March 25th Melbourne, Australia. The new Formula One season is around the corner, but in the last months, Formula One’s world has not been focusing all their attention on the upcoming races, but grid girls. Grid girls, who for the first time, will not work on the F1 circuit, after being replaced by kids.
The decision was taken by the new owners of Formula One – Liberty Media. Putting an end to a tradition that started in the sixties was far from being unanimous: critics have come from grid girls, fans, journalists and Formula One racers. However, there was also support from people working in the same areas. Some may ask why Formula One has taken this decision now after so long in support of grid girls?
The official explanation highlighted the need to follow “modern-day societal norms” but Dr Paolo Aversa, one of the leading academic experts in the motorsport industry, explained to Sports Gazette that there are probably deeper reasons behind the decision.
He said: “I think this modernisation originally started not necessarily because of a stronger moral understanding of these issues, but simply because the audience has been dropping dramatically in Formula 1 since 2008. Almost one-third of the world’s viewers have left the sport. If Formula One’s audience is declining so much, the owners really need to ask why this is happening, and how can they reverse the situation. So they have to tap into groups of consumers they never thought about before to guarantee the future of the sport.”
“To do that they have to make sure children nowadays are engaged in the sport because the children of today are the fans of tomorrow. If children are not exposed to the sport, they will not learn the stories behind the sport, the challenges behind the sport and possibly in the future they will not be willing to commit to it. Especially because watching F1 is expensive: it is expensive to go to the races, and it is expensive to have a private TV subscription to be able to watch,” he added.
But did F1 need to expel grid girls to make sure more kids are into the sport? Dr Aversa has no doubts.
“The decision-makers about what the children should watch and which sports they should do are in many cases mothers, especially in developed countries (which are the countries that F1 is mostly targeting are). Mothers have strong a voice in the education of their children. And usually they are well-educated, and they are also concerned about the problem of objectification of women, and they don’t want their children to be exposed to an entertainment or show that promotes such objectification.”
“As a matter of fact, if mothers don’t take the children to the sport or don’t allow the fathers to take the children to the sport, they will not be exposed to the sport. This is why I think besides being an important moral aspect and modern interpretation of gender equality, it’s also very important from a business point of view to get rid of grid girls, in order to promote a type of sport and public image that will engage with a broader audience and, therefore, increase the chances to revert this negative trend in the sport.”
Objectification or no objectification? That seems to be the question to which the answer is far from being unanimous. After the decision, Rebecca Cooper, a grid girl who worked for F1 in the last five years told Sky Sports: “It is ridiculous that women who say they are ‘fighting for women’s rights’ are saying what others should and shouldn’t do, stopping us from doing a job we love and are proud to do.” Eve Livingston, a freelance journalist for The Guardian, said: “It is paradoxical that the objectification label has been projected onto grid girls largely against their will and contrary to their own accounts of the work they do.”
Dr Aversa, however, is not convinced by these arguments. He said: “Well, I guess someone who purposely decides to become a model or sell their personal image will never complain about that. The point is that I don’t think that is an image that will suit the sport. Also, I’m curious to know what kind of people are those who are in favour.” Probably the people who are in favour are the people who go to the races so probably they are the hardcore fans, not the potential fans – the people who paid for a ticket to watch. But the problem with Formula One is not about keeping happy the people that already go to the races, but trying to attract other audiences who don’t.”
The decision to get rid of grid girls came after the Dart Professional Corporation announced they would no longer have woman accompany their players onto the stage, and there are also women from other sports doing similar jobs afraid that the same will happen to them. Will the same happen in MotoGP for example?
“That will only be taken into consideration in other sports if and when the audience drops. So I believe that in MotoGP, as long as the interest keeps growing, they will not look into that, but as soon as the trend reverts, they will probably be more interested.”
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons