Victoria Coren Mitchell - Writer, Broadcaster & Poker Player


Monday, 4 October 2010

My column in yesterday’s Observer, about cheerleading, seems to be a bit controversial - I’d say about 80% very positive response, 20% annoyed cheerleaders or cheerleading coaches who think I’m completely wrong. So I’m posting the link to the piece on the blog, in case anyone wants to thrash it out here.

Down With Cheerleading for children!


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RomanticRecluse at 1:57 am on October 4th, 2010

Vicky, the world’s fine, is it?  How can it be when the march of feminism is being threatened by cheerleading in schools which is teaching a whole generation of girls to waggle their arses near boys, condemning them to a life of misery and social injustice at the hands of boys and men who think like cavemen at a time when more women are trying to make their way in spheres dominated by “lovable old sexists”?

Are you still at the London Poker Festival?  I hope so, because judging by many of the comments about your Obs article you’ve enraged the cheerleading community.  Security may have been beefed up to deal with the threat of armed robbers but could they cope with a mob armed with pom-poms and chants?

Sam at 9:33 am on October 4th, 2010

I am not sure I see the problem. Are the girls practicing their cheerleading next to whichever sport the boys are playing or in some seperate gym? If they are, as I would assume, in a seperate gym I don’t think the feminist argument is a relevent one.

And the assertion that we had a chance to create a school sport utopia is not really backed up by people I have spoken to. Sport in school is a horrible experience for children, as they are often forced into playing things they hate and are not interested in, if we find something which girls enjoy and keeps them fit at the same time I don’t see an issue personally.

Lucie Bartlett at 12:01 pm on October 4th, 2010

I do love a good debate! Just look at what’s been started? Lots of interesting points Victoria, just wanted to throw my hat into the ring with a few words from the other side of the fence!

(and for some reason The Guardian moderated a similar post out of existence on the original post!)

Tessa Crow, Co-Founder Future Cheer UK at 4:49 pm on October 4th, 2010

Dear Victoria, following your hugely disappointing [MOD: WORD MISSING HERE, PRESUMABLY “COLUMN”], a few things to point out.

Cheerleading is a serious sport discipline with a 30 year history in the UK.  It is enjoyed by as many young men as women and they deserve to be called athletes.  It is an all inclusive sport regardless of age, size, shape or ability.  As examples, two of our Cheer trainers are male and ex-army, and we work with many special needs teams.  We send teams to represent Great Britain at the USA World Championships where they have been placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd against 44 countries.

The sport builds physical fitness, self-esteem, friendship, trust, confidence, commitment and team work.  If we build on these things now, we have a solid foundation for cheerleading and dance for the future.  Wouldn’t you agree?

Leanne at 4:51 pm on October 4th, 2010

I read your article and felt compelled to respond. Surely before writing an article one does research on the content. If you had done so you would have found that cheerleading in the UK is not your average pom-poms on sidelines. I have been a cheerleader for 4 years, the sport requires an immense amount of hard work and dedication. You don’t have to be pretty and skinny to get on a squad, you have to be driven and determined just like every other first-class competitive sport. Cheer combines stunting, gymnastics and dance elements to produce a high energy activity.
You need to try it before you knock it.
I also feel you have suggested intelligent girls can by no means be ‘hot’ and vica versa. I would like to finish by sharing I achieved a first class degree yet still love cheering.

Wildride at 5:35 pm on October 4th, 2010

Cheerleading is two things: The arse waggling you mentioned which is a form of dance, and a competitive gymnastics sport held independently.  I don’t believe the girls on the sideline of a CFL game are doing sport, but the ones from the Bring It On movies clearly are.  Maybe a name change for the latter would alleviate the confusion as they aren’t leading cheers (duh).

HillStreetBlues at 5:35 pm on October 4th, 2010

Unfortunately, I believe that the Cheerleader is here to stay.
I’m an avid sports fan, and don’t really notice them, however, I believe that they are a part of not only a formula, but a tradition, manily in the ‘big 4’ American sports (Ice Hockey, American Football, Baseball and Basketball). I’m not really convinced that they’re doing it to ‘attract boys’, I suppose it’s just a job, but that’s my point of view.

However, I believe the main problem with women in sport is the lack of equal opportunities, most notably, money. Only recently that the England women’s football team were ‘protected’ by central contracts, with their male counterparts earning billions! I suppose with the cheerleaders it could just be a case of women wanting to be part of something amazing to them and the nation.

Judith More at 5:57 pm on October 4th, 2010

Bravo, Victoria.  Having grown up in the cheerleader culture, it breaks my feminist heart to see it thriving here.  It’s not just in secondary school; my local infant school offered it as an after school activity to 5 year olds.

