Sven Spoormakers, a former cyclist now working as a journalist, found himself in hot water after he posted a picture of ESPN reporter Belén Mendiguren wearing a low-cut top appearing to show the outline of her nipples while interviewing a competitor during the Vuelta a San Juan.
Spoormakers added the caption: “Is it cold in Argentina?”
Belgian former pro-cyclist-turned-reporter Sven Spoormakers set off a sexism storm on social media with his comments on a female reporter Belen Mendiguren wearing a low-cut top covering an event by writing: "Is it cold in Argentina?" pic.twitter.com/vWD2G7Vs1h— Anjana Rahi (@asanjanarahi) January 31, 2020
The now-deleted tweet prompted a fierce backlash from fellow journalists, who slammed the Belgian for “objectifying” the young reporter. Australian sports reporter Sophie Smith shared the offensive tweet with her followers, writing:
“Please tell me you did not just publicly objectify a young female reporter. Speaking from experience, let me say she does the exact same job as you but has to work and withstand twice as much still because of b******t like this.”
Seriously? Please tell me this is lost in translation and you did not just publicly objectify a young female reporter. Speaking from experience, let me say she does the exact same job as you but has to work and withstand twice as much still because of bullshit like this. https://t.co/N9EemBZLYV— Sophie Smith (@SophieSmith86) January 29, 2020
Spoormakers, who was a pro-cyclist between 1998 and 2000, responded by accusing Smith of playing “the feminist card”, and retorted:
“She knows exactly what she's wearing - or not wearing - and why. If I would interview a female athlete with my balls out, you'd be joking about it too,” he said.
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The tit-for-tat exchange continued, with Smith taunting the former junior cycling champion:
So it’s her fault because you can’t stop looking at her boobs? What’s she meant to do, wear a potato sack so you don’t get excited? If I take a picture of you at work, post it and comment on how small your dick looks in a pair of shorts would you be alright with that?— Sophie Smith (@SophieSmith86) January 29, 2020
Belén Mendiguren herself joined the fray to tweet her gratitude to Sophie Smith for standing up on her behalf.
Thank you Sophie, it’s gonna take time, but I really hope men will finally understand that this kind of comments are a complex gender issue. We live with this kind of gender violence since we r born. I invite everyone to ask your closest female friends about it as a first step. https://t.co/o0X0k7faGY— Belén Mendiguren (@lelumendy) January 30, 2020
Spoormakers finally backed down on 30 January, deleting his initial comment and offering an apology.
What was meant to be a funny remark, turned out to be offensive to a lot of people. That was bad judgement. Sorry. And to @lelumendy in particular: we never met, but if you're ever in Belgium, you're welcome to discover I'm not the brontosaurus you think I am.— Sven Spoormakers (@SvenSpoormakers) January 30, 2020
Netizens weighing in on the row were split, as many deplored this kind of “pub talk” by males.
Absolutely frustrating. @SvenSpoormakers your comment is inappropriate. We are more than the clothes we wear. If you can't understand why your comment is inappropriate I suggest getting some training around sexism.— Michele Reid (@Bliss_On_Earth) January 30, 2020
Agreed. And as a matter of fact, in the pro-cycling peloton a woman reporter has to endure a lot of sexism, no matter what she wears. Also, This girl btw was not going around naked ffs— Flavia Cappellini (@FlaviaCapps) January 30, 2020
Just looking at my bike on the balcony, thinking how much I love cycling and bam, yet again something happens to remind me that it is a great sport despite the people in it. Spoormakers needs to grow up. @SvenSpoormakers— Peter Warne (@pzwarne) January 30, 2020
Many lashed out at Spoormakers after his retorts to Sophie Smith’s tweets added fuel to the fire.
As if the original tweet wasn't bad enough, I was foolish enough to read the replies to Sophie's excellent response. Sad to think there's still a long way to go. So many people just don't get it.— Michael Holden (@michaelkholden) January 30, 2020
So, someone is upset that a woman is not wearing a bra, while reporting on an event which has 150 men, all of whom are not wearing underpants?— Girona Cycling (@GironaCycling) January 30, 2020
Men and pub-talk 🤫— charles de bxl (@charlesdebrux) January 30, 2020
Sports reporting in Belgium is a huge boys club still so I'm not surprised TBH. Embarrassed yes, but not surprised.— HFDSP (@HFDSP) January 30, 2020
You know what’s sad when I got into cycling I thought as it’s a more continental sport people in and around the peloton male or female would have a more open and accepting mindset but sadly that isn’t the case, you still get pigs out there, how naive of me.— Sean (@Sean_Thomson) January 30, 2020
Some twitter users, however, commented that “a little more decent clothing” could help avoid such situations.
Inappropriate remark, and inappropriate work outfit..that's it.— Martijn van Zijtveld (@mvanzijtveld) January 30, 2020
Do we have to explain how the (men’s) brain works? If we tell you all we think about, that would be a “seriously”!— FIoris (@FLORIS_en_Draak) January 30, 2020
It might the right outfit making an interview on the race track, but would you wear the same outfit making an interview in a Board room or in the parlament? #smallthingmatters— Torben Rønsbøl (@ronsbolDK) January 31, 2020
Not really 'professional' attire is it ? I don't think any female reporters/presenters on motd or sky sports would were a wee top like that and jeans ! #SJWs— Jason OBrien (@beeojay) January 30, 2020
And some netizens just saw the humorous side of the while row.
He should have said "the weather seems to have got unexpectedly cold as proven by the young girls mammary ducts reacting to temperature variations.— Aston Matthews 🏴 (@Aston365) January 30, 2020