Congratulations to the Canberra Raiders, who have made the right call with dropping their cheerleading squad and replacing them with a dance competition. It’s a gutsy move aimed at bringing more women and children to games, and is a signal that some of our major sporting clubs are getting the message that they have a role to play in improving gender stereotypes. While it’s a few years after the South Sydney Rabbitohs dumped cheerleaders, it will be interesting to see whether other major clubs make a similar decision.
While the club denies that the move is because of negative views of cheerleading, and academics such as Catherine Lumby suggests that cheerleading has a place in the sport, I for one am relieved that I don’t have to explain to my sons or daughter what this part of the match entertainment is all about.
For me, cheerleading at a rugby league game is confusing at best. It’s an American tradition and is not a part of any other Australian football competition. At its worst, it invites spectators to objectify and sexualise women. It can create narrow and negative gender stereotypes and can reinforce a perception that the only role for women in the game of rugby league is on the sidelines. While many people are merely enjoying the dancing, those who argue there isn’t another element will have a hard time convincing me when I see the photos used on the current Raiders cheerleading group Emeralds’ Facebook page to promote their troupe (pictured immediately below), or the photos used in their 2015 calendar that was endorsed by and sold as part of Canberra Raiders merchandise.
I can understand the disappointment of the young women who are part of the current Raiders cheerleading squad. I am sure they trained hard, and were involved in a range of activities including charity work. I don’t dispute that cheerleading can be athletic, requires skill and can be entertaining. However, in the context of a rugby league match it adds little to the spectacle and raises concerns about what we think about the role of women in the sport.
The NRL has demonstrated in recent years an understanding of the need to improve its response to domestic violence, sexual assault and inappropriate behaviour of its players, who are held up as role models for young people. It has done some good work to introduce respectful relationships programs and respond much more strongly when issues arise with players and others. As with other codes of sport, it is now beginning to realise that women on the field might be a way to bring more spectators to the sport and be a much better complement to the male competition.
This move is part of the journey for the NRL to become more gender sensitive, and it’s great to see our local Canberra Raiders leading the way.
Here’s the cheerleaders’ own response to the news on their Facebook page:
What do you think? Do you see cheerleading as appropriate game day entertainment or something that should be removed from the game?