JohnnyGingerbread at 7:28 pm on October 4th, 2010

As ever, an entertaining article.  Ironic, though, that you used the word “balk” and then, two paragraphs later you’re telling us how great you are at spelling!  Maybe it was all the cheerleading that made you use the transatlantic version!

Jane B at 8:54 pm on October 4th, 2010

Leanne, I feel the urge to point something out to you. You say “You don’t have to be pretty and skinny to get on a squad”, and yet you also say “I feel you have suggested intelligent girls can by no means be ‘hot’ and vica versa. I would like to finish by sharing I achieved a first class degree yet still love cheering.”
  In other words, you’re pointing out that you’re both clever and hot. So you think being “hot” has some relevance. Can’t you see why those are dangerous values to put on the school curriculum? They are all around our poor kids as it is.
  I’m just saying: I notice you didn’t put “I’m age 14 and size 16, with acne, and I still love cheering”...

Victoria Coren at 9:02 pm on October 4th, 2010

Johnny - I didn’t use the word “balk” ! If I had, I would have spelt it “baulk”, obviously, but (unless I’ve gone mad) I didn’t use either word!

  Thanks for your comments here, I like a lively debate too. Of course you know what I think already, because I wrote the column. All I would say is: if the existence of a cheerleading squad in a school does NOT create a sort of codified aesthetic elite, and cause other girls to feel worse about themselves, why is American teen literature so full of those scared, self-loathing, left-out feelings from the non-cheerleaders? I don’t think they’re making it up. It seems completely to permeate American youth culture. I’d be awfully sad to see that division come in here, as the activity matures.

JohnnyGingerbread at 9:24 pm on October 4th, 2010

I quote “It isn’t just my inner feminist that balks (sic) at a supportive, beautifying role for girls…”.  This is about half way through your (still entertaining!) article
All together now: S - O - R - R - Y, whaddya get?  SORRY! :)

Victoria Coren at 9:31 pm on October 4th, 2010

Blimey, you’re right. Or at least - I just looked back at the original email I sent with the article in it, and “baulks” is there. Did it appear without the u? The subs must have changed it; they must think that is the proper spelling. I wonder why. Maybe it’s changed?

Lacey at 9:45 pm on October 4th, 2010

Do the decent Coren thing and write an angry e-mail about the missing ‘u’!

Bloody swines those subs.

MarkJB at 9:54 pm on October 4th, 2010

Well Vicky, I don’t know, maybe those girls ..and boys.. who don’t get in the cheerleader team learn sooner rather than later that life is better when you’re not concerned about your looks etc. and they have more fun with their truer friends.
Life is all too complicated I find to have any definite opinions about - but as a columnist you have to express opinions, which also is part of the all - of which I say, let it all be. The world, as you say, is fine ..and I lke it when you’re cheerful! 
Mwah x

james at 10:03 pm on October 4th, 2010

23 year old MALE cheerleader with a few points.
1.Cheer is not just for girls. Guys do it too. In fact many squads actively search and recruit for guys.
2.Few squads cheer at games. If they do it’s to showcase thier own skills.
3.Cheer is competitive. There are about 5 organisations that host comps up and down the country.
4. You say it’s not right to encourage girls to embrace femininity but ur photo on this website is you in a low cut top and a necklace drawing attention to your bust.
5. Finally,surely having many options on the syllabus is better than dictating to children what they can and cannot explore. The film Dagenam is about women fighting for rights. Did they fight for the right to have thier childrens options restricted? I think not.

ALG at 10:14 pm on October 4th, 2010

The issue is the potentially negative & divisive message cheerleading sends to young girls: that in order to get on & be noticed you have to be pretty, thin & clad in skimpy outfits. This is the image often portrayed of the typical American cheerleader. If this isn’t the case in the UK then perhaps a PR job needs to be done, starting with the name.

  “Cheerleading” doesn’t sound to me like something I want to aspire to; why would I want to just lead the cheers? I want to be the one out there on the field/court/playing arena of your choosing that the crowd is cheering for… and I would aim that my performance is so outstanding that I don’t need anyone to lead the cheers for me, the crowd will feel moved to cheer without being led! That’s the attitude we should be instilling in the young.

Victoria Coren at 10:17 pm on October 4th, 2010

“Lol @ James”, as the young people say. If you think my necklace in the picture on the right “draws attention to my bust”, I suspect that is in the eye of the beholder - but where did I say girls shouldn’t be encouraged to embrace their femininity? I don’t think anything of the kind. My point was that there’s internal and external pressure to do that anyway, and school sport should be muddy and scruffy and gender-free as a healthy bit of balance.

