This is the fourth in a multi-part series on women in sport. Chapter 1 explored the early days of the Olympic movement, Chapter 2 grapples with the struggles of sexual identity, Chapter 3 looks at the influence of the media on gender views and Chapter 4 Part 1 discusses the sexualisation of women’s sport.
Chapter 4: Sexualisation of Women’s Sport (part 2 of 2)
Despite the fact that sexualisation and exploitation are clearly major issues in women’s sport, there are still stories of people trying to make a positive difference.
Women’s sport is one of the cornerstones of the contemporary dialogue relating to the biggest issues in sport in 2019. Representation in the media, funding and pay parity are talking points that have formed the narrative around women’s sport.
But what about the parts of the industry unrelated to the athletes? Ring card girls, dancers and cheerleaders are a major part of the biggest sporting events in the world, but the issues surrounding the profession are rarely discussed.
Elias Theodorou is a man of many talents. As well as being one of the best Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweight contenders in the world, he is also an actor in movies. But his most recent venture is his most interesting and important. In 2018, he became the first self-described ‘ring card boy’ for Invicta, an all-female Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion.
With the profession of ring card girls being a major topic in 2018, from the Professional Darts Corporation’s (PDC) decision to stop using walk on girls sparking some debate, followed by Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren’s decision to continue using ring card girls amid this new pressure, the issue is more relevant than ever before.
The Sports Gazette asked Elias about what motivated him to take on this new opportunity,
He explained: “My desire to become a ring boy was first an opportunity to do something different and start a conversation about equality inside the MMA cage and out.
“Female cardholders’ role in MMA and other combat sports have been in the news lately, with some organizations pulling the plug on the profession altogether. It is my belief that in the true pursuit of equality the answer is more, not less and wanted to have the discussion with respect.
“My plan was never to make this a ‘one and done’ stunt, but rather with the approval of President Shannon Knapp, actually become part of Invicta FC team.”
The issues of over-sexualisation and feminism have always been prevalent when discussing this issue, but for Elias and his colleagues at Invicta, it is much more about professionalism and unity.
“Discussions with my fellow Invicta ring card holders have been wide-ranging, but one thing that has been clear, the environment at Invicta has been one of respect and honour for not only the Ring Girls, but the female athletes competing as well,” Elias said.
“That starts from the top, with President Shannon Knapp who has created and fostered a great atmosphere in the 34 events they have produced.”
The reaction to this has been very positive, Elias credits his respect for the profession and wanting to simply blend in as a part of the event as the reason for this positivity. Going forward, he wants to continue in his role and to keep promoting his positive message,
He said: “The plan is very much to continue my ring boy duties and for the long haul. I should have anywhere between 8-12 Ring Boy events this year in both Invicta FC and other MMA organizations.
“The plan is actually to expand beyond fight night and create a calendar with not only myself, but other UFC fighters who have approached me about becoming a Ring Boy as well.
“I’m really amazed by the amount of other UFC fighters who love the idea as well and would love to join the conversation and fun breaking barriers inside and out of the cage.”
While many issues surrounding women’s sport are discussed with vitriol and negativity, with people like Elias Theodorou on the front line of this issue, there is an aura of real positivity and momentum to generate real and tangible discussion and progress.
Featured photograph/Maria Lopes