Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This is an intriguing news story that I saw on BBC news a few days ago:

The majority of the Sri Lanka women's cricket squad have signed up for jobs in the armed services.
The move comes after attempts by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to find a sponsor for the women's team have failed so far to create much interest.

The attempts made by the English women's governing body until 1998, the Women's Cricket Association, to attract commercial sponsorship, could probably fill a book in themselves, but I have yet to research this aspect of the sport's history in detail. This can wait for another blog post, perhaps. Suffice it to say that women's sport has always been and is still chronically underfunded and undersponsored (although the situation has improved in Britain in recent years).

The other aspect of this news story that I find interesting is the way a career in the army is portrayed as highly compatible with playing cricket: the players, according to the BBC correspondent, "can hone their sporting skills while in uniform."

I spent part of last year researching the history of women's sport in the British army for my Master's dissertation. Specifically I looked at the Second World War, and the impact this had on opportunities for women to participate in sport (and cricket specifically).

The question posed was what effect total war might have had on the 'masculine' domain of sport. Relating to the above news story, I particularly considered the entrance of 445,000 women into the auxiliary armed forces between 1939 and 1945. In this period, the authorities recognised the value of sport for morale purposes and established a welfare organisation, with welfare officers securing equipment and grounds to enable women to play sports and games, as well as organising compulsory Physical Training (PT) for recruits. The attitude that a career in the army is compatible with the playing of sport evidenly has a long history.

One striking trend was the frequency with which mixed sport - previously frowned upon in British society - took place where men and women were stationed together. For example, Women's Cricket reported after the war that some of the WCA's talented players were selected to play in the predominantly male Officers v Sergeants cricket matches.

Conservative attitudes towards female athleticism remained in place. The Treasury would not budget for additional PT kit for women, refusing to believe that they would be participating in strenuous enough activities to require this. Additionally, PT was specially adapted to women and mainly involved 'light' gymnastic movements. It was specified that women should not be able to compete in violent sports such as tug-of-war.

Nonetheless, a time of total war coupled with the entrance of women into the armed forces did expand the sporting opportunities available to a number of females, and for a time at least broke down some gender boundaries.

To bring this back to the news story I started this blog entry by quoting from, it does seem as though we might greet the news of female cricketers joining the Sri Lankan Army as a positive development, breaking down the traditional association between masculinity, sport and war. On the other hand it seems clear to me that both these arenas are still perceived as 'masculine' and that female involvement, even in a time of total war as described above, is unable to permanently break down these associations to any great extent.

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