Formula 1, one of the world's most watched sports, shocked the public by announcing a ban on grid girls starting from 2018. The Speedway Grand Prix, by contrast, decided to stick to its tradition of having good-looking women standing in front of the driver with a name plate and a number. Sweden, however, would have none of it, Dagens Nyheter reported.
The Norrtälje municipality, which is the designated host of a Grand Prix stages this summer, found the organizers' tradition of sporting "monster girls" (named after Monster Energy, the sponsor) deeply disturbing and misogynist, and filed a petition to protest the arrival of such women on Swedish soil.
"The Norrtälje municipality is strongly disturbed by such a view of women," municipal councilor Ingrid Landin told Dagens Nyheter. "We believe that grid girls are outdated, this type of attitude and objectification of women do not belong to 2018," he added, venturing that it had "nothing to do with speedway" and voicing his excitement over the possibility of breaking this trend.
The Swedish Motorcycle Federation (Svemo) has long lobbied for the removal of grid girls, and even filed an international petition on that matter. Even Swedish Sports Minister Annika Strandhäll voiced her support for their cause.
"Women and girls belong in speedway — as leaders, board members and, not least, drivers. If you want to attract young girls to speedway, it should be with overalls, helmets and gloves, not skimpy-dressed hostesses," Strandhäll told Dagens Nyheter, stressing the importance of equality in sports.
Grand Prix managing director Torben Olsen, however, was largely unimpressed with the Swedish "rebellion," assuring that the girls "will stay in their place."
"We are at pains over not sending the wrong message, and the girls play a little, albeit important part in the series. And they are immensely popular among our fans. The girls have a function, they are not there for their appearance or something like that," Olsen told Dagens Nyheter, arguing that banning them would be tantamount to encroaching on their rights.
Olsen stressed the fierce competition to get this assignment, in which assets such as PR value, camera-friendliness and acting capabilities are all taken into consideration, comparing it with cheerleaders in the US. Olsen also emphasized that speedway, unlike other, "male-dominated" motorsports, largely appeals to a family audience and even admitted the possibility of "monster boys" joining in for more gender equality.
Olsen's stance triggered an outcry from Strandhäll, who found it "embarrassing" of the speedway boss to defend an outdated order in which women were "objectified" and "reduced to figureheads."
Kristian Hysén of IMG, which owns the broadcasting rights, joined the debate by forecasting a change, "at least in the Nordic region."
"If you live in Sweden, your take would be that this is a relic that survived itself, but it may is different in other countries," Hysén said, as quoted by the local Norrtelje Tidning.
Speedway is very popular in Sweden, which has garnered a lot of international prizes and championship medals over the years. According to Norrtelje Tidning, the tickets to the venue have been sold out months ahead of the tournament.