Sun Media isn't the only Canadian media outlet stirring up controversy at these Games. Eric Reguly, The Globe and Mail's European business correspondent, filed a bizarre column Friday making fun of beach volleyball players and suggesting that they're not Olympic-calibre athletes. Here are some of the lowlights:
—"Now the area is an enormous sand box for bikini-clad volleyball players, carefully waxed and shaved for fear that the TV close-ups of bums, boobs and other bits might reveal something amiss."
[Photos: Controversies of the 2012 Olympics]
—"My second thought was: Sorry to be insulting, girls and boys, you look like very good athletes, but are you really Olympic-quality material? As far as I could tell, the best beach volleyball players are tall and have the singular ability to smash a ball into the faces and bodies of their opponents with terrific force. I suspect that any of the top athletes in most of the other Olympic sports, from badminton to basketball, could become beach volleyball experts within a day or three. Imagine the damage a shot put player could inflict in this game. The ball would be buried a metre into the sand of the opponents' court."
—"I have no idea whether the red bikinis or the blue bikinis won the match. I don't care. I don't think anyone cared. It was just great fun, a rousing bit of levity in an event — the ever-so-serious Olympics — where athletes' careers are made and broken in a hundredth of a second. Is beach volleyball in the spirit of Olympic sport? I don't know, but it sure is a crowd pleaser."
Reguly's comments are clearly recognizable as ignorant to most who have ever watched or played a single match of volleyball, and they're already receiving plenty of Twitter criticism. You don't need to be an ardent volleyball fan to understand that this is a ridiculous piece, though. For one thing, a shot-putter might be able to hit the ball hard, but many might not be able to even jump above the net, and they certainly wouldn't have the agility required to make a diving dig, quickly get up and slam a spike down.
It takes a ridiculous amount of training and effort to excel in any level of volleyball, and the beach version of the game has its own unique challenges; because there are only two players on a side, you have to be able to do everything from digging to setting to blocking to attacking, and you have to be able to quickly recover and get in position to hit the ball again. Many great indoor volleyball players haven't been able to do well on the beach, so it's purely laughable that a top athlete in any other sport could pick up enough in three days to beat even the worst team at the Olympics. Beach volleyball may bring "rousing levity" to Reguly and his chums, but to those who appreciate it as a serious sport, it's his piece that's the joke.
Of course, a lack of respect for beach volleyball is hardly new. Much of the coverage from the London Games has ignored female competitors' talents and legitimate questions about their matches in favour of grilling them about whether they'll wear bikinis or shirts, part of the focus on appearance that's helped keep these Games from being a completely positive one for female athletes. (Funnily enough, one of the best pieces on how the focus on women's appearance and beach volleyball bikinis in particular is dragging down the games was also in the Globe, from Elizabeth Renzetti: it would be interesting to hear what she thinks of Reguly's remarks.)
Still, while focusing on appearance over sport may be expected from say, Deadspin's beach volleyball coverage, it's more surprising to see this level of ignorance in "Canada's National Newspaper". The Globe's generally been doing a solid job of Olympic coverage, and it's very curious that they'd run this sort of piece so soon after Renzetti's critical look at the coverage of beach volleyball players' appearance. At least while Deadspin goes on about the athletes' looks, writer Isaac Rauch has the knowledge and respect to refer to the American women's team of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor as "among the most dominant athletes of their generation" (between comments about how they look in bikinis). It's an interesting world when Deadspin's more respectful of beach volleyball players' skills than the Globe and Mail.
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