  As for “choice”, of course that is the essence of feminism, but I’m not sure it works in a school context. If you gave kids the freedom to do whatever they want, half of them wouldn’t go to school at all. “Forcing” them to read history books, do sums, learn a foreign language and run around a football pitch in the cold should, ideally, give them the right grounding to make informed choices in their own best interests in later life.

  I’m sure there are arguments in favour of cheerleading, but “children enjoy it more than netball” isn’t really one of them. They also enjoy shopping more than geography.

Lacey at 11:17 pm on October 4th, 2010

As my young peers would say - “What’s your beef, V?”

Is it the fact that it’s being marketed as a sport? Or is it the sexuality?

For some reason during my GCSE years Bowling and Dancing was listed as a “sport” and we all had to do a term of each. (Coincidently whenever we had the latter I always had some sort of ailment, one which changed on a weekly basis, that prevented me from gyrating around the grimy gym floor)

In all seriousness though, I am rather against Cheerleading in schools, most likely because I know I would never have made the team. Not the best reason I know but hey, we have to start somewhere, right?

JohnnyGingerbread at 11:19 pm on October 4th, 2010

A young-ish person told me that LOL has now been replaced by LMAO - a bit less polite!
PS Your necklace “trick” didn’t work on me - maybe I’m getting old, or maybe James was just wrong :)

RomanticRecluse at 11:45 pm on October 4th, 2010

The sport debate’s good but I’m more concerned with the Take A Break/Loose Women-level psychology.  Vicky, judging by this article and others I don’t think you understand or like males.  Not all males are slaves to their id or libido, either mounting minxes or not getting to and envying those who do.  Not all males are motivated by arses being waggled and willing to kick their rivals or kill a rabbit to get first pick of them.  Some males aren’t bastards who are only after one thing.  Some males have evolved to a level above cavemen and poker players.  If you don’t believe that then perhaps you should get out more.

And are all geeks late developers?  You may think so but there is another reason why someone may be more intelligent and mature than their peers.  Can you work out what it is?

Gizensha at 12:39 am on October 5th, 2010

“If you gave kids the freedom to do whatever they want, half of them wouldn’t go to school at all.”

I seem to recall that democratic schools, where kids only attend the classes they want to attend… The kids go to classes (After a couple of weeks weaning in period while they get used to their new found liberty to not do so)

Jonny Riverhorse at 9:10 am on October 5th, 2010

I agree with your position Victoria. I call it ‘US Aspiration Syndrome’. Coventry City are a case in point. They used to boast the ‘crew’.  A plucky troupe of ladies who often looked like they’d be dragged kicking & screaming from the tills at Tesco’s. Part of me was gratified that short, dumpy and often lanky ladies had defied ‘Barbie’ convention and strutted their stuff in public but another part of me had already left for the burger bar. It has the same effect on me as watching the Village Play or a member of TV’s Eggheads trying to be funny.

  Why can’t we just be British and at half time let the announcer simply say- ‘Car Registration Y905 HD3 you are blocking the entrance to The Black Prince Pub.’

Victoria Coren at 9:59 am on October 5th, 2010

Nice theory, RR, but completely wrong. I like men enormously. I wouldn’t play poker at all if I didn’t. Many nights of the week, I’m spending hours at a table in a room that is (if not men only) completely male dominated. If I didn’t think they were likable, funny, clever, appealing and (oddly perhaps, given the nature of the game) completely trustworthy, it would be a rather masochistic thing to do.

MDW at 10:35 am on October 5th, 2010

2 4 6 8 buy some building aggregate

give me a W give me an A give me an N give me a K

give me an L give me an E

W a n k l e   e n g i n e s     yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaahhh

Any cheerleading groups can have those for free.

IfancyVickyCoren at 10:44 am on October 5th, 2010

Dear Vicky,
  if approximately 4 fifths of the responses to your article are approving, they are tending more towards unanimity in your favour than towards controversy. I also agree with you. Cheerleading is a form of suggestive depravity, just one step away from pornography and eternal Hell.
  Plus, if I were going to support such trash, I guess I would have to say I was in ‘favOr’ of it, but what I favOUr is proper English - the language of King James.
  I guess all your trendy, slick admirers will have a good snigger at my zeal, on their hellbound travels today. They are in my prayers.

