Please note that this letter was not written by any member of the GOALHOLE team.
**DISCLAIMER: This article was written by a group of women across three continents who love this sport and are passionate to see it’s evolution continue as a co-ed entity. This is not the view of any one person in particular, but many of us. This article has also been vetted by a number of people who chose to include either a statement or feedback and have endorsed its being posted.
Open Letter to the Polo-verse…
This letter comes in reaction to events that happened in the polo community this past week (the NAH video, the GQ article and an insightful reveal about filming the Adidas London Ladies ad). As well as things that have happened to us as women in the past – having to stand in a line at a tournament so the men can decide by applause who the Female MVP is; giving all female participants in a tournament a prize, not based on merit, but because we have vaginas; having to deal with comments about our bodies at the court “Hey! [insert name]! You have the best ass in [insert city]!”. These are but a few of the everyday obstacles we deal with as women in bike polo. This letter is written with the aim that we be proactive to avoid these mistakes, misfortunes and embarrassments in the future.
The conversations that have been occurring this week are too numerous to keep track of, and just about everyone has had an opportunity to have themselves heard. People have been hurt, felt ignored, and are angry because well-intentioned folks were too busy to see their mistakes; inexperienced with the media and misrepresented by and in the media. These events rocked our foundation and brought into question, for a lot of us, the changing future of this sport.
Let’s lay it out. Last week we saw two examples of sexism: Sexism by omission and sexism by possession. Each are prevalent in our society. The NAH video and commentary is an example of omission and Brian Dillman’s comment is an example of possession.
THE GQ ARTICLE
Dillman has been affected by society’s values on women, and equally taken advantage of by the media. First, that women need to look a certain way to be considered good or desirable, men and women are programmed, brainwashed, through mass media to be led to believe this (i.e., the idea that women should be judged on looks rather than on abilities) is so indoctrinated in us. We body shame, self objectify and assess our looks based on what we think is desirable in society. Here we have people we know and love, who consider themselves to be allies (or at the least in-the-know regarding gender issues) saying and doing hurtful things. Secondly, this interview was represented in the media in a way that aligns with a fashion publication marketed to metrosexual men. The irony here is that The Beavers are a reflection of the Adidas ad – both were used to promote a product.
Here are some examples of reactions to the GQ article:
The statement in GQ about the London Adidas ad isn’t too far from what some of us, women included, would think: “damn, I wish I had a deal with Adidas”; or
“There are more glamour shots than polo in this ad”; or
“This is advertising.” Adidas isn’t trying to get more female polo players out there in the world, they are marketing to an up-and-coming niche market and trying to portray themselves as ‘edgy’ and ‘in-the-know’.
However, the fact that Dillman brings up the attractiveness of the women by saying “its funny cause they put the six most attractive girls in an ad together,” rather than saying something akin to “its funny because… they spend more time on shots of Jess’ hair flowing than of her awesome bike handling”, is problematic, even though he may have been coming from a good place. Its a critique, but the framing is all wrong and indicative of a society of men that think that they have possession over women’s bodies.
Nik Hamilton (one of the London polo players featured in the Adidas ad) recently described the experience and conceded that “…we let ourselves be duped in the vain hope that coverage at this level would be good for bike polo and inspire women to get involved.” She recognizes that that isn’t want Adidas helped them do.
THE NAH VIDEO
Regarding the NAH video; it is problematic because it is making the very concrete statement “This is Hardcourt [Bike Polo]” which is in actuality a falsity due to a crucial omission. The video and the narration omits a whole group of the bike polo community: women. The space that the video indirectly (by including video clips) offers women is of the spectator, the organizer, and the camerawoman. Although there are very brief moments where women were on the court, it was very difficult to recognize them unless you knew them personally. For the most part, women are not portrayed as polo players, simply as support. Which is isn’t far off, we do offer a lot of support; we run cameras, provide commentary, organize tournaments, make shirts, patch up split chins, and all that is nothing to scoff at. However, by not offering a space for women in the video as polo players the video promotes an idea that women do not compete against men, which in turn promotes the idea that women cannot compete against men, or that women chose not to compete against men, or (worst of all) that there is no space in polo for the female player. In order to truly say “This is Hardcourt” women should not only be portrayed in the film playing polo (and there are damn good examples of this out there), but there should be commentary which also lets the viewer know that the sport is co-ed.
CONCERNS ABOUT DEALING WITH THE MEDIA
Based on various knowledge and experience we have dealing with the media, there is a concern about the misrepresentation of bike polo, about controlling the message and the projection of the sport to the public.
Issues of why major corporate sponsors might be less likely to donate to or sponsor a sport that is co-ed falls validates the underpinning sexism and thoughts on what men and women can and can’t do together in our society. Do we really want to be changing our image to garner sponsorship? Sure it would be nice to have an event sponsored by a major company, but not at the risk of them telling us who we can and can’t play with and against. If we accept sponsorship from someone who is going to ‘create’ an image of what mass media wants polo to be, especially based on a premise that polo is a ‘white man’s game’ – who will we then attract to the sport?
We are part of a beautiful thing here. Not a single sport has embraced diversity the way hardcourt bike polo has. We are: men, women, children, grandchildren, parents, sisters, brothers, cousins. We span the realms of sexual orientation, nationality, religion and ethnic backgrounds.
We have all saved every last dime to get to THAT tournament. We have offered up spare beds, couches, floor space and backyards to those we play against. We rush to help someone who needs a mechanic, a medic, a bike.
We have an international dialogue that allows anyone to raise any issue at any time – and for everyone to have the opportunity to comment on it.
THIS is hardcourt bike polo.
How can we move forward more positively?
How can we take this sport into the future and retain this inclusive spirit?
How can we provide a supportive environment for anyone who wants to play polo?
The beauty of bike polo, and what we think so many people love about this sport, is its inclusiveness. No one is turned away. This is most unique across the sporting world. However, as anyone who’s been playing polo for the past number of years has witnessed, this sport is changing at a rapid pace – one we are struggling to keep up with: new clubs popping up all over the world; new equipment; better equipment; team uniforms; new skills; a competitive structure; improved court quality; custom designed courts.
And yet we retain this unbelievable “Do It Together mentality” where everyone pitches in, what we have done with a ‘game to pass the time’ is astounding. And we are getting more serious, moving away from the beer drinking, mallet hacking, melee. We experience less drunk asshole manoeuvres. We see more accountability from club members to create a safe space and require accountability from club members for their statements and actions. The level of competitiveness and game play have increased. We have come a long way from our infantile days of costumes and drunken debauchery. We are in the ‘growing pains stage’ of development.
However, if women don’t feel safe in the community: why is that? What can we do to create a safer space while continuing to ensure that female players have a space in Hardcourt Bike Polo and it continues to be a co-ed sport? One strategy is education within clubs. East Van Bike Polo recently established a club structure and employs this strategy through the creation of a Conflict Mediator position. That person is tasked with, among other things, addressing the misogyny and sexism that exists within EVBP.
We hope that the bike polo community can self reflect and acknowledge the current dissonance between the DIY philosophy that informed hardcourt’s genesis and the present day mainstream consumer culture that has taken hold. Gaining exposure through sexual objectification, being elitist, exclusive, and money/sponsor driven is the way the culture is going. Do we move forward by inviting companies to dictate bike polo’s image, direction, future?
How do we keep our values as a micro-community (in relation to global population) while engaging with sponsors?
What do we need to do now to move forward? That’s the conversation we are writing this letter to initiate.