Letters: Sexism in sport

A good way to put girls off sport

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The Independent Online

Your leading article "Let's seize the chance to tackle sexism in sport" (1 August) reminded me of one of my own experiences of sports sexism.

In 2001 my primary school in east London took part in an inter-school swimming competition. I was the only member of the team to win an individual gold medal, as well as being part of the gold-medal-winning relay team, and was elated by my wins. I was given a certificate and told my medal would be sent to my school to be handed out in assembly.

However, a few weeks later, when the end-of-year assembly arrived, I was called into an empty classroom and told that, as my medal was an official sports medal, the school thought it would be nice to give it to the best "all round sportsman" of the year, and instead, I was to be given a plastic medal with a swimmer on the front.

Aged 11, I was hardly about to argue with my teacher and instead, left the classroom resenting him, resenting the boy who stole my medal, and seriously feeling my accomplishment had been for nothing. The boy was then presented with my medal and a speech made about his sporting accomplishments in the athletics team (like me), the swimming team (like me), and the football team (which allowed only boys). Watching my prize being given to my male counterpart who did not place in his own races was like a slap in the face. Why would I continue to try when I knew that if my medal or trophy was shiny, it would be given to some deserving boy?

Nell Corbett
London E9

The GB women footballers beating Brazil was, without doubt, a great result, particularly given the quality of football they played. It will, hopefully, raise the profile of women's football even higher and see more girls aspire to play the game. However, there need to be some caveats: the financial rewards for women in football are derisory and few can pursue sport as a full-time career; the money going into the game at both grass-roots and elite levels is inadequate; the wide talent pool does not seem to translate into selection for national teams which tend to be dominated, in England at least, by a small number of super-league teams. The solution? Well, perhaps a levy on men's premier-league transfers to go directly into the women's game.

John Bird

The Civil Service protects us from the political elite

No surprise that our politicians are seeking to "dismiss their most senior civil servants and bring in US-style political appointees to drive through policy" (report, 1 August). The principal reason given for this is ministers feel that civil servants hinder the implementation of policy changes for which there is an electoral mandate. Electoral mandate? Don't make me laugh.

Successive governments have gone to the country with manifestos that, when elected, they promptly abandon. "No top-down reorganisation of the NHS" is a classic example. Do we really want to increase the amount of power held by a political elite that consistently shows itself to be duplicitous?

Lords Hutton and Leveson, in the course of their inquiries, have exposed the willingness of the most senior politicians to embrace policies solicited by corporations and foreign powers. These things happened while we have an allegedly obstructive civil service. What greater calamities might we be led towards with an acquiescent civil service?

Graham Barlow
Greasby, Wirral

As an organisation that has been campaigning to promote "independent institutions of state" as a vehicle for poverty reduction in Africa for more than 10 years, we fear that it would be a slippery slope to give UK ministers the power to dismiss their most senior civil servants.

After that, ministers could demand powers to bring in Uganda and Zimbabwe-style political appointees in the judiciary, police, schools, diplomatic service, state intelligence service, the central bank, the army and the electoral commission to "drive through party political policies" regardless of their practicality or benefit to the country as a whole.

The UK could also borrow a leaf from Uganda and create an ideological training school for civil servants, teachers, doctors, police and army officers and public servants. Anyone who did not subscribe to the ruling party ideology would not be employed, given a government contract or a bank loan.

The Coalition government should not be allowed to turn the UK into an unstable country where there is no distinction between party and state, and where public servants come and go with every new regime.

Sam Akaki
Independent Institution for Poverty Reduction in Africa (DIPRA)
London W3

Before the Government goes ahead with plans to end the neutrality of the advice it receives from its civil servants, it would do well to remember the words of Elizabeth I when appointing her first minister William Cecil. "This opinion I have of you that you will give me advice which is best for the realm whatever you know my own personal opinion to be."

A recent Prime Minister who decided to ignore independent advice found himself embroiled in the disastrous and almost certainly illegal Iraq war.

Valerie Crews
Beckenham, Kent

Your leading article on civil service reform (2 August) was sadly out of date. The current only-too-true incarnation of modern government policy-making is not Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister, but Ollie from The Thick of It: political advisers making it up as they go along.

