WEIRD CASESGeorge Orwell defined sport as “war minus the shooting”. Taking another perspective, achirpy young Liverpudlian...
Gary Slapper is Professor of Law at The Open University. His new book Weird Cases ispublished by Wildy, Simmonds & HillThe...
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Day 10 - Weird Cases - Be a Good Sport

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Day 10 - Weird Cases - Be a Good Sport

  1. 1. WEIRD CASESGeorge Orwell defined sport as “war minus the shooting”. Taking another perspective, achirpy young Liverpudlian asked recently by a radio interviewer to define sport, replied “if youcan do it while you’re smoking it’s not sport”. So, darts, golf and snooker would be pastimes.It is unlikely that Judge Stefan Underhill in Connecticut will use the smoking test when hedecides the unprecedented legal question now before him: is cheerleading a sport?The question arises in this way. A US federal law known as Title IX requires that no one inAmerica shall, on the basis of gender, be excluded from or discriminated against in “anyeducation program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...”That means, among other things, equal opportunities for men and women in university sports.Five members of the volleyball team and the coach at Quinnipiac University in Connecticutfiled a legal action after their institution decided for budgetary reasons to end women’svolleyball as a sport option and replace it with cheerleading.Organising the volleyball team costs about six times as much a year as organising thecheerleading team. The volleyball team argue that cheerleading is not a legitimate alternativeas it’s not a sport.The head of “competitive cheer” at the university defends the activity as a legitimate sport andobserves that her team is comprised of athletes most of whom are elite gymnasts.To be a sport under Title IX an activity must have coaches, practices, competition as itsprimary goal, competitions during a defined season, and a governing body. The cheer teamargued that competitive cheer involves gaining points through strength, agility, and theperformance of complicated stunts and is a world away from the simple arts of rooting andprancing with pompons.In an initial hearing, Judge Underhill noted the volleyball team had a reasonable case but healso noted that although competitive cheer wasn’t recognised as “sport or emerging sport” bythe National Collegiate Athletic Association, it did have “all the necessary characteristics of apotentially valid competitive sport.”At one point, arguing that competitive cheer wasn’t an especially challenging activity, theplaintiffs referred the judge to the terpsichorean antics of “Boomer the Bobcat”. Boomer, theQuinnipiac mascot, had performed competitive cheer at a public event even though he wassubstantially encumbered in a feline costume. The defendant counter-argued that Boomer’sbop had occurred at an exhibition event and did not reflect the true nature of competitivecheer.Judges have previously agonised over definitional problems such as precisely when twilightbecomes night or at what point an increasing number of beans becomes a pile. Definingexactly at what point an organised exertive activity becomes a sport is equally difficult.In a recent civil decision of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, sport was taken to be “an activityinvolving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs.” Noteveryone, though, sees these things in the same way. Asked about exercise, Oscar Wildereplied “Of course I have played outdoor games. I once played dominoes in an open air caféin Paris”.These articles were published by The Times Online as part of the weekly column written byGary Slapper
  2. 2. Gary Slapper is Professor of Law at The Open University. His new book Weird Cases ispublished by Wildy, Simmonds & HillThese articles were published by The Times Online as part of the weekly column written byGary Slapper

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