The way that men and women see the world through different lenses is being played out in salacious and disturbing detail in the wood-panelled rooms of the British Horseracing Authority this week as allegations made by jockey Bryony Frost against a male rider Robbie Dunne is being investigated, and reported on.
Dunne has been charged with seven cases of prejudicial conduct and violent and threatening behaviour, all bar one of which he is denying.
Racing is one of the few sports which is wholly gender-neutral with men and women competing against each other on level terms. Frost is England’s most successful female jockey and second only to Rachael Blackmore in terms of big-race wins and profile.
Both riders were in the committee room yesterday with Frost giving her own evidence of what had happened over a number of years and which she also said had happened to other female riders.
Some of those riders said that could be rude and childish but that they had not been as offended as Frost.
Part and Parcel
Other male jockeys testified that some of the angry exchanges were part and parcel of a dangerous sport and that they would have stepped in if they had felt they had stepped over the line.
At most racecourses, there are separate changing facilities for men and women though there are inevitable times when female riders have to enter areas of the weighing room that would once have been a male preserve. This might depend on where the silks worn in each race are being stored or the location of the scales on which they all have to weigh in and out.
There will be that most excruciating of words ‘banter’ that is a staple of locker rooms but when it is called out in the cold light of day it will generally appear to be grubby at best and offensive at worst.
Bryony Frost has called it out as the latter, at risk of upsetting the collegiality of the weighing room and she fully deserves to be heard. The insight it gives though into the everyday challenges that women face is reflected elsewhere in sport as well.
Yesterday the FAI estimated that around 50 of its 1500 registered referees were female, no doubt in part because of the robust judgement that is placed upon their performance. There is a difference in the way that criticism from a perhaps very aggressive supporter on the sideline or player on the pitch can be felt depending on whether you are six foot four or five foot five regardless of gender and while the world goes on without women stepping voluntarily into a threatening space it does so in a less positive way than it might.
The ongoing mystery around Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is another that highlights the differences which male and female players have to face when those in positions of authority are largely male.
It is not that men are always more aggressive or more likely to be abusive in any relationship, but the line between ribbing and abuse is not a solid one and we need to recognise that and tailor behaviour accordingly.
This is not a sporting issue but is one that is being echoed in sport at a very high level. Bringing it out into the open should make everyone pause for thought and consider what they are saying and how that might be seen.
We live in a world where micro-aggression has become standard. Click on any Twitter conversation sparked by a comment about mask-wearing and vaccination and a little bit of your soul may be lost forever.
One of our Partners in Sport for Business has just launched a new campaign in support of Women’s Aid. It is a powerful piece of content and shines a light on the challenges that take place behind front doors up and down the country.
Sport for Business Perspective
Sport should never allow itself to be part of any pattern of abuse, and we should never look the other way when it is being called out.
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