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.

News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence