By Marcella Gallace
Lingerie Football is the latest craze to touchdown in Australia and as its title suggests, features scantily-clad female footballers playing a modified version of US NRL football. The Lingerie Football League (LFL) blossomed from American soil and has been causing a storm ever since mention of an Australian league.
After exhibiting its first game in Australia, the Lingerie Football League (LFL) was sure to get some knickers in a knot. The US spectacle that introduced lingerie kitted women playing ball on the football pitch plans to expand into Australia by 2013 and has all sorts of crowds roaring.
On the weekend, the LFL made its debut on Australian soil at Brisbane’s Entertainment Centre, where Australia’s sole LFL player, Chloe Butler eyed out her opponents, shook off the defenders and sprinted full throttle to score a touchdown on home turf. The crowd jolted up, blaring with excitement.
But not everyone is onboard.
Widespread protests to ban the LFL from coming to Australia were fuelled late last year, when the LFL announced an official Australian league for 2013. Collective Shout, a campaigning movement against the objectification and sexualisation of women in the media have gain almost 1,500 signatures on an online petition to “Stop the Lingerie Football League in Australia,” and are not backing down.
Lily Munroe, who has helped drive the petition said, “we will keep speaking up and boycotting the [LFL] until sponsors, and promoters withdraw their support, so that the LFL does not go ahead here next year.”
The Australian Sports Commission has said they do not recognise lingerie football as a sport, but as they are not a regulatory body cannot stop the LFL from coming to Australia.
Collective Shout representative, Melinda Tankard Reist is appalled by the league and believes, “This exploitation of women’s bodies for profit undermines real sportswomen. Mainstreaming stripper-style representations of women, including in sport, sets back the cause of equality and fair treatment.”
One of the agreements that players must consent to is “accidental nudity.” With the LFL contract reading: “Player knowingly and voluntarily agrees to provide player’s service… and has no objection to providing services involving player’s accidental nudity.”
The contract also specifies players will be fined $500 if they wear additional items of clothing under the lingerie kit.
It is this exploitation of women in sport that particularly has Resit’s blood boiling. “It dashes our hopes of growing a generation of empowered young women. It reinforces the notion that if a young woman wants to play sport she has to bare her flesh and be publicly sexual.”
Federal Minister for Sport Kate Lundy was also not among the 6,000 LFL supporters at Brisbane’s Entertainment Centre on Saturday night, labelling the LFL as an “assault on sport.”
“We should be applauding the athletic feats and sportsmanship of our female athletes, not screening a show to provide cheap titillation to a few,” Ms Lundy said.
“Lingerie Football objectifies and exploits women by trading on their sexuality to make money pure and simple. We can do so much better than LFL. And most importantly, our daughters deserve more,” Ms Lundy finished.
Mitch Mortaza, the founder and chairman of the LFL was quick to respond to Ms Lundy on Facebook: “Recent comments about LFL Football being a “cheap, degrading” perv is certainly not representative of our sport or its athletes. LFL Football is a real sport played by remarkable women from all walks of life.”
Lingerie Football was introduced to the world as a Super Bowl half time entertainment in 2005 and by 2009, Mortaza had launched the LFL. The game attracts millions of viewers worldwide and is televised in more than 85 countries.
Mortaza is adamant that the LFL will also be a hit in Australia and stated he is “expecting capacity crowds,” for the ‘All Star’ matches. The Brisbane game almost filled half a stadium and the second match scheduled for Sydney this Saturday has already sold half their tickets.
Queensland’s charismatic and fun-loving gal, Chloe Butler has been sporting the lingerie uniform ever since her debut with the LFL in 2011. Having played rugby for ACT and run hurdles for Australia, the 25-year-old brings more than a pretty face to the pitch.
But her cheerful voice was far from present when we mentioned the Australian Sports Commission and their decision not to recognise lingerie football as a sport. “They can say that but really there are no laws to say this is not a sport.”
“It’s a physical and very aggressive sport so that’s priority,” Butler described with eagerness. However, she doesn’t try to hide behind her garter, “You have to look fit, they’re trying to promote healthy women and you know it’s an entertainment driven market that is sold on ‘sex sells’.”
Australian Womensport and Recreation Association President Janice Crosswhite is opposed to the lingerie uniforms, and believes they are problematic for a full-on-contact sport as they place players at a greater risk of injury. She said the attire detracts their image as serious sportswoman and undermines the hard work that sporting organizations have done across the country to have female athlete’s respected for their athleticism rather than bodies.
