Athletes, who happen to be women

The Rio olympics have raised a lot of social media discussion on sexism and the way women’s achievements are reported and generally spoken of. The media still diminishes the achievements of female athletes – consistently. American Corey Cogdell-Unrein, who won bronze in the trap shooting, was in the press coverage referred to only in relation to her famous husband. Another athlete’s husband-coach was credited by a reporter to be responsible for her performance. Another gold medalist with a world record was a secondary news under a male silver-medalist from the same day.

In the Finnish media, the focus in the past days has been on the woman who’s the only medalist for us so far. A boxer with a story. She had only been training boxing for the fun of it, until at the ripe age of 28 and with 2 kids, her coach awoke her passion and she started taking the sport seriously. Disturbing was to see comments on her story undermining the stunning achievement, and the sarcastic requests to highlight men who are fathers as well. Of course mother and fatherhood are equally important but when talking about athletes, becoming a mother is a completely different challenge than becoming a father. Yet, it seems it’s not clear to all that a woman’s achievement and success story could for once be featured in media, instead of that of a man’s.

And what on earth is all this talk about women athletes hair-dos and make-up? Honestly it’s horrible that female athletes have to compete in their looks as well, as if that was more important than their actual performance. I’ve heard reporters in Rio have been actually having discussions on the gymnastics make-ups?

I’m glad the global sporting event is gaining attention to gender roles and equality, and hope the discussions continue past the games and beyond sports. Because in pretty much every field in life women are still lesser-valued than men.

In my current job, as we organize large international conferences, gender equality is a difficult topic. Namely, when inviting speakers our team wants to achieve full gender balance but struggles event after event in achieving the target. We have a certain level of seniority as a guideline for accepting a speaker, and it’s clearly how there are far fewer women in such roles than there are men. There are of course many brilliant women and excellent public speakers as well, but still too few to easily achieve 50-50 speaker balance from both genders. Only panels where all invited organizations / companies straight-forwardly nominate women are panels where gender equality or women empowerment is being discussed. And these are panels where we desperately want men to speak in.

At least, as Rio reporting failures and the responses to those are showing, world is slowly waking up to this. It’s no longer acceptable and “passable” to diminish women’s achievements or give the credit of their success to the men in their lives. Social media, keep it up. We all have a role to play – it ‘s never a funny joke to be sexist.





Team Spirit

When I was a child, I was eager to try any sports and hobbies. From figure-skating to horse riding and football, anything that was available in my home city, I went for it. Most hobbies came and went, only horses got me hooked. With horses, I felt a connection and comfortable around them. They didn’t make me feel a failure – and there was no need for being competitive.

For competitive I was not. In football games, I was hoping for a draw so that neither team would have to lose and hence be disappointed. Needless to say, I wasn’t a great player. And we lost a lot. With my lack of competitiveness, and my lack of skills in football, I was not a very popular team mate. I didn’t last very long, and developed a fear or distaste to team sports as a follow up.

Since those times, I’ve kept the eagerness for trying new sports – and the same reluctance for team sports. I’ve wanted to do sports for myself, for my well-being – not for winning anything. And I’ve avoided any team sports for the fear of failing again. Knowing, that I would not be the star of the team, I’ve not wanted to cause any team the harm of having to drag me alone. Nor have I wanted to experience that feeling, the feeling of being unwanted, a failure, a loser.

Until last year. In the past years I’ve purposefully tackled many past obstacles and faced many fears. So last year, when a friend kept talking about her team sport passion, netball, I decided to give it a go. Somehow it felt adept to start with something I had never even heard of before, it being obvious there should be no expectations with my skills and capacity. Another reason for getting the courage to give netball a shot, was my friend’s comments on how friendly the sport is and how she’s made most of her friends on the court.

So I went, and just as with horses, got instantly hooked. It proved difficult, challenging and absolutely exhausting – but fun. So much so that the couch advised me to smile less and play tougher. Nowadays I can play tough and rough – but I keep smiling. I can’t help it, I’m just having the time of my life on the court, running for the ball.

I’ve overcome yet another fear and I’m extremely proud of myself. I’ve joined the Kiwi team in Singapore to play in the league, and I’m not afraid of any or our opponents – no matter how amazing players they are. I enjoy learning from the defeats and keep trying my best. And I do enjoy the team spirits in netball – how everyone claps for all the successful shoots, cheers up for the good tries, and congratulates the opponents and umpires no matter which way the game went. I have learned that competitiveness doesn’t need to be something negative – I do want to win, do my best for our team to win, but no one gets upset for a loss. It’s a true team sport – getting a good exercise, having fun and cheering together, to losses and victories alike.


Diving in Singapore

imageWhen one is thinking of Singapore, many things come to mind. Diving probably isn’t one of them.

When I was offered a job in Singapore, I wasn’t too excited. About the job, yes, but not about living in Singapore. To me Singapore embodied the boring developed side of Asia – being organized, clean and, well, organized and clean. Over the years in Southeast Asia, I’ve grown very fond of the opposite. I love the chaos of HCMC and Bangkok, the motorbikes, noises, never-ending hustle and bustle of the thrilling cities. They are original, authentic, so very Asian.

I used to travel to Singapore on business a lot so I thought I knew the place. And I was right – it is organized and clean. It has plenty of superficial entertainment, upper-class feeling and high ceilings.

But it still has “Asia” in it too. In the hawker centers, on the streets of Little India, in China town. It also has much more, it has the fantastic Arab street, cute Bukit Timah, and pretty much all possible sports one can think of available. Even diving.

See, up until now, I’ve been praising Singapore for it’s fantastic sports opportunities and naming only diving and skiing missing. Well I haven’t figured out skiing yet but diving, I went diving in Singapore waters. A 10 minute boat-ride from the shore and voila! We were on a reef.

Needless to say, it wasn’t among the best dive sites I’ve dived on. But it was better than what you’d expect a small city-state with a massive harbor could offer. Much respect to those environmentalists and conservation enthusiasts who have fought for the reef and for underwater education. The Sister’s Trail in the Marine Park offers 2 dive trails along which one can learn more about the species and conservation and take part in the efforts, by observing, recording and sharing data.

Visibility was as expected very poor, but I’ve actually dived in worse conditions. With the lack of visibility, there’s no need to keep eyes open for big stuff that might swim by, allowing an undisturbed focus for the interesting macro world. There were many nude branches, seahorses, critters, schools of fishes and interesting corals to see. Much, much more than I’d ever have expected. I was sincerely interested in looking around and our dive master is convinced to identify completely new species in the near future.  He kept his eyes open for a pink seahorse for me.

Singapore – you’ve given me thrilling experiences from dragon boating by Gardens by the Bay, abundance of netball games, yoga of all kinds in amazing small studios and in a park and so much more. Now you’ve given me an opportunity to go diving for an afternoon, and at the same time learn more about the underwater world and its inhabitants and help to protect them.

And I have to say, coming back to surface, floating in the warm waters between two uninhabited islands, looking over to the beautiful Singapore skyline – that’s pretty remarkable. Something different, something unique, something memorable.