Debbie Gilpin at 10:57 am on October 5th, 2010

I like how the argument a lot of people are putting forward in favour of cheerleading is “you don’t know until you try it”. This is the point, I don’t want to try it - I like proper sports! Personally I think it does give children better grounding by making them do things they don’t like,as Victoria said, so then it either shows them something about it they didn’t know (& actually find interesting) or they can choose not to do it when the choice becomes available. It worked for me; how are children these days so different?
It doesn’t matter if you have a degree, intelligence isn’t the issue here, it’s the principle that’s important. And the fact that cheerleading isn’t a sport!

David Jesudason at 11:09 am on October 5th, 2010

Excellent piece. First of all it’s abhorrent that cheerleading should be considered a sport but from speaking to teachers it may have crept in because a lot of primary school teachers do not have a sports background but have to teach sport. The main benefit of sport is not just the fitness element but the values learned from playing in a team and the discipline gained from individual sports. However some are put off by the environment sport is taught in school – me included, who only really realised how beneficial it was in later life. Although something such as cheerleading is more inclusive it is exploitative, degrading and does not teach the skills of a sport that can be played socially and competitively.

palladian at 11:12 am on October 5th, 2010

Cheerleading is not a sport, it is a spectacle that some may find entertaining, others not. Within the confines of American football or similar, it has its established place as a part of the overall theatre of the thing. Outside, however, of that context it lacks any purpose or meaning.

In any case, we Brits do not much care for that sort of thing within our sports. Let, by all means, someone lead the community singing before the game, but after that we much prefer to make our own choices about when and how to cheer, to chant or to chastise as we see fit.

“Give me a…man or woman in the crowd calling out some witty remark that has us all roaring with amusement, and not two-dozen pitch-side pom-poms telling me what to think, feel or do thank you very much.”

Philip at 11:59 am on October 5th, 2010

I fully understand the feminist viewpoint here (although I feel that there is a certain closed mindedness at play, as it sounds as though cheer leading has moved on a bit since the bottom waggling on sidelines days - is it even done on sidelines anymore?), I’m struggling with the argument that it creates an aesthetic elite which alienates others. Whilst almost certainly true, it’s also true that school is filled with all manner of elites, aesthetic or otherwise, all of which alienate others. Based on the comments here from people who know, there is no codified aesthetic elite in the sport here. And it seems wrong to be against something because of an opinion received from some novels you read when you were a teenager.

IfancyVickyCoren at 12:01 pm on October 5th, 2010

I absolutely detested being forced to dance AND THE GIRLS WHOM THE TEACHERS FORCED TO DANCE WITH ME HATED DANCING WITH ME TOO. My female partner would say, “get your hands off me,” and I would have liked nothing better than to have done precisely that. However, the middle-aged man in charge of the class told me to take proper hold of her. 17 years on I am still traumatised.

Cartster at 12:16 pm on October 5th, 2010

I don’t doubt that, done well, cheerleading can be athletic, competitive and creative but it seems disingenuous to ignore its origins, connotations and context. I have no problem with people taking part in cheerleading, but I do object to it being offered as part of the school curriculum. Girls need to be encouraged to participate in sport and physical activities, but not at any cost. If schools are seen to endorse cheerleading, with all its baggage, what message is that sending to girls? What aspirations are being encouraged? When many girls see WAGs as role models, wouldn’t it just be reinforcing the idea that you should be aiming to be a pretty accessory to a successful man?

IfancyVickyCoren at 12:32 pm on October 5th, 2010

I do not feel that I have made any illegal or libellous remarks, so only Victoria Coren, personally, has the right to edit or completely block my messages. Mere moderators should only be concerned with blocking illegal material, not with suppressing perfectly legal opinions with which they disagree. Perhaps they liked PT.


SpringerCharlie at 1:01 pm on October 5th, 2010

Blimey! It’s all kicking off on here. VC writes an article expressing her opinion on a subject and then a load of bananas are getting all bent out of shape !
Time out - just don’t use cheerleaders during the break :)

IfancyVickyCoren at 1:05 pm on October 5th, 2010

On the contrary, the message which I ACTUALLY SENT TWICE,  contained brand new material not in the previous posts. Plus another email was only published in a crudely edited form. The deleted portion of that was again unique, and you have just conceded, perfectly legal. However, it is Victoria Coren’s site, and if she disagrees with my views on PT I can only apologise. I will not even try to post again on this thread.


MDW at 1:42 pm on October 5th, 2010

I knew nothing of this cheerleading in England, I must admit I’m a little disappointed in us as a nation. We can often cheer ourselves up by looking at funny things (like cheerleading) that other mad countries do. We already have things that other countries guffaw at, so let’s not start importing new ones.

As for cheerleading as a sport err no. I’m not saying it does not take skill and hard work but it’s not a sport. You might think who are you to tell us this is not a sport - well, I’m the president of the just formed World Council For Deciding What Is Or Is Not A Sport or WCFDWIOINAS for short.

Max Grieve at 8:58 pm on October 5th, 2010

A provocative article, yes - but it raises very valid points that the pro-cheerleading community are missing in their rush to object.

Despite the obvious one that it’s an opinion piece, it’s the kids’ viewpoint - not VC’s - which should concern us more. What perception of cheerleading culture do they get from American TV and film? “Do your research” say critics. Yes, VC could; but what research will the kids do?

Cheer may be demanding, unisex, lacking pom-poms and rarely supports men’s sport - but that propaganda campaign is already lost! Even Glee is guilty of reinforcing the stereotype.

VC’s (and my) opinion of Cheer as a discipline isn’t relevant - she’s right to ask if its perceived role may not make it ideal school material. Surely a dance troupe and gym club would cover the bases?

RomanticRecluse at 10:52 pm on October 5th, 2010

Vicky, it was a nice theory but I don’t think it’s completely wrong so here’s a modification: you like males but you don’t understand them and tend to find them (and even your fellow poker players) baffling and disappointing and frequently write in various places about their failings.  They have some acceptable qualities but they have persistent flaws such as a tendency not to look beneath the surface of females to see their inner beauty and the inability to resist temptation.  Males are wonderful in theory but never quite work out as well in reality.  And they are never as good as the game of poker.

Maybe I can read you like a book.  What was the title?  It was something about richer and poorer and love.  It’s a good book: very entertaining, very heartfelt, very personal.

King John II at 1:20 pm on October 6th, 2010

Vicky Coren is clearly guilty of stereotyping and bigotry in respect of the cheerleaders.
From the little that I have seen of the US cheerleaders, Vicky Coren is also likely to be envious of their youth and glamour, particularly in view of how frumpy she apparently was as a teenager.


jim carr at 2:14 pm on October 6th, 2010

vicky, i agree with most of your entertaining blast against cheerleading, BUT 2 million years of human evolution mean that heterosexual men enjoy the sight of attractive, young, scantily clad women strutting their stuff, so nothing is going to change. Most of my former workmates were women (nurses) and their ribald, heart-felt comments after a trip to see the CHIPPENDALES was feminism at work.

cmck at 2:24 pm on October 6th, 2010

12-20 hours of practice a week, 2 hour a week of physical conditioning, 3 hours a week of tumbling.  By the way, they don’t use pom poms, it’s all muscle. This is American Cheer.

mountebank at 2:38 pm on October 6th, 2010

Vicky – how about this as an effective way of counteracting the ‘beautifying role’ of cheerleading?:

Other advantages: a) preserving the anonymity of those demeaning themselves in such an absurd enterprise; b) muffling the annoying whoops and shrieks; and c) redefining the meaning of ‘anaerobic exercise’.

Regen at 2:44 pm on October 6th, 2010

What I like most about cheerleaders is that generally they don’t get publically indignant about the ways in which other people choose to lead their lives. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if politicians/journalists/‘feminists’ followed their shining example? In fact, I would vastly prefer it if cheerleaders interfered in my life to a greater degree than politicians/journalists/‘feminists’. Sadly, this seems never to be the case.

Ruth at 3:38 pm on October 6th, 2010

After having read your exceedingly ill-informed article in The Observer about cheerleading, I am utterly appalled and insulted.

I took up cheerleading at (a very highly revered) university 4 years ago and can safely say that all of your comments on the sport are utterly wrong.

Being in a cheer squad has improved not only my fitness, but has also massively improved my confidence, team-skills and trust in others.

In no way EVER in these years have I felt I was exploiting myself for men.

In all cheer squads, girls are a mixture of all shapes and sizes, a requirement in order to be successful.

In writing your article, you have made an unfair mockery of peoples’ jobs and hobbies. It is completely irresponsible of you to disseminate such untruths.
Next time, do your research first.


Victoria Coren at 5:02 pm on October 6th, 2010

Hi Ruth, thanks for your post. Thing is, I think it’s very different at university. I’m not against cheerleading as a thing. I just think it’s not right for children. I think there are dangers in the culture it could create among the already terrifying hierarchies of a school social system; I don’t like the idea of the girls (and it does mainly appeal to girls) doing something which “supports” the sport of their fellow schoolchildren rather than getting stuck into the main attraction (and if that’s not what cheerleading does in this country then perhaps, as others have suggested in this thread, the name should be changed) - and anyway, I think children benefit enormously from traditional school sports, and have lost out in the gradual whittling away of these which began with the selling off of playing fields.

