Tennis, Gender and Cats: On and Off Court Body Politics

Nike posted a powerful advert on the 25th August 2018. It caught my eye as it is another striking image and loaded caption from the multi-billion dollar sports empire.

Plus, it involved one of my favourite sport stars – Serena Williams – heralded as the current queen of tennis and an activist for black, female and now mothers rights (amongst others).

Yet, the powerful advert was a response to the potential banning of this outfit, the catsuit. Last week the President of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, when speaking about outfits at Roland Garros this year singled out the suit as being disrespectful and “it will no longer be accepted. One must respect the game and the place”.

Responses from the media, other players and fans have been mixed:

What is playing out in this situation is quite fascinating for a student of sport and society, because distinctive parties are passing comment: fans, athletes, sport federations, media platforms, sponsors, activists etc.


This blog is not intending to take sides but demonstrate that in such a debate there are a variety of voices and opinions. Depending on what philosophical, pragmatic or theoretical standpoint you have will influence which voice/opinion you may find the most persuasive.

Interestingly, I find the role of the sponsor the most interesting in this debate. Nike and another of Serena’s sponsors Beats by Dre (as shown above) construct a powerful and empowering narrative. Meaning for me, Serena, will have leverage to disagree and battle practices she views as discriminatory, as she has done and hopefully will continue to do.

What will, also, be fascinating is the next move from the French Tennis Federation because if they do officially codify a dress code that discriminates against certain body types it could (and should) cause further opinion and debate.

Studio portrait 1907 – State Library of Queensland, Australia –

The world of women’s sport is rife with historical and contemporary clothing debates, for example:

The five examples, plus the catsuit debate connect to a myriad of: cultural, religious, racial, physiological or health, sexuality, etiquette, tradition, and gender based governance issues in sport. A who’s who of the UK 2010 Equality Act’s protected characteristics which applies to all legal parties within the UK. Yet, sports governing bodies, tournaments and athletes are not necessarily covered by national or international legal norms. Consequently, if the French Tennis Association does decide to ban and/or heavily regulate the dress code for next year we may never hear about it.

A glimpse of the odd, but wonderful world of body politics in sport.


Switzerland Vlog: A PhD Student on Her Travels

On the 4th June I headed out to the 2018 World Congress of Sociology of Sport hosted this year in Lausanne, Switzerland.


The academic conference had over 300 participants and had activities across four days. The well-established international academic community brings together a diverse range of presentations and sessions; attached here is the program and abstract booklet.

I did not present this year, instead, I headed out to soak up the environment, meet old and new friends, and try to write up a journal article (under review) and non-academic research report (now published)!

To document my time I decided to Vlog. The following 8 minutes represents a real snap shot into my experience. It features thoughts:

It is my first time doing a Vlog and I learnt a lot from trying to create this, for example, trying to get consistency of audio is very tricky. Plus, a lot of footage did not make the cut, including, a tipsy walk and talk I made post the conference dinner! I am happy to have feedback on my Vlogging attempt…

Finally, I am pleased to confirm a series of future Vlogs as I head to Canada, Australia, Japan and Vietnam in the Autumn/Winter this year. A huge public thank you to: SOAS University of London, the University of Worcester and the Sport and Recreation Alliance – who have all contributed to funding these opportunities (for those of you wondering how I am affording all of this).


Love Cup: What Do You Watch at 21:00 (BST)?

I was amused the other day when a good pal smirked and remarked “are you watching Love Island?” … to her surprise, I was! On a separate occasion, last week, I was (stereotypically) sat in the pub watching a Football World Cup game, when a very burly fellow stated “I cannot stand that Love Island rubbish, I go out of the room when it is on!”

On the one hand I respect people’s tastes and viewpoints on popular culture, especially, the divisive coverage featuring either football or reality TV stars. Alas, it got me pondering. And I am going to argue, briefly, that the Football World Cup and Love Island are actually very similar forms of popular culture.

Love Cup

If you consider the mass appeal of both – Love Island and the Football World Cup – the strengths are reasonably similar, as shown in the diagram above. For example both are based on high levels of drama. Moreover, the alleged non-scripted drama in both events is boosted by a variety of factors, such as: regulated games, press coverage and TV production value.

