Comment: Laura Trott is right not to compromise her principles by posing for lads’ mags – but Victoria Pendleton has every right to take another course

If an athlete feels compelled to take her clothes off for a sponsor, that is indefensible

You have to admire Laura Trott, a double Olympic gold medallist and two-time European champion cyclist, and her refusal to be sexualised by a branch of the media that can’t see past her doe-eyed prettiness and blond plaits.

The 21-year-old this week revealed – although that is probably the wrong word – she had snubbed an invitation to the awards ceremony for FHM’s Sexiest Women in the World after being voted No 42. Describing it as a “no-go” area, she confessed to feeling “pressure to fulfil a certain image” but suggested she wouldn’t demean herself and her achievements in order to raise her profile.

Contrast Trott’s stance to that of her Great Britain track cycling predecessors Rebecca Romero and Victoria Pendleton. Romero, you will recall, posed naked on her bike for a Powerade billboard campaign ahead of the Beijing Games, where she went on to become the first British woman to win Olympic medals in two different sports (a silver in the quadruple sculls in 2004 and a gold in the individual pursuit in 2008).

Pendleton has never been shy of taking her clothes off. Ever since she posed naked for the cover of Observer Sports Monthly ahead of Beijing and, broadening her popularity with lads everywhere, slipped into black lingerie for the cover of FHM magazine in 2009, Pendleton has made it her business to sell herself as a beautiful woman with a determination bordering on mania.

Ahead of London 2012, she shed the clothes once more for an “artistic” photo shoot for GQ magazine and again for the cover of Esquire magazine. Her commitment to the naturist cause, a succession of knock-out red carpet appearances and a sashay in Strictly Come Dancing duly saw her named the sexiest woman in sport by FHM at its 2013 awards (incidentally that is No 39 in the list of 100).

This approach to self-promotion is clearly not for Trott, who prefers to cuddle up on the sofa with track cyclist boyfriend Jason Kenny in their Stockport home. It is hard to tell whether her comments contained a subtle dig at her peers who do choose to flaunt their assets, but she was clear that it is not the way for her. Fair enough. But it doesn’t make the path trodden by Pendleton and Romero less righteous.

Pendleton – less so Romero as she looked distinctly out of her comfort zone – is quite at ease as an object of men’s desires. She courts the attention. But playing up her sensuality did not make her any less of a supreme sprint cyclist. She has the gold medals to prove it. She also did more than any other British rider besides Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins to bring cycling into the mainstream.

There is an obvious hypocrisy in the moral debate about whether a female athlete’s sporting achievements should speak for themselves. Relative perhaps to the number of male editors, a disproportionate amount of space is given to images of naked women.

Romero might have been the talking point in 2008 but there were two male athletes, Phillips Idowu, the triple-jumper, and Gregor Tait, the swimmer, who were just as naked as she was. Very little, however, was said about what motivated them to do it or whether it cheapened their sport.

There was little criticism of Ben Cohen, the former England rugby player, for his faintly ridiculous topless paso doble on Strictly last weekend that appeared to be part of a blatant pitch for the pink pound. Obviously, the four judges (a straight man, two gay men, one woman) were sold on his physical charms as he secured his highest score on the show to date.

Ever since the Ancient Games in Olympia, where male athletes competed naked to show off toned bodies hewn in the image of Zeus, sex and sport has proved a successful combination. It reflects an instinctive celebration of aesthetic beauty. And there is nothing wrong with that.

What is wrong, though – and where Trott is right to stand her ground – is when women are coerced into revealing more than they want to. That is exploitation.

If a female athlete feels compelled to take her clothes off for a sponsor or the commercial opportunity will simply not exist, that is indefensible.

Clearly, we’d all like a world where women’s successes in sport were just as high-profile as their male counterparts’. But it is hard to argue against freedom of choice. David Beckham sold himself to the world in a pair of tight underpants but no one would call him oppressed. There are many more talented footballers but few more famous.

Trott will undoubtedly inspire girls in Britain to ride bikes but she will not make as much money doing it as Pendleton. Principles don’t sell magazines.

Still, I hope she sticks to hers. Sport needs its innocents. The worst thing, now we know her boundaries, would be to watch them torn down by commercial pressures.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'