  Mainly, I think there’s a big difference between the free choices one can make as an adult and the restrictions which should be imposed on one as a child. Look at it this way. I play poker, very seriously, a lot of the time. Many people dislike or disapprove of that game. Obviously, as a player and supporter of the game, I tell myself they don’t understand. In a way, of course, they don’t, because they are judging from the outside. In another way, I have to accept that they do, and just see it differently from me.

With that in mind, I would be horrified if poker were introduced onto the school curriculum. But obviously I think it’s fine for students to play it at university, and great for anyone who enjoys it in later life.

  I really don’t have much more to say about cheerleading, but if I’m not being persuasive then I hope we can agree to differ. (It’s one of the things I learned while I puffed grumpily around the school lacrosse pitch, failing to score goals ;-) )

Molly Mahoney at 7:25 pm on October 6th, 2010

Have you ever been a cheerleader?.. Probably not because you don’t have the right attitude to be part of a strong serious team anyway.. Cheerleading teams are like families, you have to trust everyone and be comfortable with everyone on your team. You’re also forgetting there’s more then just sideline cheerleading. All of our hearts and souls go into Competitions and hundreds of people come watch us compete to be the best. Were not cheering for any guys or any body else, were dong it for ourselves. Gymnastics is an Olympic sport; gymnastics is just half of what we do. You should really consider trying something before judging it.

Victoria Coren at 7:47 pm on October 6th, 2010

Mmm. Molly, do you have an opinion on The X Factor? The Iraq War? Ann Widdecombe? Have you done any of them?

I think to have thoughts only about the things one has personally experienced would be the sign of quite an inward personality.

(Nb. If you’ve done Ann Widdecombe, please don’t reply; we’ve got libel laws to think about).

Maggie K at 8:12 pm on October 6th, 2010

I bet Victoria’s web address has been put on a cheerleading forum and people are complaining without reading the thread, maybe even the article. Molly completely ignores what VC wrote just above.

She was talking in the article about cheerleading for young girls (I completely agree with VC by the way) and all the arguments here seem to be from adult professional cheerleaders which is obviously different. They are missing the point(s).

Also it’s silly to go on about how it’s gymnastics. Kids have always done gym, if this is the same thing then why is cheerleading being reported as a new school trend?

Look at the photo and tell me you’d want that to be your 12 yr old daughter.

Maggie K at 8:17 pm on October 6th, 2010

Also Molly is obviously American - British people don’t say “come watch us”. It’s just different here Molly, cheerleading is not our culture. No disrespect, but we can like America without wanting to actually TURN INTO IT.

John Robertson at 8:44 pm on October 6th, 2010

Maybe what is being done in schools does involve useful exercise, building discipline and teamworking but it isn’t cheerleading.

Cheerleading is the sort of prancing about wearing very little that was used to punctuate the twenty twenty cricket matches in India a few months back.

Having passed my teenage years in the pre-feminism world I surprised myself by how offensive I found the sight of those young women.

The article’s characterisation of what cheerleading is was spot on. 

Lx at 8:47 pm on October 6th, 2010

Dear Victoria

You really are wonderful.  Not much can ever make me smile but you can.  I would love to have a friend like you.  I hope you’re ok and not letting comments attacking you personally get you down.  You are clearly open to constructive debate.  Whatever someone says to you, you are unfailingly polite and understanding in response – can’t always be easy!  I agree entirely about cheerleading in schools, with all the connotations surrounding it, and feel many have missed your valid points in rushing to the defence of something they enjoy.  As you explained in regard to poker, the age and maturity of participants is relevant, as is the environment in which the activity is offered and conducted.

Take care and please be happy; you deserve to be.  All the best.


palladian at 8:50 pm on October 6th, 2010

“Were not cheering for any guys or any body else, were doing it for ourselves.”

...That’s not just losing the plot, it’s the entire script out the window along with the cast and the crew. Only in America. Please.

BB at 10:24 pm on October 6th, 2010

Wow. Seems like people are confused about what modern day ‘cheerleading’ is (especially Ms Coren in the original Observer piece). What you see on the sidelines of an American Football or Basketball game, or indeed what was featured in the trashy novels and films Ms Coren consumed so avidly in the 80s, is not anything like what many schools around the world are now offering. Most people that partake in ‘cheer’ (see there is some sort of name change already going on) have never stood beside a sports field in their lives let alone shaken a pom-pom. The only place they perform is indoors, either practising or competing in global competitions where the majority of the audience is other girls.