Of course, there are some significant differences, such as, Love Island does not have elite athletic competitions or a club based system that produces the contestants; moreover, the Football World Cup relies on single gender competitions to produce an experience that will appeal to people of all gender identities.



But, I think, that both are in essence a competition between a constructed set of celebrities that induce conformity and norms through the mediums of sport and romance. Illustrated vividly by the similar perception that if you lose or get voted out – it is ‘failure.’ And the ideal contestant is of a particular build, age and make up (as seen in the images above of footballers and a current Love Island male contestant).

From this, in a deeper thinking state, I would also, contend that Love Island and the Football World Cup raise similar ethical issues, such as, the reliance on a ‘perfect’ specimen, outcome or drive to not be a failure. I am currently reading Prof. Heather Widdows (2018) book Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal. In regards to this blog, the book has made me consider, firstly, how the link between the Football World Cup and Love Island speaks to a wider UK societal shared value framework. Secondly, how this shared value framework can be used as a formula to boost forms of popular culture.

Now, I am no expert philosopher, so the paragraph above is a very trifle like thought (i.e. lots of layers to it, but all very gooey; rather than fixed). But, as I work through Widdows’ book, and continue to watch both the Football World Cup/Love Island, I shall be thinking:

To what extent I personally conform to ideals (as Widdows notes around beauty, p. 4) dominant in the sport and romance based popular culture programmes (as noted in the diagram above).

And conforming, pragmatically (rather than philosophically), is not necessarily negative. But, for me, awareness is key. So, we do not all end up valuing the same ideals without understanding why.

IMG_0491_Love Island June

I would highly recommend Heather Widdows’ book, blogs or videos if you want to continue pondering this. I, definitely, need/want to keep thinking this through. In the meantime, happy Love Island and/or Football World Cup viewing!


Gender and Publishing: Guest Blog

My blog this month is self promotion (shock for an academic). The guest blog piece:

came about after I met the Mark from Taylor and Francis at a CREST event back in September 2017. We had a debate about gender in academic publishing and whether it was equitable or balanced. In January this year Mark contacted me and asked to write a companion piece for their theme around gender and publishing, available here:

It has been a good experience in two ways. Firstly, writing a guest blog for another website as the regulations and style were more structured than my own personal blog here. I have learnt a lot about focusing a blog post and writing in a more succinct manner. Secondly, the topic, I am not too sure I have fully developed my stance on gender (or other protected characteristics) in the workplace; but this short guest blog has really helped me hone my experiences and what I am actually looking to debate/change.

Watch this space!


Social Media: Some Feedback and Advice please…

A short and sharp blog this month, with a very specific theme. Social media. Not to critique or understand it, but, ask for some advice and feedback…

Do you use social media professionally?

I do, and I cannot keep up! I now have accounts on:, Twitter, LinkedIn, WordPress, Soundcloud, YouTube, H-Net etc.

‘Social’ media has now been eroded to be ‘social/professional’ media; with my own professional practice saturated by a plethora of social media channels. I largely use them to network, communicate and reach a variety of audiences, which I find very cost/time effective.

blog 1
Professional social media is big business!

I am co-delivering a workshop next week with a fellow PhD student, Andy, and I wanted to blog about the questions raised during the workshop. It is definitely not a ‘how to’ masterclass, as in my opinion there is no right way to use social/professional media.

If you do use social media professionally, what is your chosen/most frequently used platform? Does your usage ever blur into personal posts or content?

Fenwick (2014, p.3) raises the concern that:

“..there is a general concern that online environments loosen inhibitions and create a false sense of intimacy, producing inappropriate postings that can be amplified immediately and internationally..”

I think this is fair, but, what expectations do people have in 2018? Is social media a domain where you always need to be professional? It is based on a ‘social’ element after all?!

A lot of unanswered questions around the ethics, blurring of activities and professional guidelines, you need to adhere to when projecting yourself into the public domain. However, a lot of answered questions in terms of the positive trend of engaging with professional/social media. The Microsoft $26.2bn deal (above) to acquire LinkedIn shows a clear tech industry endorsement to the ‘power’ of professional/social media. Plus, the growing body of statistics that show a positive correlation between professional/social media and the impact of research outputs, for example, the LSE Impact Blog published recently:

Academic journals with a presence on Twitter are more widely disseminated and receive a higher number of citations.

