Wednesday, 6 June 2012
Evening Star Column
I was absolutely gob-smacked when I read that a senior UK Athletics official had branded heptathlete and gold medal hope, Jessica Ennis fat in an email to her coach Toni Minichiello.
Nothing could be further from the truth, she is massively ripped with great abs and is 100 per cent fit in every way!
Jessica has the kind of physique that I think young girls should aspire to have and it is ridiculous and dangerous that a statement like that has been made.
Of course there are going to be instances in some sports, like judo, where athletes have to make a specific weight for their category and will have to weigh themselves regularly but others will just set out to be as physically fit as possible and do what they have to do to achieve their goals.
Anyone can make a flippant comment about a woman's weight but they will not necessarily realise the consequence of their actions and the person that made the statement should be ashamed of themselves.
I read recently about Holly Avil who has retired from Triathlon competition after battling an eating disorder triggered by comments made by a coach who didn't work with her.
Hollie was a swimmer who moved over to Triathlon and one of the prominent features of us swimmers is our broad shoulders.
I have to say that my shoulders are one of my proudest features but when Hollie moved discipline it was suggested that she should think about losing weight.
From that day she battled an eating disorder because she was so worried about being too bigger her sport.
Jessica is not carrying any extra body fat but comments like that could influence young girls who maybe don't have her self-confidence.
As athletes you sometimes have to put up with these kind of comments made by ignorant people. When I was desperately trying to get back to fitness from a broken back I suffered in a car accident in 1996, one swimming official suggested that, at 24, I was a bit long in the tooth for swimming and that I should just retire.
In that position, all you can do is surround yourself with people who believe and have faith in you and I know Jessica's coach, Toni Minichiello, has that.
My coach Dave Champion was the same and he never suggested that I was too old or that I should give up.
He had faith in me and that faith was realised when I won 2 golds at the 2002 Commonwealth Games at the age of 30!
Mario Balotelli, the Italian striker, this week said that he will walk off the pitch should he be racially abused at this summer's tournament and I would hope that, if there are any incidents, the culprits are thrown out.
There needs to be zero-tolerance to racism, there is no place for it in life, never mind in sport.
It would be a shame to shy away from a country or city that wants to host a major tournament because of a minority and I hope the legacy left by Ukraine and Poland is that the authorities did what they needed to do to sort the problem out.
It is easy to say that abuse is part of the game and that players should just get on with it, but imagine if you were having to put up with such vile abuse in your work place, that would not be acceptable.
In American basketball, if anyone hurls abuse or crosses the line they will be thrown out and that is something that has gone back years.
As for walking out like Balotelli has threatened, I would understand why he or any other player would want to do that if the authorities were turning a blind eye to such matters.
The players have to believe that they are being looked after and the issue is not being brushed under the carpet.
I don't care how much money they are being paid, no one should have to put up with that kind of behaviour. It is disgusting.