Jade at 10:41 pm on October 6th, 2010

Victoria, you must be loving the controversy your story has sparked - that’s what a journalist always hopes for, isn’t it?  From your past work, I expected better than this under-researched and insulting example.  On this occasion, you can take your comments and poke(r) them where the sun don’t shine.  Disappointed to say the very least.

platelet at 10:53 pm on October 6th, 2010

You might want to check out:
Wonderland – Boy Cheerleaders
Wednesday 13 October
9.00-10.00pm BBC TWO

It might not be as bad as you think

David H at 11:26 am on October 7th, 2010

Having watched this debate explode since the publication of the article on Sunday I was wondering if it isn’t just down to the name. Cheerleading does conjure up images of the ‘p’ word and ‘2-4-6-8’ etc.
If the article was about ‘team gymnastics’ or some other such (better) name, would it have all kicked off?
To me there is a difference between cheerleading (on sideline of American sports) and cheerleading (a squad of gymnasts performing demanding routines displaying a high level of sporting prowess)

Dave Budd at 1:33 pm on October 7th, 2010

...and what were the ads tacked onto the bottom by Google? Cheerleading equipment. FFS.

seven2off at 3:08 pm on October 7th, 2010

Your article really got me thinking…mostly about just how much I would love to see you in a cheerleader outfit, jumping around flaunting your physicality.
What a wonderful little daydream I just had.

I’ll get my coat.

King John II at 5:51 pm on October 7th, 2010

The real irony in all of this is that it would appear that yet another individual holding supposedly liberal views may well have outed themselves in terms of pre conceived prejudice. Very few bigots consider themselves bigots.
At times, this is only apparent to others. Nevertheless, whether the target is based on another’s race, gender or activity, etc, it is still prejudice. 

dg at 7:20 pm on October 7th, 2010


I’m tempted to leave it there, but I’ll continue. Firstly, I find myself in the unusual, and not wholly comfortable, position of straddling the fence on this one. I’m not sat on the fence, I have one foot firmly planted on either side; and it’s not a small fence.

I’ll start with what many people here are choosing to regard as the crux of Victoria’s argument: Cheerleading *is* a sport. If it wasn’t already obvious, the good people who have visited this forum recently have made a pretty good case for that fact. Or, at least, it is certainly a sport if gymnastics can be considered a sport… or synchronised swimming. There’s a couple of different sized ‘ifs’ for you…

Personally, I don’t believe that was the crux of Victoria’s argument. I think the important point is that, *by definition* (if not necessarily in practice), Cheerleading is a supportive role to the main (in the majority, male) event, and therefore an affront to feminism. I’m not well up on feminism myself, but that much seems pretty obvious. If cheerleading enthusiasts want to distance themselves from this fact, they should really consider a change of name. Synchronised gymnastics seems like a sensible option – although you might want to distance yourself from that other synchronised ‘sport’…

Rog at 8:11 pm on October 7th, 2010

Well, you seem to have sparked some real debate here… My views, well, having read the previous 50 plus comments are, well, personally, I have since forgotten what this is about and only remembered the word ‘bust’- and now switched on to watch ‘Only Connect’!

Carles Morros at 8:16 pm on October 7th, 2010

I agree with your article. I would much rather, say, watch the paddock girls race fiercely around the track than hold an umbrella with a smile.

If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend ‘Spitfire Women’, available on BBC iPlayer. Little women flying bombers up and down the country on their own should surely be more of an example to schools than anything one can achieve by cheerleading. 

Congratulations on Only Connect, great programme.


PeriwinkleHula at 9:22 pm on October 7th, 2010

Despite the demands of ‘competitive cheerleading’ the name is loaded with the concept of essentially being a groupie for the more male-oriented sports. By implication it tells my daughter that her highest aspiration should be a supporting role, regardless of her own athletic ability (or lack thereof).

I hear the argument that ‘lots of men cheerlead too’... well, not in school P.E. they don’t.
If cheerleading is no longer associated with girls leading the cheers in support of a male team, but more about athleticism and acrobatic prowess, perhaps a name change is in order so as to distinguish it from the ‘cheerleading’ that most of us think of when we hear the term- i.e. leading the cheers. Otherwise, we relegate our girls to secondary roles, physically and psychologically. 

Barry at 9:42 pm on October 7th, 2010

Leave Victoria alone, I think she is lovely.

Anna at 10:56 pm on October 7th, 2010

Perhaps you ought to have done a bit more research into cheerleading in the UK before you wrote the article. Our squad is competitive and independent. We do not sideline for another sport. We train 3 times a week and work really hard at our gymnastic tumbling and stunts.