The statistics and metrics around reach and audience is persuasive when you consider the cost and time effective role professional/social media can play, especially, within academia. But are we at a point where guidelines, practices and expectations need to be clearer? …much to discuss next week in the workshop with Andy and the group!

In the meantime, any comments or feedback would be very useful – email / comment on the blog using the boxes below /  Tweet/DM me / or a message via one of the multitude of platforms I appear on!


Reference: Fenwick, T. (2014) Social media, professionalism and higher education: a sociomaterial consideration, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2014.942275


Reflections from a Final Year PhD Student

The trigger for this month’s blog was an email exchange and a song. The email exchange was with the Worcester Research School about using my conference poster for their recent Open Day. It got me thinking (cringing) about how much my PhD had evolved since September 2016. Then, the next morning I heard this song on Radio One Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. Again, it got me thinking and reflecting.

I am in the final year of a full time PhD and a number of times I have bought into the clichés that it is a journey or roller coaster etc. But, actually, what is becoming more accurate is that it is simply development. In terms of developing a research project and developing yourself. I have spoken quite a few times in this blog about peaks or troughs. So, I wanted to go a few steps further and reflect as a final year PhD student.

Social Reflections

Build in time buffers, about 15% of the year (calendar or academic), for unforeseen circumstances. For example, one off extra projects, a strike, fatigue, mental/physical health, snow or family bereavements. It seems an obvious point but life outside of a PhD can (and should) get in the way.

A classic truism is that you become isolated during your PhD, maybe, but it is very much intensified in the moments when things go wrong or things get in the way. I am really grateful for having such a good support network, my thesis acknowledgements page will be full!

Political Reflections

Learn to say thank you and show appreciation, genuinely and frequently. I have met a number of people, communities and organisations during my PhD; and I have developed a knack for networking. Apparently that is a desirable asset for an academic, however, in my final year I have developed an awareness that networking is futile if you do not thank or demonstrate appreciation.

For example, in my first year I attended events (often for free as a PhD researcher) but did not offer anything in return, now in my final year I email the event organiser to see how I can contribute or show appreciation. So far, I have written blogs, tweeted, taken photos or offered feedback. All small and token, but, build rapport and demonstrate genuine gratitude.

Economic Reflections

Invest in spaces to think and write. I now have note books, post-it notes, plain, lined, large and small pieces of paper in most areas of my life. For example, I think well when I drive so there is a stack of post-it notes in my glove box!

It is easy to over complicate or regulate the spaces that you need to think or write in. For the first couple of months of my PhD I lingered on using my laptop, the library and being at a desk; whereas now I have developed the ability to know when I need to be at a desk or actually down by a canal with a note pad and pen. Less about the word count and more about the spaces that count.

Cultural Reflections

I have let go of thinking a PhD will make me more intellectual. In my opinion it has done the opposite. I now know, that I know nothing! But, that is fine.

What develops me as an academic is my ability to hone my intellect into an achievable research project, which can benefit a variety of communities. On a day to day basis that could be in the form of: writing up a thesis chapter or practicing using Google Docs or having a Twitter chat. By the end of my PhD I will, hopefully, be a more capable individual that can contribute to communities through research. Not a know-it-all!

Concluding Reflection

Briefly, this is a reflection of my experiences and development. I am a: full time, funded, English (Northern), extroverted, single, millennial, able bodied and female (amongst other identifying features) PhD student; therefore, other PhD’ers will have completely different reflections. We are all different, but, hopefully what I have shared is relatable.

Personal Future Milestones

I want to continue to develop and my short term milestones are:

Social – to further develop resilience for when things go wrong and I go into buffer time;

Political – to further develop the ability to show appreciation and hope that post PhD that will cultivate an employment opportunity (ideally a post-doc);

Economic – to further develop my thinking/writing spaces so that I have full draft of my thesis by October 2018;

Cultural – to further develop the diversity of my skills and continue to listen and be challenged by those around me.