You yourselves recently published key points from Nicholas Timmins's report "Never Again – the story of the Health and Social Care Act 2012", with the argument that there was a need (in the public interest) for greater scope for senior civil servants to challenge the decisions of their political masters.

Yes, the Civil Service needs to address delivery. But the policy needs to be right first. And that requires a degree of independence.

Geoff Deville
New Malden, Surrey

Unacceptable, but winning, tactics

In the women's badminton event at the London Olympics, players were accused of deliberately trying to lose a match to secure a more favourable draw in the next round. The facts are not in doubt; what is open to question is whether what they did was in some way disreputable or contrary to the laws of the game. What the players did is akin to what happens regularly in other sports and is accepted as being within the laws. Tennis players sometimes choose to lose a game in order to serve first in the following set. Their bathroom breaks are often more psychological than physiological. Footballers often "run the clock down" by aimless passing or taking the ball to a corner flag. Non-urgent substitution of players in the final few minutes is an acceptable ploy. Not everything can be legislated for. Much is left to the discretion of the referee/umpire and the integrity of the players.

Frank Campbell

A couple of months ago, I wrote and suggested a handy Olympic supplement containing all the Olympic news and results which, having no interest in these things, I could pull out and throw away. I don't think you're quite understanding my concept. On most days this week, in addition to the supplement, there have been 15 pages devoted to the Olympics. Surely there's a limit to the amount you can write about people running about and jumping over things?

Pete Barrett
Colchester, Essex

A new and puzzling phrase seems to have emerged in the press and in TV commentary during the Olympics, namely "watching on" – David Cameron has "watched on" ("Hollande twists the knife over France's success", 1 August), and the Princess Royal was "watching on" as Zara Phillips sped towards a medal.

What is wrong with either "looking on", or simply "watching"?

Jane Gregory
Emsworth, Hampshire

Offshore pensions are immoral

As a non-resident I have been proposed a "Qrops." It is another invention of the financial sector to enable British non-residents who have not yet taken a pension to move their fund offshore. What is surprising in a time of crisis is that, like most tax-avoidance schemes, it comes with Government approval and is designed to benefit the financial-services sector.

The concept sounds good. My pension income is paid gross with double taxation agreements in most European countries. For those who qualify, these offshore pensions are free of UK inheritance tax. However instead of paying tax to the UK Treasury the Qrops needs a Qrops provider and comes with set-up charges and annual fees as well as commissions. Pensioners with funds below £100,000 may see a big chunk of their pension income disappearing into the pockets of the financial-services industry.

It is another example of how governments have transferred power over the economy and people's lives to the bankers.

Peter Fieldman
Venelles, France

The tragedy of Shafilea Ahmed

Regarding Shafilea Ahmed's parents' conviction for her murder (report, 4 August); the tragic loss of such a young life is shocking. Shafilea had the courage to refuse a forced marriage imposed by her parents and she paid with her life. The freedom to accept or refuse a husband is a right granted to all women by Islam. While violence against women is not an issue for one culture only, it is well overdue for some to abandon the old traditions and to live in the modern world.

Mohammed Samaana

Library closure in Westminster

Westminster Councillor Lee Rowley claims that "too often, a library closure seems to be the first option on the savings list, not one of the last. But before the books go, councils should ensure that they have slashed bureaucracy." (Letters, 1 August). Yet Westminster's record in slashing library services is no better than anyone else's.

Within the past year, Westminster Council has closed the St James's Library in Victoria Street, a few hundred yards from Parliament, and made eight library staff redundant.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg
Leader of the Labour Group
Westminster City Council
London SW1

Atos is no friend of the disabled

Atos were at the centre of Panorama's "Disabled or Faking It" ("Welfare blow for disabled", and Letters, 3 August) and it is clear that Atos assessors are under pressure to find those unfit for work, fit.

I am currently appealing such a finding on behalf of my own son who has a learning difficulty and I can assure you the process is humiliating and dehumanising. In my opinion what is happening to those with disabilities is persecution. And let us not forget Atos are sponsors of the Paralympics!

Gabriel Parlour
Stroud, Gloucestershire

The price of milk

Your feature on milk prices (3 August) shows that the Co-op pays the second-lowest price to farmers and takes the biggest margin. Clearly its Fairtrade policies don't extend to British dairy farmers.

Barrie Bain
Wadhurst, East Sussex