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Issues In Sport And Touch Football Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 5441 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This research explores the way gender is perceived and constructed within the examined roles of touch football referees, with the aim of investigating gender equity relative to the participation and experience of female referees in touch football. The key questions of this thesis emanate from concerns around the equitable distribution of officiating sports roles. This concern also extends to individuals who may want to shift from participating in sporting activities just as participants to officiating in sports.

Officiating and volunteering roles in sport have typically been highly gendered, with females over-represented in lower status roles. Females have tended to dominate the non-paid volunteer positions in sporting operations, while males are typically over-represented in leadership roles. This inequity has been strongly rallied against by researchers who have adopted a gender focus in their research.

This thesis contends that the sporting practice of ‘touch football’, whilst considered by many to be a sporting practice that is reflective of current societal norms and values, could benefit from a gendered analysis. In order to operationalise the research, a case study approach was adopted which examined the role of female referees officiating in a locally-based senior mixed touch football competition. The role of referees in the local touch football competition presents a number of unique factors which are highly beneficial to this study. Refereeing in the competition is open to both males and females in the mixed competition. The selection of referees is through an administrative process that involves a number of relevant processes that draw on broader gender equity issues such as credentialism and professionalism, as well as simple gender bias.

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Theoretically the research approach has drawn on elements of the work of Norbert Elias, in particular the concept of figurationalism, and also the post-structuralist approach from Actor Network Theory [ANT]. The methodologies and analysis explore the site of touch football in a small rural setting through engaging with the touch football participant’s experiences of playing and officiating in the role of referee in the competition.

The research is significant for several reasons and at different levels. First, Australian Government policies such as the Active Women: National Policy for Women and Girls in Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity, 1999-2002 (1999a), and How to include Women and Girls in Sport, Recreation and Physical Activity: Strategies and Good Practice (1999b) require Australian sport institutions to foster sporting cultures that allow and value the full involvement of females in every aspect of sport.

Second, societal practices that support inequities are persistent and will re-emerge as dominant forms if they are not subjected to critical examination and leadership given for just change.

Third, at a game administration level, gender equity is identified as a key strategy to ensure the long-term growth of the sporting practice by ensuring equal opportunities in all aspects of the game.

Fourth, at a game and individual level, the inclusion of an appropriate gender mix will help to neutralise unwanted masculine traits of overt aggression and sexist behaviour from the sport. Female participation in the referee role that is reflective of the female player cohort will arguably help to shape the sporting practice to reflect the shared values of a mixed competition, focusing on the positive social and physical benefits of the game.

Last, the research area is of keen interest to the researcher and is an area of inquiry where there is prior knowledge of the location of roles within the sporting practice, and a capacity and ease for the researcher to engage with those involved at the local level.

1.2 Research hypothesis

This thesis seeks to explore whether a gendered approach to examining a local touch football competition will assist in improving the outcomes of both males and females in relation to officiating within the sport. Therefore, this thesis is concerned with the equitable representation of female referees in the local mixed touch football competition. Individuals’ understandings of gender differences within the role of referee and applicable strategies to address gender equity will frame the thesis.

This thesis is best read as a preliminary analysis of gender equity in refereeing within the sporting practice of touch football. The research is approved by the CQUniversity Human Research Ethics Committee [H12/02-019], Queensland Touch Association and Central Queensland Touch Association.

1.3 Research background

1.3.1 Key concerns in sport

Sport has historically attracted considerable attention from social theorists and commentators, with approaches ranging from macro and meta-analysis of sporting behaviours and outcomes to micro approaches that examine the everyday and mundane elements of sport. This thesis adopts a gendered, post-structuralist approach to exploring the key issue of gender equity in the roles of officiating in sport. In the next section, a background will be given of the key concerns that helped shape the research process and an introduction to touch football will assist the uninitiated to the sporting practice. An elementary understanding of the sporting practice, together with a familiarity with the general history and values embedded in the sporting practice will assist in a reading of the research. Gender in sport

The research adopts a gendered approach as gender is seen as an important social construct. The construct of gender can be used to uncover and understand better sporting practices, offering an opportunity to improve the individual and collective outcomes that are associated with particular sports. The sociology of gender has developed in line with successive waves of the feminist’s movement and creates an intellectual endeavour in its own right (Weedon 1997). This thesis uses a working definition of gender as a ‘system of social practices’ as a means to interrogate the social arrangements of touch football (Ridgeway and Smith-Lovin 1999, p. 192). The gendered social practices establish and maintain gender distinctions, differences and inequalities. Relationships between actors are organised to some extent on those distinctions, differences and inequalities. Gender represents those social, cultural and psychological traits linked to males and females through particular social contexts and translations.

Debate remains on all elements that comprise feminist theory, but basically, the consensus is that a theory is feminist if it can be used to contest a ‘status quo’ that is damaging to females (Chafetz 1988; Hall 1996). Feminists work through various avenues to increase female’s empowerment. Feminists accept the goal of ending sexism by empowering females (Weedon 1997), though there is a great deal of disparity about how that goal can be achieved.

One interpretation is that there are numerous femininities and masculinities which are more multiple than singular or bi-polar expressions of gender. Miller (2009, p. 127) contends ‘masculinity [and femininity] is best viewed not as a property or an essence, but as a series of contingent signs and practices that exercise power over both males and females, and to know it is to shift it, not just to love it’. The processes and relationships through which males and females conduct their gendered lives should be the focus of researchers (Connell 2005). Males and females cannot be defined as being a certain gender, as their gender is a fluid aspect of their identity that is not constrained to one of a finite number of gender categories. However, outcomes for males and females differ, which subsequently introduces a challenging tension with conceptualisations of gender as subjectively fluid and yet objectively presenting as correlated to differing outcomes.

The demand to formulate opportunities for females to successfully compete in sport then becomes both complex and highly disputed (Hall 1996; Hargreaves 1994). This is illustrated in debates over separatist sporting activities as opposed to mixed competitions, or with regards to the imbalance in media representations of female’s sport compared to male’s sport. As a clear reminder of the relevancy of gender equity in sport, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index shows that Australia is ranked twenty-third out of one hundred and thirty-five nations on a series of gender-based disparities, with a considerable decline in the relative progress (Hausmann, Tyson, Bekhouche and Zahidi 2011).

1.4 Research approach – why studying touch football is important

The research involves a case study of a locally-based senior mixed touch football competition. The next section provides a contextualisation for the research by describing key elements of touch football. A brief history of the game of touch football in Australia is also presented.

1.4.1 Key elements of touch football Getting to the field of play [1] The playing field and the ball

Touch football, also known as touch rugby or touch, is typically played on a rectangular field, and measures seventy metres in length from score line to score line [2] and fifty metres in width (Touch Football Australia 2007). The playing surface is normally grass however, other surfaces may be used. The game is played with an oval, inflated ball slightly smaller than rugby league and rugby union balls. The official ball size is thirty-six centimetres long and fifty-five centimetres in circumference (Touch Football Australia 2007). Mode of play

The aim of the game of touch football is for each team to score touchdowns [3] and to prevent the opposition from scoring (Touch Football Australia 2007). The ball may be passed, flicked, knocked, handed or thrown [but not kicked] sideways or backwards between teammates who can run or else move with the ball in an attempt to gain territorial advantage and score (Touch Football Australia 2007). Defending players prevent the attacking team [4] from gaining a territorial advantage by touching [5] the ball carrier or attacking players may initiate touches at which point, play stops and is restarted with a roll ball [6] (Touch Football Australia 2007). Possession

Unless other rules apply, the team with the ball is entitled to six touches prior to changing possession with the opposing team (Touch Football Australia 2007). Following the sixth touch or the loss of possession due to any other means, players of the team losing possession are to hand or pass the ball to the nearest opposition player, or place the ball on the ground at the mark [7] without delay (Touch Football Australia 2007). Attacking players who ask for the ball are to be handed the ball. Players are not to delay the changeover procedure. Defending

From the tap [8] for the start of the game or from a penalty, the defending team must be at least ten metres from the point of the tap (Touch Football Australia 2007). After making a touch, the defending team must retreat the distance the referee marks, at least five metres from the mark where the touch occurred, and remain there until the half [9] touches the ball (Touch Football Australia 2007). If a player does not retreat the entire distance the referee marked, they are considered offside. If a player makes an attempt to defend whilst inside this distance, they will be penalised. Scoring

A touchdown is awarded when a player [without being touched and other than the half] places the ball on the ground on or over the team’s attacking score line and within the boundaries of the touchdown zone [10] (Touch Football Australia 2007). A touchdown is worth 1 point. The team who at the end of play has scored the most touchdowns is declared the winner. In the event of neither team scoring, or in the event of both teams scoring the same number of touchdowns, a draw is declared. The half

