Pay equality, motherhood, sexual violence, menstrual insecurity … Since the emergence of the #MeToo movement in recent years, several fights questioning the place of women in our society have gained in visibility. This is also the case in the sports sphere. In her book “Play her like Megan” (Marabout editions), to be published on Wednesday June 9 and prefaced by Clarisse Agbegnenou, the independent journalist Assia Hamdi recounts the struggle for the recognition of women’s rights in sport through more than 70 testimonies and precise historical documentation that challenge prejudices.
FranceInfo: sport: How was this book project born?
Assia Hamdi : I have been working on the place of women in sport for several years so these are themes that I had already had time to explore. There were two triggers I would say: the Disclose investigation and the Sarah Abitbol case. It sparked in me an additional determination because I was struck to see this surge of testimonies in the press. We talked about Sarah Abitbol but there were also many other champions. These cases of sexual violence have led the sportswomen to speak again on other themes. On equal pay, there has been a movement with the US national football team. The question of menstruation, motherhood too … Strong figures were expressed. And at the same time, I found that there was a lack of the historical dimension. What seemed very important to me was to talk to professional but also amateur sport, to visible sportswomen but also to others more anonymous. This book is a form of inventory of how things have evolved in recent years.
For this essay, I interviewed 70 interlocutors, many sportswomen, coaches, managers, referees on the historical development and the free speech on the place of women in sport …
— Assia Hamdi (@Assia_H) May 20, 2021
From the introduction you speak of Alice Milliat, a pioneer of women’s sport who remains unknown despite her recent honor by the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF). Was it important for you to also discuss the origins of these fights?
It is often said that sportswomen have been put forward recently but people do not know that for a long time, women could not play sports! We talk about parity, especially during the next Paris Games in 2024, but it is also because there were pioneers. This is something that we have seen in other fields such as culture, science … There are role models everywhere. I found it interesting that we don’t just talk about sports performance, because many women have marked the history of sport through their performance. I wanted to try to add something complementary by talking about the imprint they may have had in sport. If today a sportswoman can compete in the Olympics in the marathon, it is because a woman like Kathrine Switzer fought at the end of the 1960s and in the 1970s for the discipline to reach the Games in 1984.
“Megan Rapinoe is a player who campaigns for equal pay, who fights against homophobia, who will have a strong voice on the sexualization of sportswomen too. She represents a form of daring”
Your book is called “Play It Like Megan”. Perhaps that says a lot about the place Megan Rapinoe (player of the American football team) occupies today?
I was working on a lot of themes: equal pay, motherhood, anorexia, menstruation, access to certain disciplines for women, homophobia, sexual violence … And when I received the biography of Megan Rapinoe, I realized that they came back in several chapters. And then I thought of Gurinder Chadha’s movie, “Play her like Beckham”, because we also have this girl struggling to play her sport. She is a young girl who has the image of “Madam everyone”, as we find every weekend on the sports fields, and she has this dream of becoming a professional player. Megan Rapinoe is a complement, she is a player who campaigns for equal pay, who fights against homophobia, who will have a strong voice on the sexualization of the sportswoman as well. It represents a form of daring.
And this formula “Play it like Megan” is not an injunction, it is more an invitation to sportswomen to dare to practice their sport. The goal is not to be as vindictive as the American, even if you need a little visible figures. But I also wanted testimonials from sportswomen who are not media darling. They practice in their corner, they just want to be recognized for their fair value. Many of them also told me that they did not have models in their time and today we have sportswomen who are starting to be: Megan Rapinoe, Serena Williams, Mélina Robert-Michon, Sarah Ourahmoune …
Did you feel that the #MeToo movement was a catalyst for all of these sports talkings?
It was not formulated as it is during the conversations I had with these sportswomen (but) I had the feeling that a valve had opened. They have things to say but often we do not ask them the question. I realized that there was already a concern for visibility at the level of sportswomen, and in addition I felt that some felt the duty to speak on these subjects because we are not going to come and ask them. . I am thinking, for example, of the handball player Estelle Nze Minko who wrote in the spring of 2020 on the question of menstruation. Basketball player Sandrine Gruda did lives on Instagram where she spoke about endometriosis. I have the impression that there are things that are progressing but it is difficult to theorize because in the end it remains quite imperceptible.
At the same time, you have the feeling that if it does not come from sportswomen, all these problems are difficult to emerge …
Yes, and that’s the more negative side. There is an awareness, we give them more voice. There was a click but I think that we should not expect too much from them by telling ourselves that they will make things happen, we really have to support them and put things in place to facilitate the exchange. For example with the French handball team, there was a speaking time that was introduced. It is important that the supervisors also take this in hand. They do not necessarily know how to manage these subjects but there is a will to do so. It is not only the sportswomen who must speak, it is a whole collective movement and there must also be a political support behind, it is obvious.