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Thursday 27 June 2019

Is tokenism as bad as sexism in sport?

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 22: (L-R) Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Landon Cassill, driver of the #40 CarsForSale.com Chevrolet, and Cole Whitt, driver of the #35 Speed Stick Ford, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 22: (L-R) Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, Landon Cassill, driver of the #40 CarsForSale.com Chevrolet, and Cole Whitt, driver of the #35 Speed Stick Ford, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 57th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 22, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)

What we wanted to say was good on her. What we wanted to do was celebrate the crack her appointment had made in the glass ceiling. This we wanted to do, but couldn't. We couldn't do it because it struck us as little more than tokenism.

It's here that we have to be careful. There's a balance to be struck between lamenting tokenism on the one hand and drifting into a casual sexism on the other - and that is something we do not want to do under any circumstances.

That being said the only conclusion we can come to is that the sole reason Carmen Jorda snagged a coveted Formula One development driver contract with the Lotus Grand Prix team is that she's a woman.

If she weren't a woman she wouldn't have got anywhere the drive. Just look at her record. In three seasons in GP3 (one of the top feeder series for F1) she has no wins to her name, she has no podiums to her name, she has no top ten finishes.

She finished in joint last place in 2014, her best finishing position 17th. This is not the record of an F1 ace in the making. Just so we're absolutely clear here the problem with Ms Jorda's appointment is not that she's a woman, it's that she doesn't seem to have the credentials necessary.

Of course places in F1 aren't determined by talent alone. There are pay drivers - that is drivers who bring a substantial amount of sponsorship with them to hard-pressed teams - who often get seats ahead of more talented racers (much more so at the back than the front of the grid).

Jorda's appointment seems to be of a piece with that. Just a little more extreme than most. Her resume is far more scant than almost all other pay drivers. One of Lotus' lead drivers, Pastor Maldonado, probably falls into the pay-driver category and this is a guy who was capable of winning a Grand Prix in 2012 for Williams and before that was a GP2 champion.

None of this is to say that a woman can't race, none of this is to say that F1 should be male only. The cars aren't nearly as physically demanding as they used to be and, given that Danica Patrick (below) was able to put an IndyCar on pole for the Indy500 in much more demanding machinery, that really isn't an issue anyway.

Women should be given a fair crack at racing in F1, just as long as they're quick enough and Carmen Jordan just isn't. If it looks like a cynical marketing ploy then the chances are that's what it is and that's a shame.

Actually it's more than a shame it's a travesty. It makes it that little bit more difficult for genuine female talent to make it to the top of the tree. It's hard enough as it is without tokenism re-enforcing the notion that sisters can't do it for themselves.

In the States Patrick proved that she could and can compete with the very best. She too has come in for criticism. The aptly named former NASCAR racer Kyle Petty claimed that she "wasn't a race driver" but "somebody who can qualify better than she runs".

Even if you accept Mr Petty's (sorta sounds like a character from Mr. Men) premise, the fact that she qualifies better than she races does not mean she's not up to the job. Jarno Trulli made a ten year F1 career out of qualifying better than he raced.

A much more insidious criticism is that Patrick is "just a marketing machine". Sure she's a good looking woman and sure she makes the most of that to raise her profile and get sponsorship to allow her to race and... so what?

Do people think that Cristano Ronaldo is any less worthy of his Balon d'Or because he often poses in nothing but his smalls as a side-line to his main gig? Of course they don't.

Nor do they suggest that the only reason he won the Balon d'Or or plays for Real Madrid is because he looks good doing so and that newspaper and magazine editors the world over trip over themselves to print the pictures.

Yet that's exactly the type of criticism that Patrick has to face from Mr Petty and others. That she looks good in a bikini is irrelevant to whether she's quick or not. Looking good in a bikini doesn't put you on pole for the Indy500.

Is it a little dispiriting that the Patrick might have to pose in a bikini to get the type of exposure (pun not intended) she needs to be able to compete? Of course it is, but we shouldn't criticise her for making that choice.

And choice is the key word here. A few weeks back Stephanie Roche posed for a somewhat risqué photo on the front page of the Sunday Independent's Life magazine, leading one online publication to pose the question "Is this really necessary?". Somewhat missing the point if you ask us.

It was Roche's choice to do the photo-shoot, whether it was "necessary" or not is beside the point. Whether or not it meets with the approval of certain people taking umbrage on her behalf equally so.

One photo-shoot won't make Roche any more or less of a sportswoman. It won't make her score any more or fewer goals. It is what it is and it isn't what she ought to be judged on.

She and all other sports people should be judged on talent alone. That's what makes Jorda's appointment so difficult to accept. She just doesn't have the goods, which makes it that little bit harder for other female racers to be judged on their merits.

A real shame.

Corkman

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