I didn’t know cheerleading existed in Australia. I mean, I knew it existed – my 12-year-old cousin takes cheerleading classes after school like other girls play soccer or do gymnastics. But what I didn’t know was that it existed on the sidelines of sporting grounds, much like it does in the movies – that women were dancing in short skirts, supporting burly men on the field.
There’s a debate raging at the moment as to whether that should be the case. NRL is one of only a few sports in Australia that have cheerleaders included as part of game day entertainment (the AFL have cheer squads – but they’re more the guernsey-wearing, flag-waving kind of supporters.)
Two passionate opinion pieces have recently been published on the subject of cheerleading and the NRL. One was in support of the practice that gives women “the right to utilise her god-given assets”. The other was against the idea of women dressing “in tight low cutting tops, short skirts, knee high vinyl boots, looking pretty much like, well… hookers”.
In this piece published on radio station Triple M’s website, the “we at Triple M” brigade argued cheerleading was a proud tradition in football. In this post on opinion site The Punch, Sam Squiers argued that cheerleading was an American tradition and that the phenomenon only hit Australian sporting fields in the late ’60s – more than 50 years after the first NRL game.
Squiers suggested cheerleading made people uncomfortable. Triple M said those people didn’t have to watch.
Here’s a little more of what they had to say:
The team at Triple M said it was a woman’s choice to cheer. “Many are passionate fans of rugby league and lifelong fans of their chosen team,” they said and added that women in squads defy the “airhead image of cheerleader” and supplement their cheering passion with rewarding careers and education.
On the subject of feminism, they said: “We live in Australia, a country where a woman can wear what she wants, perform when she wants, and if she gets a kick out of showing her support for her favourite team by strutting her stuff on the field in front of tens of thousands, what kind of woman would we be to deny that right, or suggest she’s a piece of meat for wearing her costume?
“We shouldn’t shame the passionate women of the NRL cheerleading squads, but rather “respect the women and their choices’.”
Jennifer Hawkins was used as an example of why cheerleading is a viable career path (Jennifer was a cheerleader for the Newcastle Knights pre-Miss Universe. “Why should we deny a woman the right to utilise her god-given assets to give her the power to call the shots? Here at Triple M, we support a woman’s decision to pursue a better life, and think no less of Hawkins for utilising her beauty to ensure her financial future,” they said.
There’s one team in the NRL that has a no-cheerleader stance. The South Sydney Rabbitohs said good-bye to their cheerleading squad in 2007. At the time, the team’s co-owner and executive chairman, Peter Holmes a Court said: “I don’t think anyone comes to a game just to look at a little bit of cleavage. No one will miss what we had … because there will be so much more. I think rugby league can appeal to people who aren’t traditional supporters”
Which leads us to the argument against cheerleading.
They don’t add anything to the game, they’re given no TV air time and they objectify women was the position of Punch writer Sam Squiers. She said it was “baffling that when women can play such big roles in this sport as players, administrators, referees, physios, fans and commentators, why we still have these cheerleaders who do little more than objectify women into bouncing eye-candy?”
She said cheerleading sent the wrong message to young girls. “It basically tells the girls, you too can play a role in Rugby League and one day perform in front of 80,000 people, in a big stadium, under lights, with TV cameras, media and a wide reaching audience…. you just have to dress up in tight low cutting tops, short skirts, knee high vinyl boots, looking pretty much like, well… hookers.”
“The A-League’s use of junior players from clubs to lead out the players onto the field is a worldwide football tradition and it’s a great one. It sends out all the right messages to the public and its viewers both male and female while at the same time encouraging a whole new generation of footballers. Imagine the buzz, excitement and endorsement those kids get from being involved in the game, being on television and most of all, standing side by side, hand in hand with their heroes.”
Focus on the game, she said, that what they people are there to see.
There’s another side to cheerleading that’s garnering more and more discussion. That is, cheerleading itself as a competitive sport. There’s grades and titles – competitors travel around the country . It’s a show of athleticism and agility, much like gymnastics or aerobics. It requires skill.
And it’s different to cheerleading at NRL games… the girls and women are cheering for themselves – not the men on the field.
Are you for or against NRL cheerleading? Bring it.