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Time to give those in charge of female athletics short shrift

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Ashley Allen/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ashley Allen/Getty Images

Last week, the double Paralympic world champion Olivia Breen shared a story of an incident at the English Athletics Championships. When she had just finished her long jump competition, a female official said “my sprint shorts were too short and inappropriate”, she wrote. “I was left speechless... they are specifically designed for competing in.” She has said she is planning to make an official complaint.

Over in Bulgaria, at the only Euros I am ready to talk about, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team were fined €1,500 (£1,285), or €150 a player, for “a case of improper clothing”. In this case of improper clothing, which sounds like a lost Murder She Wrote episode, the Norwegian women found that their shorts were not skimpy enough. The rules stated that they should have been wearing bikini bottoms “with a close fit and cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg”, rather than the shorts they chose to compete in instead. The main stipulations for the men’s team are shorts 10cm above the kneecap and “not too baggy”.

I’m glad the bodies in charge of officiating professional sports are focusing on the important issues such as how short women’s shorts should be. Up with that sort of thing or down with that sort of thing? They don’t know, but they’re troubled by it anyway. Breen’s brilliant statement pointed out that she should not be made to feel self-conscious about how she looks while she’s competing. In recent years, many famous female athletes have spoken again and again about their crippling self-consciousness, whether they are made to feel that way by the public, by the media or even by their own teams. It is hardly encouraging more young women to get into sport.

Finally to the Tokyo Olympics, which are, at the time I am writing this, still taking place, though by the time you read this, who knows, as the whole thing is starting to resemble a particularly withering Armando Iannucci script. The Spanish synchronised swimmer Ona Carbonell told Reuters that despite long negotiations, she has been unable to take her breastfeeding son to Japan with her. Carbonell explained that the strict restrictions that would be imposed on the baby and her husband were entirely impractical. The rules for women in sport, then, are clear. Don’t wear revealing shorts, don’t wear shorts that are not revealing, don’t be a breastfeeding mother, or do, but don’t. It’s a Johnsonian world out there.

Eric Clapton: immunity to old rock stars is a jab bonus

Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton: axe the vax? Photograph: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Eric Clapton has become the latest musician to waggle his toes in Covid-sceptic waters, announcing last week that he will not play at any venues that require people to have proof of vaccination. “I wish to say that I will not perform on any stage where there is a discriminated audience present,” he wrote, via Telegram, sharing a link to an earlier anti-lockdown collaboration song with fellow furious man Van Morrison.

I am fascinated by this petrol station Father’s Day compilation CD of older musicians who see themselves as outlaws and rebels, having cobbled together a few conspiracy theories about government control, as if this government is capable of controlling anything. Ian Brown withdrew from a festival earlier this year after claiming organisers would have required proof of vaccination as a condition of entry. Richard Ashcroft pulled out of Tramlines in Sheffield over its part in a government testing scheme, using the hashtags #naturalrebel and #theydontownme.

Immunity passports are understandably divisive, but last week, a YouGov survey found that over all age groups, 48% of people strongly support some form of vaccine passport for nightclubs, while only 12% strongly oppose it. Among over-65s, 70% show strong support for the measure, which raises the question of which clubs they’re going to, while only 3% strongly oppose. Clapton and friends are a loud yet tiny minority. Having recently recovered from Covid, I can only heap more praise on the vaccines. Not only did they keep the illness relatively mild, but now they’re inoculating me from Eric Clapton concerts too.

Peppa Pig: cartoon English takes the biscuit

According to some parents in the United States, the pandemic popularity of Peppa Pig has had an unexpected effect: it has left American children with British accents. A report in the Wall Street Journal highlighted “the Peppa effect”, which led to one young girl asking her surprised mother if she was going to the optician, rather than the “eye doctor”.

For a while, I collected flowery English terms that had solid and practical American counterparts: tumble dryer versus the simple dryer, the medieval-sounding hayfever versus allergies, the florid agony aunt versus Dear Abby. I like the idea that a cartoon pig aimed at children may be responsible for rewilding American English by teaching toddlers to say biscuit instead of cookie.

As many have pointed out, it’s about time any linguistic cultural exchange was a bit more evenly distributed. So many British kids grew up with TV and films that talked of proms that they are now an accepted part of adolescent life in the UK, an end to high school, rather than secondary school. My six-year-old niece sometimes adopts a transatlantic twang for the word “totally” thanks to a command of YouTube that terrifies me. It only seems fair to bring on the Peppa effect, biscuits, opticians and all.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist

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