Ms Crosswhite hopes “the League fails to survive in Australia.”
Butler was quick to rebut the idea the lingerie uniforms provide insufficient kitting, saying that no matter what sport you do you will get hurt, with or without protective gear. “I did track and field, if I hit the hurdle and hit the ground, should I be running with knee pads?”
“If you ask any Olympic athlete – the only way they got there was by learning to deal with injury. So it is what it is in sport.”
Alternatively, former LFL player Natasha Lindsey who was hit with a career ending injury had much to say about the Lingerie uniforms and LFL. The American Seattle Mists’ player was injured in the very first game of the 2011 LFL season, after taking a side swipe which twisted her knee.
“When I got up it was difficult to walk, so I knew something was seriously wrong. We had a team physician, chiropractor and a rehab guy on site – I saw them, they iced it and stretched it. I actually kept playing the game basically until I couldn’t walk anymore.”
The incident left Lindsey with a torn knee ligament, which required major surgery and medical attention, leaving her with costly medical bills in a sport where player are not paid to play.
The LFL players have their travel, uniform and expenses paid for, but play for free.
According to Lindsey the LFL made it considerably difficult to claim the player insurance she was entitled to and had to “wait a good three to four months before [receiving] any professional care or MRI, possible surgery or anything.”
Six months after sustaining injury Lindsey received knee reconstruction surgery, but with a few hurdles still present. The day before scheduled surgery, Lindsey was called into the doctor’s office and was told the LFL had not provided the required papers that the insurance company needed to claim and pay for Lindsey’s surgery. “So the doctor said we need to cancel surgery.”
Lindsey was rescheduled for surgery and received the $10,000 insurance from the LFL for a surgery that cost her $16,000. Her medical bills have stacked up to $20,000, and she believes a $10,000 cover for “any injury a player can sustain in a full contact seven on seven game is unrealistic.”
Even LFL player Liz Gorman has said she prefers more clothing and didn’t like the lingerie uniform.
“I’d rather wear full clothing, because when you fall, it literally rips your skin,” Gorman told CBC Radio earlier this year.
Tryouts for the 2013 LFL Australian league hit Brisbane last week, where Lauren Funnell, a current QLD Gridiron player decided to ditch the “full kit” uniform, that is “the same amount of clothing that the men wear,” and display her skills for the LFL.
“My big goal is the Lingerie Football League purely because you get to travel overseas,” Funnell said with sincerity. Nor is she scared of the lingerie uniform, “I’ve grown up on the beach and so prancing around in bikinis it’s not really much different.”
And a little bit of nudity doesn’t have this gridiron player stepping back either. “I think that [a flash] can happen in any sport to be honest, I mean even surfing, wearing bikinis coming down a wave you risk coming up and coming out [of your bikini],” Funnell described with a laugh.
The Australian LFL has limited room, with only 20 spots per team. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have been chosen as the four designated teams for the opening season.
This Thursday Sydney will host tryouts for the LFL, with Melbourne and Perth scheduled later this year.
For those of you who haven’t seen a game of lingerie football, the game consists of two 17-mintue halves, with a sudden death of eight minutes if needed. The game is a modified version of US NRL football that has scantily-clad women taking one another out on the pitch. There is as much ego on the field as there is in the locker room, not to mention the tears.
Even Butler gets riled up and fierce on the pitch. But when she first stood on the lingerie football field she admits she felt “a bit intimated.”
“At the start I was a bit intimidated after being knocked the hell down and then seeing [the opponent] screaming in my face like ‘what? what?’…I’m like ‘oh um I’m not sure’” Butler recounted in laughter. “But you get used to it. You hear performers like Beyonce say shit like Sasha Fierce (Beyonce’s alter ego), that’s what I feel when I go to play, I become somebody else, like aggressive.”
With the lingerie kit also comes a surprised flash or two, an experience that Butler is use to, “if you Google my name it comes up ‘loses pants’. I lost them in a touchdown but as long as I caught the ball, that’s all that matters.”
University of New South Wales Professor Helen Caple isn’t impressed with the league and said it reinforces the inequality between men and women in sport.
“The women who participate in this have to be realistic of where this recognition is initially coming – the sexualisation and objectification of their bodies. Looking at the videos and the way these women train it’s clear they take their sport very seriously, they are athletes and deserve to be recognised as elite athlete’s equality as men are recognised – but that’s just not the situation,” she said.
“It reinforces all the stereotypes many women have been battling for so long – you just throw your hands up in despair and say where can you go with this.”