Jan 8, 2014

Posted by in Bikes

The Last of the Brolly Dollys

The Last of the Brolly Dollys

This post is a more focused one than how it started out and yet it’s still far too long. That first one was probably a bit too much for a number of reasons I won’t go into. But this one comes from the same place and was inspired by two things.  Firstly a post made on Facebook by a journalist for whom I have a great deal of respect and secondly by this unnecessary ‘viral’ posted this morning by a Belgian soccer team.

We all know there is sexism everywhere and it’s hugely present in the world of sport.  Phrases like ‘You run/throw/kick like a girl’ for instance. Well I’m fairly sure I could be out thrown/ran/kicked by Ellyse Perry and that’s just one girl.  She’s one of those things, what do you call them, athletes, that’s right.  No Bob the Construction Worker, you aren’t a better sports person, or stronger, than her just because you have a cock.  Sorry.

Anyway, that’s beside the point.  The one thing I got thinking about was specifically something in the sport that I love like a brother (I don’t have a brother but I’m sure if I did I’d love them in a similar manner).  And that sport is MotoGP.  Or motorcycle racing in general really.  It’s something I’ve loved for most of my life.    I’m sure I’ll go into why in length in another post, but not this one.  It’s something I have had the pleasure of being paid to write about for the last seven or so years as well.  In fact, motorcycle racing even helped with kindling my early love of science as I learnt about engineering, technology and even my first dabbles as a young child in physics as I tried to work out why they bikes don’t just fall over when they lean round corners. Centripetal Force is a fun thing for an eight year old to tackle.  I am an odd one, I get that.  A left, comedy, science writer who also does stuff with motorsport.  But I’m digressing again.  I want to talk about ‘brolly dollys’. Umbrella girls.  Grid girls.  Call them what you will.

Traditionally an umbrella girl is a scantily, or tight lycra, clad tall, thin, attractive woman who stands on the starting grid of a motorcycle race holding an umbrella over the rider whilst they await the start.  Now, this act in itself serves a useful purpose.  Riders can often be sitting on the grid for thirty or so minutes before the start of a race.  On a really hot day the rider doesn’t need to lose any more sweat/fluids than possible before embarking on a gruelling race so shade is a must.  Likely if it’s raining, you don’t want tot start the race carrying an extra kilo of weight of water soaking in your leathers.  The question is, why, more often than not, are those holding the umbrella half-naked women?

Well, the arguments for them are basically three-fold.  Firstly it is assumed they draw attention to the sponsors given the outfits are covered in the logos of the team’s sponsors.  The second argument is that motorcycle racing has an almost entirely male audience and they would like to look at pretty ladies in little clothing while they wait for the race to start.  The third argument is that it is part of the tradition of motorsport, the brolly dolly.  I will now shit all over these three ridiculous arguments.

One.  The sponsor thing.  Ok, yes, a good looking person is going to catch your eye.  And if when you look at them their lycra clad buttocks has Rizla or Repsol or Red Bull or whatever it is plastered across it you will absorb that information.  Whether that then sends you brain into a ‘nice arse, need energy drink’ process is unsure although I’m sure there’s a marketing exec who’s got spreadsheets galore on that.  But the point is, on the grid, as the cameras move from pole position to the back of the grid, spending a little time focusing on each rider, are the camera operators and directors really going to crop out the umbrella girls if they are wearing a shirt that says Red Bull instead of a little crop top?  Arguably you’ve got more advertising real estate.  Of course they’re not.  You’re still going to get some extra air time for your sponsor.