The half [or acting half] is subject to a number of restrictions that do not apply to other players. If the half is touched with the ball, the attacking team loses possession. The half cannot score a touchdown since trying to do so results in a change of possession. If the half takes too long to retrieve the ball, the referee can call play on and defenders are allowed to move forward before the half has touched the ball. Commencement/recommencement of play

Play is started by a tap at the beginning of each half, following a touchdown and when a penalty is awarded. The tap is performed by an attacking player placing the ball on the ground at or behind the mark [11] , releasing both hands from the ball, touching the ball with either foot a distance of not more than one metre and retrieving the ball cleanly (Touch Football Australia 2007). The defensive team must stay at a minimum distance of ten metres from the mark during the tap, unless they are positioned on their own score line. The defensive players can move after the ball carrier has touched the ball with their foot. The player who has performed the tap may be touched without losing possession. The attacking side must be positioned behind the ball when it is tapped. The attacking side may move the ball up to ten metres directly behind the given mark when taking a penalty tap. In this case, the defending side must still remain ten metres from the original mark, not the new mark. Player attire

All participating players are to be correctly attired in team uniforms. Uniforms typically consist of upper apparel [t-shirts or polo shirts], shorts [or briefs for female players] and socks with footwear (Touch Football Australia 2007). Shoes with screw-in studs are not to be worn by any player. Light leather or synthetic boots with soft-moulded soles are permitted, as long as individual studs are no longer than thirteen millimetres (Touch Football Australia 2007). All players are to wear an identifying number clearly displayed on the front or rear of the upper garment (Touch Football Australia 2007). Players are not to participate in any match while wearing any item of jewellery. Long or sharp fingernails are to be trimmed or taped. Administration of touch football The referee, line judges and touchdown zone officials, and the importance of the whistle

Touch football must have at least one referee to officiate the game but most major games encompass one central referee and two sideline referees, who interchange roles constantly throughout the game (Touch Football Australia 2007). The central referee is the sole judge on matters of fact and is required to arbitrate on the rules of the game during play (Touch Football Australia 2007). The central referee may impose any sanction necessary to control the match and in particular, award penalties for infringements against the rules (Touch Football Australia 2007). Line judges and touchdown zone officials assist the central referee with tasks associated with sidelines, score lines and touchdown zone lines, and other matters at the discretion of the central referee. Their normal duties include indicating the ten metres distance for taps from a penalty, controlling substitutions, matters of backplay and other advice when sought by the central referee (Touch Football Australia 2007).

The central referee must have a whistle to control the game. The start of play and a touchdown are signalled by long whistle blasts. A sixth touch, short whistle blast and the end of play, a long, fluctuating whistle blast (Touch Football Australia 2007). The standard whistle in Australia is the Acme Thunderer fifty-eight point five. Rules of the game Team composition and substitution

A team consists of fourteen players, no more than six of who are allowed on the field at any time (Touch Football Australia 2007). In mixed competitions, the maximum number of males allowed on the field of play is three (Touch Football Australia 2007). The minimum male requirement on the field of play is one (Touch Football Australia 2007).

Players may substitute at any time during the game in keeping with the ‘interchange procedure’ (Touch Football Australia 2007, p. 10). There is no limit to the number of times a player may interchange, but substitutions can only be made from players who are registered at the commencement of the game (Touch Football Australia 2007). Duration

The match is forty-five minutes duration, entailing two twenty minute halves. There is a five minute half time break. When time expires play is to continue until the ball next becomes dead [12] (Touch Football Australia 2007). Should a penalty be awarded during this period, the penalty is to be taken. Competition points

Points are awarded in competition matches throughout the season. Teams are awarded three points for a win or a bye, two points for a draw and one point for a loss or a forfeit (Touch Football Australia 2007). Penalty

A penalty is to be awarded for an infringement by any player in line with the rules of the game (Touch Football Australia 2007). For example, a penalty is awarded to the non-offending team if the ball is passed forward, a ‘touch and pass’ is committed, a player does not perform the roll ball at the mark, an obstruction is committed, a defending player does not retreat in a straight line to an onside position, a player is offside [on-field player or substitute], and a player acts in contradiction of the rules or spirit of the game (Touch Football Australia 2007). Positions

Teams are split into three positions, two ‘middles’ [the central players], two ‘wings’ [the players on either edge of the field] and two ‘links’ [the players between the wings and middles]. Grades

Touch football is normally played in four different ability categories ranging from A grade [the most competitive] through B, C and D grade [the most inexperienced and usually the least competitive].