It is good to reflect, but I will not linger. Back to the thesis and doing.



From Volunteering at the Track to the Palace: An Interview with a Newly Crowned MBE

The linguistic origins of the word ‘volunteering’ come from the French and Latin terms for free will.

Zoom forward to 2018 and through your own ‘free will’ – giving up time and effort to contribute to sport and physical activity is a long standing pillar of English society. According to Sport England (2017, p.5) “5.6 million people volunteer every month in sport and physical activity in England.” That is a big number, but actually equates to just over 10% of the total population of England. Considering the media coverage and glorifying of high level athletes, coaches and leaders in sport, is it high time volunteers get as much profile or recognition?

I sat down for a quick chat with someone who I would regard as an ‘elite’ volunteer and someone who recently received a significant accolade and recognition for her efforts. Rebecca Foster, as detailed in these press releases (Hertfordshire Mercury and University of Worcester), received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.

Becs Blog
Becs in action! 

Rather than describing the reasons why Becs received the award (as you can read them in the linked press releases above); I sat down and spoke with Becs more generally, probing her about how she felt as an MBE recipient and how she was going to ‘use’ it.

Verity – you have participated in sport from a young age, so how does this award compare to say winning an athletics race?

RF – I still probably haven’t realised quite what this means… yes, I was a good athlete but not a great competitor. My personality was vocationally a teacher and probably a bit of carer, so I had always recognised that people had volunteered their time and enabled me to compete in athletics and I am always very grateful to those people… I love sport and I love what it has done for me, therefore, I would like to put something back, it is only right and that is basically what I did.

Verity – so volunteering in sport gives you a different sense of success than participating in sport?

RF- I think it is a very different feeling, I get great joy from helping athletes be better. For example, when a kid that came as a deaf athlete but with no signing skills and was immersed within the deaf community – won a gold and silver medal that year – but came back four years later a proficient signer and embraced her deaf identity through sport. I feel in some way that I was a helper along the way for her to get that self-actualisation that ‘I am deaf and it is okay to be deaf, I am talented and it is okay to be talented.’ So I liked the support I was able to give athletes, that is how I measure success.

Verity – is receiving an MBE the pinnacle for you?

RF- I see it as a platform for me now, one of my friends asked me what I was going to do with it. I think it means I have a stronger voice and perhaps I can instigate more change. I need to decide where the best place for me to do that is because, ironically, now I have taken a side step away from deaf sport as I have done it for twelve years and with my current job I have limited time. It [MBE] has motivated me more, as it has been a huge pat on the back. You know those long evenings over the years, those 2am nights where you are moaning, but this is a nice reflection of what I have done over the years at work, within deaf sport and away in my different volunteer activities.

Now I need to reflect and have time to think what I am going to ‘do’ with it…

A few brief thoughts from Becs is great and honest insight about what volunteering in sport, physical activity or recreation can feel like. For me, importantly, it is a snapshot of volunteering being cyclical in terms of giving back, recognition, motivation or success. The cyclical nature of volunteering is also, perhaps, a reason why it is tricky to recognise volunteers, as often their ‘success’ is measured by the achievements of athletes or clubs or communities – rather than seeing themselves as the success. Something to ponder more…

In a wider policy context a lot is being done within the sport, physical activity and recreation sector to recognise, plus sustain the hard work of individuals that volunteer. As the Sport England figure suggested there is a healthy level of volunteering, but this needs to be fostered further.

Key examples of what is being done currently:

Sport England Strategy

Sport England – Volunteering in Active Nation Strategy 2017- 2021 – snapshot of the strategy here.

Join In – the national brand for local sports volunteering and their GIVERS Research

Academic Research – for example – Post-Event Volunteering Legacy: Did the London 2012 Games Induce a Sustainable Volunteer Engagement? 2016, University of Kent

English Federation of Disability Sport – Encouraging more disabled people to volunteer in sport

House of Commons – Inquiry into the social impact of participation in culture and sport 

I look forward to what Becs will ‘do’ with her MBE and I am certainly inspired by what she has done over the years. Plus, the variety of activity that is being done in the sector, highlights, that policy wise people recognise that ‘free will’ cannot be taken for granted.