Thursday, 26 January 2012

Stop Cheerleaders

Midway through last season, I came to a conclusion: cheerleaders in rugby league should go.

I posited this theory on twitter and got back roughly 3-to-1 against including a number of suggestions that I'm homosexual. Whether I am or not is, of course, irrelevant. What I'm railing against is twofold - the sheer pointlessness of it all and the fact it demeans us all.

The first point is entirely subjective. I've never been inspired to cheer by the on-field shenanigans of a group of no doubt lovely young ladies. Indeed, they always seem entirely reactive rather than proactive, as if encouraging my cheers after the event which has already elicited as much excitement as I'll allow myself to feel. There is nothing added in their presence. Moreover, we're in Britain. It's cold and wet. As such, prancing about in shorts looks damned uncomfortable. Far from cheering, I'm more likely to be torn between gratitude for the warm coat I'm wearing and offering said coat to one of the girls. I accept that this is possibly a factor of advancing years and the associated increased curmudgeonly status that goes alongside that.

Invariably, you also get a junior cheerleading squad where a group of very young children wave pom-poms in a barely co-ordinated fashion, often in ludicrously high numbers, instructed by a senior person on the sidelines, invariably someone with the word 'coach' written across the back of their shorts, who might as well be doing the routine themselves and cut out the middleman. This is just cringe-inducingly embarrassing for all who are watching on.

The second point is less subjective. Are we that shallow as a society that we men will only go to the rugby if there are dancing girls? Are we as a sport saying to women that the only way you can participate is with pom-poms? These lasses are put on display for us to judge, to objectify, to jump up and shake a tail-feather whenever the men do something that warrants it. The most common point made in support of cheerleaders to me during my completely unscientific twitter-based fact-finding mission was that 'it gives us something to look at'. If that's the best argument in support, then it's a wonder they were adopted by rugby league clubs at all, let alone that they've lasted so long. The same is true of women holding up boards denoting the round at boxing, of walking blokes to the oche at the darts, of holding up grid markers at grands prix and umbrellas at the speedway. It's window-dressing and sends out a message to any young girls watching that this is something - perhaps the best thing - that they'll ever achieve, that looking right is all that matters. There are better ways to involve women in the sport and money spent on cheer squads might be better spent on the women's game where players are having to fork out their own money to go on tour, for kit, for tackle bags.

Leeds announced today that they're completely revamping their cheer squad. Instead, they'll be having a group of street dancers. Now, I've seen this before when Crusaders did likewise. This involves a group of people who move about a bit, almost at the same time, to a tired mash-up of contemporary pop hits, their very existence the responsibility of the myriad TV talent and amateur dance contests that so occupy the minds of the nation and give the glimmer of fame to the deserving back-story. If that's the alternative, then I retract all of the above, but is the better option to just not bother?

We come for the rugby, men and women alike. Give us the rugby. A pie and a pint and some mini-league at half-time is all the enhancement it requires.

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