1.4.2 The history of touch football in Australia [13] 

Touch football has evolved over time and is now considered to be a relatively fast-paced game. Changes in the structure of the sport have enabled the development of touch football to proceed. From humble beginnings

The game of touch football has humble beginnings. Historically applied as a training model for rugby league and rugby union teams over the summer months of the 1950s and 1960s, it was originally not seen as a sport in its own right (Touch Football South Australia n.d.). Progressively more people, explicitly males over twenty-five years of age [14] , were recruited to touch football teams and formal competitions were established (Touch Football Western Australia 2007; Townsville Castle Hill Touch Association n.d.). The popularity of touch football was credited to the game being considered relatively safe compared to rugby league and rugby union (Touch Football Victoria 2009). Touch football was also considered to be a social activity affording the prospect for participants and supporters to gather in a relaxed sport setting.

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The first ‘formal’ game of touch football in Australia was reportedly held in South Sydney, a strong traditional rugby league area (Touch Football Western Australia 2007). The South Sydney Touch Association was formed in 1968 and convened a competition at Pioneer Park, Malabar in that year (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). Not long after, the sport gained popularity in a number of inner-city areas of Sydney. Consequently, the New South Wales Touch Association was formed in 1972, incorporating the six regions of Southern Suns, Sydney Scorpions, Sydney Rebels, Sydney Mets, Hunter Western Hornets and Northern Eagles, and about 1,500 registered players (Shilbury and Kellett 2006; Touch Football South Australia n.d.). The first country association was in Wagga Wagga, which was formed in 1973, and women’s touch football was first played at a representative level in 1979 (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009).

Touch football appealed to ex-rugby players retired from the game through age or injury, and to players not willing or capable of playing rugby, but interested in playing a form of ‘rugby’ (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). An increased awareness in fitness in the adult population and the availability of former rugby players to take part, all served to develop the game (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). The development of a touch football identity

Subsequently, touch football later appeared in numerous other New South Wales country regions before it became an official sport in Brisbane (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). From there the game developed in every other State and Territory in Australia, and the Australian Touch Association, now trading as Touch Football Australia, was founded in November 1978 (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009).

With the establishment of these associations, game rules came to be standardised. However, a formal ‘rule book’ was not developed until late in 1980 (Touch Football Victoria 2009). In September 1981, the sport agreed to change its name from ‘touch football’ to ‘touch’ [15] , though to many the sport has also been known as ‘touch rugby’ (Touch Football Australian Capital Territory 2007). A number of other changes resulted, such as the introduction of an official touch ball, which is notably smaller than both league and union balls, and the playing field size lessened, seventy metres by fifty metres (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). Major rule changes occurred during this period, moving from seven players per side, which was implemented in 1980, to six-a-side (Touch Football Australian Capital Territory 2007; Touch Football Victoria 2009). Shortly after, the marker [16] was removed from the roll ball and the half was prevented from being able to score a touchdown (Touch Football Australian Capital Territory 2007).

Recently, the Australian Touch Association has rebranded the sport as ‘touch football’ in an attempt to clarify that it is a ‘sport with a ball’ (Touch Football South Australia n.d.). While tackles and scrums are not elements of touch football, Touch Football Victoria (2009) suggested employing the term ‘touch rugby’ lends itself to an impression that the sport may be of a rough, physical nature, which is anything but reality.

Touch football was originally played under rugby league laws without activities that comprised hard physical contact (Coffey 2010). The simplicity, skills-based motion and avoidance of full-contact, together with team [social and communication] benefits and minimum equipment requirements, have become distinctive elements of the modern game. Elite competition emerges

While the majority of touch football games are played at a local competition level, State level competitions have featured prominently in touch football. The earliest interstate clashes in touch football occurred when the Brisbane Touch Association representative team played the South Sydney team in 1973, 1974 and 1975 (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). In the development of a standard set of rules for the sport, there has been a history of negotiated arrangements. For example, South Sydney wanted to have interstate matches played ten-a-side but Brisbane would not allow this, and the matches were played eight-a-side on a standard-sized rugby league field, measuring one hundred and twelve to one hundred and twenty-two metres by sixty-eight metres (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). One of the games in the series was played as a curtain raiser to an interstate rugby league clash (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009). Touch football was played as a curtain raiser to the Sydney rugby league grand final in 1976 (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Victoria 2009).

