Sex in Sport: Can Posing Nude Help a Women's Sport's Cause?

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Sex in Sport: Can Posing Nude Help a Women's Sport's Cause?
Will posing nude get Canada's rugby team the attention they want?

Sex helps sell sports. But when the topic of sex leaves the world of racy beer commercials and sideline cheerleaders, to touch the lives of individual women pursuing their sporting dreams, things get a little more personal and the debate gets a good deal more fierce.

Enter the Canadian women's rugby team, one of the world's very best. Shortly after the introduction of Rugby Sevens to the summer Olympics was announced, beginning with the 2016 games in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, Canada's women's team decided to pose for an annual calendar to help raise funds and promote awareness of their cause. The website the team has organized to help market the calendar describes the photos as "tastefully nude."

That the Canadians have a legitimate shot at winning an Olympic medal in 2016 is not in dispute. The team won every major international tournament on offer in 2011 and repeated as champions of the prestigious Amsterdam Sevens tournament in 2012. Still, some have raised questions about the appropriateness of the calendar and the message it sends regarding elite female athletes and
the lengths they must go to, in order to raise money and publicity.

Jane Roos is a former athlete who is founder and Executive Director of CAN Fund. Roos' group has raised millions to help finance athletes. As she said in a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports, she does not believe this is the proper path for Canadian athletes.

"It bothers me and I think it's sad. The fact they are doing it to raise money, when we live in a country like Canada, really bothers me. I think as corporate Canada and Canadians, we need to value excellence more.'"

Canada's women were ranked #1 in the world in 2011.

Roos is not alone in her opinion.

Alison Donnelly is the operator of Scrum Queens, one of the leading women's rugby sites on the web. She is also routinely called upon to provide analysis of the sport by major outlets worldwide, including the International Rugby Board itself.

Canada are one of the best women’s rugby sides in the world and its Sevens side will genuinely be Olympic title contenders, so it’s disappointing that they are forced to continue down a path of their own fund raising to continue their journey.

But while I am supportive of their efforts and I understand them, personally I believe it’s a real shame that female athletes feel the need to go down this particular path. My genuine concern is that promotions like this threaten to support the idea that society places more value on women as eye candy than as athletes. That is surely counter-productive to all that has been achieved in the growing positive exposure women’s sports is having around the world.

Although I completely understand that it is a means to an end, in the long-term I worry that it simply detracts from the credibility of the sport. Ultimately though, I would hope the point taken out of this debate is that it’s a crying shame that a world-class side have to concern themselves with how to solve the problem of media coverage and inadequate funding.

It is true that the Canadians have to fight for every funding dollar they receive. In terms of acquiring private sponsorship and media attention, Canada's women's rugby players must compete against the national women's hockey and soccer teams, both of which already have recent Olympic medals to their names. When it comes to government funding, however, the story is somewhat different.

The Canadian women's rugby team's nude calendar has raised over $100,000, but was it worth it?

The Canadian government grants funding to all Olympic caliber athletes but doles out extra dollars to those programs which are designated likely to win a medal, a category Mandy Marchak and her national rugby teammates clearly fall into. Marchak is one of the leading stars of the international women's game, and has strong views of her own about her team's project and the message it sends.

In the past, more of these extra fund raising efforts were just there to help us meet basic costs. We now have some extra funding that has given us a way of living. The extra fund raising efforts we have done now with the calendar seemed like a great idea to accomplish three key goals. Helping our U20 women’s development team, putting some money back into communities that have helped us, by supporting a few local charities, as well as bringing awareness of women being strong, bold and beautiful. Of course we wanted to build awareness of women playing rugby, but we also wanted to prove that stereotypes when it comes to beauty should be thrown out the window.

Marchak's point about helping support her sport's younger age grades is well taken, for while she and her current teammates are able to survive off relatively adequate amounts funding, ambitious players just below the national team level often receive little or none at all. The Canadians certainly succeed on the publicity side as well. The calendar stirred quite the debate in the Canadian media and the team's photos and story appeared on international outlets, such as the Huffington Post and yes, even Bleacher Report.

But was it the right kind of attention? For those that question the message the project sends, Marchak feels she has a strong answer ready.

What message to they think we are trying to send? Elite women in sport work very hard and dedicate a lot of time and effort to something they love and are extremely passionate about. I would say that I feel that is what this calendar shows to anyone who is interested. It shows that elite women in sport don't have to fit into the stereotypes you hear floating around. That elite women athletes can be fit, muscular, 170 lbs yet look amazing and beautiful. It’s something we're proud of. Every day in and out of training we do what we love and the end product is beautiful.


One things seems clear, from talking to team members like Mandy, you don't get the impression that this was done out of pressure or desperation. These women truly believe they are adding to the public discourse about female body image and how elite women athletes are perceived by the public and the media. Certainly, there didn't appear to be regrets on the part of the players involved, as Marchak can attest to. She believes the project may have had a unifying effect on her team which, for world class players, is an advantage any coach would gladly seek.

I didn’t even realize I was nude, alone, in front of a camera. You felt like the most beautiful person in the world. He talked the whole time, made amazing suggestions, and in the end with the all the women involved made something beautiful. The only awkwardness I felt was when I walked in I thought I could wear under pants, and then I was told I wasn’t!

In two seconds I got over it and into the shoot. Nobody was pressured. Everyone was given a choice. And all the girls involved were more than eager to be a part of this experience that in the end felt much like a bonding experience.

Every one has their own perceptions. I think seeing the finished product really showed a beautiful image of women in sport and women just in general.

So, as Mandy Marchak and her team return to their pursuit of excellence on the field, most notably at the next major International Rugby Board Sevens tournament, in Houston, Texas, on February 1st, they will leave the ongoing debate about their calendar behind them. But the discussion about the lengths female athletes, in the modern age, must go to acquire the attention and support they deserve, is likely to rage on for some time.

 
Jeff Hull is a Contributor to Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

You can follow Jeff on Twitter: @ProReport

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