Aside from your obvious feministic issues with cheerleading in its stereotypical ‘girls prancing around’ idea, it is quite poor reporting technique. In future, instead of bashing out a short article to arouse some debate, maybe you could actually do your job properly and visit some squads to see what the real deal is.

Victoria Coren at 11:03 pm on October 7th, 2010

Hello. Right, the pro-cheerleaders are starting to repeat themselves. We’ve got the main gist:

1) British “cheerleading”, despite the name, is actually not about leading cheers for others doing sport, but a sport in its own right

2) Schoolgirls enjoy it, and should be allowed to do it for that reason

3) It’s sporty and gymnastic and dangerous

4) I shouldn’t have an opinion on it if I haven’t done it myself.

Points noted. This thread will close by midday on Friday, so if you have anything to add that isn’t just any of the above four points again, get in quick!


palladian at 11:37 pm on October 7th, 2010

VC - next time we meet over a poker table I am not going to say “Two words - pom poms.” Scouts honour.

JohnnyGingerbread at 12:45 am on October 8th, 2010

Two questions to wrap this up:
Is there ever any cheerleading for female sports/competitors/athletes etc? 

In all the dozens/hundreds/thousands (for some!:) ) of cheerleaders we’ve seen at sporting events, how many have been male?
The answers should tell us all we need to know.

King John II at 3:02 am on October 8th, 2010

Chin up! At least something can be salvaged from this little bit of bother by taking IFVC up on his offer? live happily ever after, etc, etc.

MDW at 8:48 am on October 8th, 2010

From memory I think the article was about the traditional stereotype of what is commonly known as ‘cheerleading’ .I would ask you ‘cheer’ people go into a UK street and ask 1000 people what cheerleaders do and what image it conjures up ?

997 of these people will say hot sexy young girls dancing about by the side of US sporting game and then later blowing the star players in a convertible car at a drive in movie (don’t have a go at me for saying that, that’s the 997 people saying blowing the star players not me)

Would I let the daughter I don’t have do cheerleading . . . no (gymnastics yes, dance yes, football yes)

My fav cheer group is ‘Sparkle Motion’

dg at 9:00 am on October 8th, 2010

PeriwinkleHula, stop stealing my ideas and phrasing them better than me - you’re making me look bad. ;)

ex-fan at 9:36 am on October 8th, 2010

The only fact is that you got it hopelessly wrong about what cheerleading in 2010 is all about. You saw the word cheerleading and all sorts of stereotypes entered your head. It’s a shame you find it difficult to admit you didn’t have a clue what modern day cheer was all about before writing your column. A shame you can’t accept you made an error. A shame you turned down an offer made to you on twitter to visit a cheerleading club by trotting out some lame excuse about being afraid of furious cheerleaders on your blog! Says it all really I guess.

Victoria Coren at 10:01 am on October 8th, 2010

Oh come on, “ex-fan”, would you go to a cheerleading event if you were me? Lucie who issued the invitation impressed me a lot - she expressed her different opinion and explained her experience in a friendly calm manner. But others have repeatedly called me stupid, ignorant, lazy, jealous, a “bitch”... The sad thing is, that’s how cheerleaders behave in the very American novels and autobiographies that made me nervous of the whole thing in the first place. A volley of abuse like that, although it might inform us all that modern British cheerleading is a sport in its own right, is hardly likely to persuade me I was wrong to imagine a group that might terrify the more awkward or clumsy teenager in her formative years! I’m sorry that it hasn’t been more of a dialogue - many of us on the “anti” side (of cheerleading for children, I stress again, not cheerleading per se) have taken these arguments on board and asked further questions or made suggestions, only to be met with the same angry points being made again. Nobody has answered the question of why it’s called “cheerleading” if that’s not what it is, or whether the reason young girls might want to do it (an argument put forward several times as the reason to have it in schools) is because they are attracted to the original American image which is apparently a false representation.

  And there’s been so much vitriol! I think you have to forgive me for deciding I won’t go to an event after all. Lucie aside, it’s a bit too scary. I’ll just accept your descriptions of it from afar, if that’s okay.

I wrote my opinion - it was an opinion piece, not a news report. I’m interested to learn that British cheerleading is different to the way we might imagine, I’ve learned something, and I’ve put a qualification in this week’s column, along with the point - perhaps the only point worth repeating one more time - that if you don’t want people to think of it as the cheerleading we’re used to, nor as a supportive cheering role but an independent sport in its own right, then USE A DIFFERENT NAME!

  Thanks all for contributing. I’m grateful for the information and the views from any perspective. Let’s move on to a new topic.

MODERATOR at 10:11 am on October 8th, 2010

This thread is now closed.

Victoria Coren

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