In December 1980, the inaugural National Championships were organised on the Gold Coast. This was essentially a contest between New South Wales and Queensland (Touch Football South Australia n.d.). Only three divisions were contested in that year, the open men’s and women’s, and over thirty-five men’s, and included about 700-1,000 officials and players (Touch Football South Australia n.d.; Touch Football Western Australia 2007). By 1995, the National Championships provided for eleven divisions, together with 1,500 officials and players (Touch Football Victoria 2009). Development of the game meant that by 2005 the National Touch League [formerly the National Championships] catered for open, under twenties and senior divisions (Touch Football Western Australia 2007). The rise of Internationalism [17] 

The success of the interstate clashes sparked interest in International competitions. In 1985, the Federation of International Touch was formed in Melbourne with Papua New Guinea, Canada, the USA, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia constituting the first members (Touch Football Victoria 2009). The first recognised International game was a test series played between Australia and New Zealand at the South Melbourne Cricket Ground on 23 March 1985 (Touch Football Victoria 2009). The game has continued to expand overseas with the last World Cup in Edinburgh, Scotland attracting teams from twenty-six countries, including Spain, South Africa, Japan, USA, Scotland, Singapore and the Cook Islands among others (Federation of International Touch 2011a; 2011b).

Touch football was a National phenomenon based on participant skill and teamwork, with a degree of fitness thrown in at the elite level (Coffey 2010). The non-contact format that allows participation by all ages and both genders, even in mixed form has helped the sport to gain popularity.

1.5 Referee demand in touch football

As mentioned earlier, the development of touch football and an associated playing code for the game has clearly established the role of officials as arbiters of the game. While there is clarity over the need for officials in the touch football competition and a playing code is well established, there is a level of ambiguity in the sporting practice which allows for negotiated changes to the playing environment and to particular interpretations of the rules of play. As is common in most sports, the performance of referees is a discussion point that can cause some levels of concern. Officiating in sports can be a difficult task, particularly in a ‘fast-moving’ sport in which there is a level of interpretation and limited technological assistance at the local level to aid referees. At a sports administration level, the demand for referees at local sporting fixtures has frequently been mentioned over the past ten years (Touch Football Australian Capital Territory 2009; Touch Football Australia 2010b; Touch Football Victoria 2011). The unmet demand has led to the establishment of numerous broad recruitment and retention strategies. The success of these strategies varies within different levels of the sport.

This thesis contends that touch football represents more than simply a new game and is in fact, an opportunity to better understand the gendered nature of sporting activities. The thesis sets about this issue through a case study of a locally-based senior mixed touch football competition. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the gendered nature of refereeing roles through personal interviews with participants, together with female referees in the competition. This ‘gendered’ understanding will arguably facilitate better recruitment and retention strategies for female referees in touch football.

1.6 Structure of the thesis

This thesis will explore perceptions and constructions of gender within the roles of touch football referees and suggest ideas for recruitment and retention. Chapter Two examines relevant theoretical concerns proceeding from the work of Norbert Elias and the post-structuralist works of Bruno Latour. It then reviews the literature regarding gender in sport.

Chapter Three discusses the research approach that was utilised. It then describes the methods that have been chosen to explore the gendered nature of refereeing roles in touch football and the data analysis methods. It concludes by discussing ethical considerations in the research process and the limitations of the research.

Chapter Four describes the findings from the research. The desktop research results are presented first. These results are presented in a quantitative format that empirically describes the gender breakdown of the sport. Second, the qualitative data that was obtained from the in-depth interviews with the eleven members of the touch organisation is presented. This data was compiled after the initial quantitative research was completed in the research process. Participant observation results are presented third.

Chapter Five discusses the findings that resulted from the research. The significance of the findings is then discussed.

Chapter Six, the conclusion, suggests directions for future research.

CHAPTER TWO: Literature Review

2.1 Introduction

In Chapter One the preliminary argument is proposed that touch football is a unique sporting practice entailing a continuum of social practices and values that are in many ways gendered. This chapter will broaden this discussion through an exploration of the sociological literature


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