Why do sports use women as eye candy?

Published: 06th April 2013 02:45 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th April 2013 02:46 PM   |  A+A-

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If they stopped employing invariably young and pretty women to parade around, often in short skirts or less, would motor racing, cycling and boxing die?

Of course not.

So why do these and other sports feel compelled to feed fans eye candy?

Ultimately, by doing so, they are saying that among the best uses for a woman is to look hot. Sports that don't give women equal opportunities but encourage them to flash a bit of leg are suggesting that their place is to be the sidekicks of victorious men, instead of being victorious and competing themselves.

"Let's face it, sex does sell. We all know that. That's what advertisers use and marketing companies use, because it just sells," said Ross Bennett. He designed the outfits — red cowboy boots, short white skirts, white tops with deep necklines — worn by the so-called "grid girls" at last year's Formula One race in Austin, Texas.

"These women are being photographed by thousands of people, all day long, and stared at kind of like a piece of meat. I hate to say it that way, but like, you know, they are being used as eye candy and attracting people to the track, along with the drivers."

Are male attention spans so pitifully short that they lose their appetite for sports that don't offer side orders of female beauties to snort at?

Boxing fans, for instance, can't talk among themselves for 60 seconds while fighters take breathers? They need women in bikinis and heels to entertain them and help them track the rounds because they can't count from one to twelve themselves? How sad.

Cyclist Peter Sagan inadvertently raised such questions when he pinched the bottom of a "podium girl" at the Tour of Flanders, a race over cobbled roads and hills in Belgium. Photos caught him red-handed with a cheeky smile as he squeezed. She couldn't see the grope coming because she had her back to him and was otherwise engaged doing her duty — planting a kiss on the cheek of race winner Fabian Cancellara.

Sagan, who was on the podium as the race runner-up, later realized how inappropriate his gesture was.

"I never should have done it. I'm so sorry," the 23-year-old, looking genuinely contrite, said in a YouTube video. "I promise to act more respectfully in the future."

The woman, Maja Leye, tweeted that Sagan's pinch "was wrong" and "I hope this never happens again." But she also said she accepted his apologies — so no lasting harm seemed to be done.

Still, why are women put in such positions? With an audience and cameras watching, Leye could hardly have whipped around and given Sagan the slap he deserved.

Podium girls, grid girls, flower girls, race queens, pit babes — the nick-name and hemline lengths vary from sport to sport but the job description is fairly universal: look good, pose for photos, and make men look attractive and successful by applauding and kissing them before they celebrate by spraying everyone with champagne. How phallocentric.

"We haven't found anything better," said Laurent Lachaux, marketing director at ASO, organizer of the Tour de France, explaining why the race employs 50 or so young pretties to hostess and for the daily podium awards.

"It doesn't pose a problem to the riders — quite the contrary — or to the sponsors, who are happy to have such smiling faces promoting their image," he said. "For us, it's not backward. Quite the opposite. It shows off the freshness of the young hostesses. That's good. It's part of the tradition."

It can — more rarely — work both ways. Olympic cycling champion Marianne Vos said she got kisses from a podium boy when she won a race in the Netherlands, the Ronde van Drenthe, last month.

"You get the flowers on the podium and you have to get the flowers from somebody and it's nice, for us, if it's a handsome guy or, for the guys, if it's a pretty girl. For me, that's the tradition, that's no problem," she said.

That's certainly one view. And the point here isn't to be a sour puss and pretend that a bit of wanted attention from the opposite sex isn't pleasant.

But it grates to see sports that haven't given female competitors an equal shake putting women on parade for their looks and not their athletic abilities. If you type "girls" and "Formula One" into Google, for instance, you'll not read about a woman competing in that sport this season — because all the drivers on the grid are men — but you will see plenty of photos of women wearing not very much.

It's archaic and it's unfair. It's also a safe bet that if women ran sports, instead of the other way around, they would be far too civilized to make men parade around for their pleasure.

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