Ah, you say, raising your one available hand, but what about in the paddock.  What about all the pictures of the sexy ladies as they walk around the paddock, or the fan areas, handing out stickers and such.  No-one would take pictures of them then if they weren’t dressed all hot like.  Probably not, but who’s taking those pics anyway?  Not mainstream press.  Just some dude on his iPhone.  And he doesn’t give a shit about the sponsor.  It’s just that if he walked up to a random attractive woman in little clothing on Oxford St and said, ‘Hey, can I have a photo’ he’d get quite rightly slapped.  Then he just shows the photo to his mates.  It’s the marketing equivalent of only letting your mum read your novel in case someone else judges it.  And for fuck’s sake, they’re giving out stickers and posters covered in the sponsors names.  To kids mostly who love free pictures of Cal Crutchlow.  The kids are going to take the sponsors gear regardless of who’s handing it out or how they’re dressed.  It’s a self fulfilling prophecy that makes no sense.

And if there’s a group of people watching motorsport just to see the hot ladies before the race, well, we have the internet for that. They aren’t worried about the sponsors.  Everyone has an iPhone or something these days.  Just Google ‘hot ladies’ and look at that for a minute until the race starts.  It’s no more seedy than what you’re doing now.

Ok, secondly, the male audience thing.  Fuck off.  Just fuck off.  A walk around any MotoGP event and you’ll see a tremendous number of women.  You know why?  Turns out women like things men like too.  Funny that.  I hear some of them even like football and action films.  It’s political correctness gone mad.  So, why, why, WHY, are you actively alienated a huge percentage of your potential and current audience?   That makes no sense at all.  For all your blue sky marketing seasons when you sat in the idea’s shower, how did all the lady eyes watching your product pass you by?  If we’re going to have scantily clad people holding umbrellas, why not have a few buff guys there as well in tight singlets or whatever?  Or suits.  My wife says I look good in a suit when most of the time I look like the librarian time forget so suits obviously have some mystical power.  Would the ladies not enjoy that?  Can we not at least have equal representation in this?  Every time a guy is used as an umbrella holder it’s done ‘for a laugh’.  A fat bloke in a tight shirt for example.  Stop it.  If we’re having sexy umbrella people, let’s have both sorts.  The thought that only straight men watch motorcycle racing is absurd, outdated and just wrong.

I get that attractive people are very useful in marketing.  That’s fair enough.  That’s human nature.  We like attractive people. There’s an evolutionary reason teenagers have posters of Channing Tatum and Jessica Alba on their walls.  There is.  That’s fine.  We don’t have to do away with attractive people holding umbrellas and handing out stickers.  They can even have tiny little shorts on if it’s a warm day and they want to.  No problem.  BUT if we have to have hot people, and if they have to look all sexy, then at least let’s cater for everyone.  And who knows, maybe that might even expand your audience instead to pampering to part of it and ignoring the rest.   

Then you could also argue it doesn’t matter who holds the umbrella, if we removed the marketing/image out of it.  It’s not a job for one specific group of people.  It’s just a job that someone has to do.  Skills required are the ability to grip and hold gripped thing at a designated height.  I know a lot of guys and girls that’d love to hold an umbrella for Valentino Rossi for example.  What an amazing opportunity for a competition maybe?

Then thirdly, the ‘it’s tradition’ side of it.  Nonsense.  Mechanics used to hold umbrellas in the 70s.  ‘But the team’s wouldn’t allow it’, you cry, reaching for the tissues for another reason entirely.  Bollocks.  The prime example here is two time world champion Casey Stoner. For as long as I can remember his umbrella holder has been his lovely wife Adriana.  Sometimes she’d be wearing a branded t-shirt, sometimes not.  The team never really cared.  In the image on this article she’s just got a black top on.  Having his wife with him at the start made him feel more comfortable before the race so the team don’t care.  They’d rather him win the race than get some woman in a Honda bikini on telly for a few more seconds.  What if some of the other riders spoke up?  What if they had wives, girfriends, friends, boyfriends, mums or dads?  Would anyone care?  Probably not.  The sponsors care about results most of the time.  Get ride of the umbrella girls, or at least not make them the standard, and in two races no-one’d even notice.   

Tradition most of the time is just a crutch people use to justify some bullshit they can’t be bothered changing.  And that’s all I have to say about that.  Wake up. It’s 2014.  Even the female racers in MotoGP often have umbrella girls.  I mean come on.

