Heckling is not always innocent

Copyright: MuppetWiki

Copyright: MuppetWiki

Roses 2015 – a weekend of great sport and plenty of rain, concluded with a satisfying victory for York. On the face of it. Since then, events have been overshadowed by reports of heckling at the University Challenge event and sexist catcalling at the women’s water polo event.

Most students by now have seen the photo of the Lancaster water polo player circling social media, in a bid to track down Player Number Two who reportedly shouted “I’d do you number seven”, “slut” and other derogatory comments towards the women’s teams playing water polo on Sunday.

Let’s be careful not to pass this off as Lancaster’s problem – it’s a problem everywhere. Because in the same breath, a fellow York student I spoke with, who condemned the heckling, stated that the Lancaster player did not deserve to be singled out, or punished. Why?

1) Apparently, this was “only lad banter”: once one is part of a group of ‘lads’, they are immediately excused of all responsibility. 2) Being publicly named might really upset Lancaster men’s Player Number Two.

By this point in the conversation, I probably looked like a goldfish out of water (which is not an intellectual look). A debate that was about the unacceptability of misogyny had been turned on its head: it was now all about the effects on Player Number Two.

The women’s water polo teams were in that pool after months of hard work, expecting to be judged on their athletic ability. Instead, they were distracted by a crowd of strangers loudly judging them on their appearance.

Am I supposed to feel sorry for singling Player Number Two out for misogyny when he himself singled out a female polo player trying to focus on her sport in such a derogatory way? This ‘lad’ banter can lead to sexism, which has no place in society, let alone university sport, where people are supposed to have a degree of intelligence.

Certainly, crowd mentality makes people do strange things (I myself was caught in the wrong crowd at the football and felt obliged to meekly cheer for Lancaster in fear of my life). However, this should never be used as an excuse to personally intimidate another sportsperson. There’s news that Lancaster University are investigating the incident, with rumours of a possible suspension from sport for the individual in question.

Good. Sorry Player Number Two, but an example has to be made out of you in order to stamp out the ‘lad’ banter that leads to sexism, and to real life people being intimidated and hurt. If you’re not happy for the whole world to hear how you shouted ‘slut’ at a woman, why do it at all?

So what degree of heckling is acceptable? The booing that occurred at the University Challenge event towards the Lancaster team may be considered innocent, but then a group decided to start jeering at a competitor because they came from Huddersfield, in a personal attack.

My gran’s favourite phrase is ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’: cheer for your team, or shut up.

Heckling can escalate into something menacing, very quickly. We need to remember that Roses is a strong partnership between two universities, which needs to be supported through mutual respect for each other’s sporting abilities.

It’s time that sport grew up; a lot of work and effort goes into training for sport, too much to resort to juvenile heckling, let alone sexism, racism, homophobia or any other parasite.

Sports people, respect each other, and society will appreciate you for far more than just your admirable dedication towards sports.

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