Equality laps(e): Hutt Valley Sports Awards

The Hutt Valley Sports Awards take place this week, an event recognising and celebrating some phenomenal achievements in the field of long-term gruelling exertion. I saw a link to the list of this year’s finalists.  It’s a list teeming with talent and dedication, recognising officials as well as sportspeople – and this is important, because without volunteer officials, there wouldn’t be any timekeepers, referees, technical officials, marshals, and all the other people who stand in Wellington’s horizontal driving rain, ensuring that fair play is observed.  However, what immediately caught my eye was the wording of the first few paragraphs, and the choice of photography:

Two finalists with Olympic medals – Nick Willis and Mary Fisher – are amongst the Hutt Valley Sports Awards finalists.
Fisher won gold at the Rio Paralympics by setting a world record in the backstroke S11.
The Upper Hutt swimmer has an impressive record setting numerous world records and must be in contention for the supreme award.
She is a finalist in the sportswoman and disabled categories, and is not the only Upper swimmer in the finals with Chelsey Edwards featuring in the young sportswoman.
Willis, who lives in the United States but still, considers himself a Lower Hutt lad, won bronze in the glamour 1500m. In doing so he became the oldest runner to medal in an event that is considered one of the toughest in athletics.
He added to his already impressive record, which includes two Olympic and three Commonwealth Games medals.
Convener of judges Derek Wilshere said having two such high quality athletes as finalists, reflects the quality of the finalists.

So, we have two superstar finalists, one male, one female.  But, the photographs? Well, if you follow the link to the page (here it is again) who appears in the images? We have three images of Nick Willis…none of Mary Fisher.  Hmmm.  Returning to the quoted passage above, we see that Willis won a bronze medal, but Fisher won a gold medal, and broke a world record at Rio  But, no photo of Fisher?

I do not, in any way, want to diminish Nick Willis’s achievement: winning a medal in the 1,500m at the Olympics is amazing, it’s huge, and what’s more, he won a silver in the same event at Beijing.  And a gold in the 1,500m at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. This is a testament to his talent, hard work, longevity, and tenacity! Performing at such a high level over a decade shows that Willis is a remarkable athlete. I think I nearly tore out clumps of hair during the 2016 Rio race. The tension! The joy! However, it’s worth noting, that  not only did Mary Fisher win gold and break a world record in the 100m backstroke at Rio in 2016, she also won a gold medal and broke a world record in the 200m IM at London in 2012, and has a host of other titles from the years in between. (She also won the Hutt Mana Charitable Trust Disabled/Special Athlete of the Year award at last year’s Hutt awards).

If there are three pictures of Willis on this page, there should be three pictures of Mary Fisher too. If the page designer could find three pictures of Nick Willis, they could find three pictures of Mary Fisher. Or perhaps, just one photo of each! Google Images yields a pretty good selection.

I don’t want to suggest that the Hutt Valley Sports Awards organisers have knowingly committed some #EverydaySexism, or deliberately privileged  Olympic achievement over Paralympic achievement. But, unfortunately, that is what it looks like: a sexist and ableist statement that men’s sporting achievements are more important than women’s, implicitly diminishing the prestige of the Paralympics, and devaluing  the attainment and talent of the athletes themselves.

You may argue, perhaps I’m reading too much into a hastily assembled webpage for a local sporting awards event. But, I suggest, in sport, where equality and inclusion are constantly compromised – deliberately and unthinkingly – by lack of accessibility, by inequitable funding, pay and coverage, by ill-considered language – that a picture is worth a thousand words.

More reading on equity, diversity, and inclusion in sport:
Paralympics New Zealand
Farewell Olympics, Welcome Paralympics
Women’s Worth and Sexism in Sport
NZOC Women in Sport
 Paralympics New Zealand – Mary Fisher

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