not all scholars, can be traced back to the ancient Olympic Games in Greece where fair play was embodied through competitors' demonstration of honour and just behaviour in front of the gods. The athletes accomplished this by obeying the rules of the game. (2) Some scholars, like Liponski, argue that fair play has Roman-Celtic roots, since honourable battles were fought in the fifth Century AD during the Roman occupation of England. (3) Despite its somewhat contested historical background, the most popular and most researched account of the history of fair play involves the British School System in the United Kingdom. Through novels like Tom Brown's School Days, British public schools such as Winchester, Eton, and Rugby, and later the universities of Oxford and Cambridge adopted the practices of fair play, which ultimately involved an ideal conduct appropriate for gentlemen. (4) The schools also played a role in establishing an amateur ideal for male athletes, where the "ideal" education was comprised of moral religious education as well as vigorous physical activity. (5) This history of fair play is most relevant to my overall argument; since it establishes that fair play in its initial development concerned appropriate behaviour for elite males. Therefore, it can be argued that the original conception of fair play was a strictly masculine ideal.

Through participation in sport, young men were taught physical and mental toughness and basically learned how to be "real men," which led to the creation of the muscular Christianity movement. The amateur ideal played a major role in the creation of the Modern Olympic Movement in that the roots of the amateur ideal are the principles upon which the Baron Pierre De Coubertin founded his Modern Olympic Games in 1896. It is reasonable to suggest that Coubertin's original plan for reviving the Games did not include both men and women. He did not think that the Olympic Games were a place for women to compete; rather he thought they were better suited to cheering and supporting their male counterparts on the sidelines and presenting awards to the victors.

In his book, Fair Play in Sport: A Moral Norm System, Sigmund Loland argues that fair play comprises how we ought to act. …

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