Now, let me finish by making it clear I’m not saying the mere presence of umbrella girls is sexist.  Attractive people add to the glamour, I get that.  I’m ok with that.  It’s why we humans dress up for galas and by ‘special underwear’.  It’s the perceived necessity of it and the illusion that this is more than just using women as objects and sponsor boards.  The pampering to an outdated, minority of the audience and pretending it’s ok.  That it’s the majority.  That it’s not offensive it’s just how things are.

So if we’re going to make sport less sexist then maybe removing the unnecessary umbrella girl, or at least adding in a healthy number of umbrella guys, is a good place to start.  One team needs to step up.  Level the playing field.  Make a stand.  They’ll get a publicity boost and then pretty soon, it’ll be the norm.  And it could spell the end of the brolly dollys.

(Pic credit to racesport.nl)

(Usual written hastily so probably full of typos rules apply)

  1. There’s the issue of “booth babes” (I don’t know if you have them in the UK by that “name” too), but I’ve read about the problems before:

  2. To use your parlance, you are a fucking idiot who has no understanding whatsoever that the vast vast majority of Motorcycle racing followers are men who get as much excitement of seeing pretty scantily-dressed girls as they do of their racing heroes. Supply and demand.

  3. Heather Sharp says:

    I completely agree with this article. I am a huge GP fan and a female and the umbrella girls do make me feel rather uncomfortable when I am watching. They are so distracting I find it difficult to concentrate on the interviews happening with the riders. They are completely unnecessary and their skinny little wrists can barely hold those enormous umbrellas anyway. They are too busy smiling and pouting to concentrate on the job in hand which is shielding the riders. As we all know the riders are extremely focused during the build up to the start of the race and surely having a half naked lady standing next to them isn’t particularly helpful. Although, they are so used it it they probably just blank them out by now, which is a little insulting in itself. There have been many times where a team member has held an umbrella effectively for their riders and I do not see why this doesn’t happen. Lets ditch the brolly dollys, save some extra money (as I am sure they are paid rather handsomely to stand there and look pretty for a bit) and stop assuming that all men are perverse and seedy and want to see this on the television, because I sure as hell do not want to.

  4. Lady Schwantz says:

    i fully agree with the contents of this article, it is so refreshing to know that others share the same opinion. I love watching and going to the bike racing particularly the MotoGP and Moto3 and yes I am female and may I add I wear make up and heels too !! (And only cardigans when I am cold) the only thing I really do dislike about the bike racing is the use of the ‘brolly dollies’ please it’s 2015 is there any need for this any more??? They may have chosen the right to ‘stand there and look pretty vacant’ it may have even been their dream since being young, but it is so obviously sexist and unnecessary especially for nowadays and it doesn’t give a good impression to potential female fans!
    And as for Mr Goldmans reply… Well oh dear oh dear, us females have no chance whilst there are males with opinions like that walking the earth, or perhaps he may be transported back to the 1970’s if we’re lucky and can hang out with his mate Benny Hill

  5. I agree with the article and I think why not have a draw for fans that would be over the moon for the opportunity to stand on the grid with their sporting heroes. The selected can be briefed just as the models are beforehand and how good for genuine fans with an appreciation of the sport and what’s going on to have that opportunity rather than models who are probably clueless about the sport and are there purely for money!!!
    Oh and finally, Mr. Goldman, would you have the same feelings if your woman / man was going off to an event to have same enthusiasm and excitement over the scantily clad men as the sport itself? I know my husband wouldn’t be happy but then he is very manly but even he also agrees that the Brolly Dollys are a wasted opportunity for fans and he would be happy to hold a brolly over Cal Crutchlow or the infamous
    Mr. Rossi.


  1. A Kid Watches a Grand Prix (Part I) | Trunk Talk - […] stance on things often doesn’t fit with the MotoGP world, ala a previous post I wrote on brolly dollies…

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