The plight of Australian rider Sharni Pinfold has been heard the world over. The 25-year old’s strong words have made a real impact, as she describes the world of motorsport as ‘discriminatory and sexist’. This has led to significant debate, Pinfold finding herself in the eye of the storm and the FIM even getting involved to condemn the events as “unacceptable”.
It’s difficult to comment on what has actually occurred. On the one hand we have Sharni’s statements, although she doesn’t name names in terms of who she is accusing, and on the other hand, we have the many people who have been quick to judge the rider.
While it’s true that girls who decide to compete in motorcycling are not exactly at an advantage, considering it is a male dominated domain, Sharni’s experience appears to be an isolated incident. Or at least, it is if we consider what other women doing this job have said (or not said) about the environment in which they find themselves. In the social media post announcing her retirement, Sharni didn’t specify the direction in which her particular 'stone' was cast. Does she mean insults from other riders? Or from the team? From the organisation? We don’t know. While there is clearly no room for certain discriminatory behaviour, it’s hard to understand the dynamics of the situation.
Is it truly a discriminatory world?
Having interviewed many women riders over the years, I often ask: “How does it feel to be a women rider in a male dominated world”? And most of them, from 8 year-old girls to adult women, tell me that men might sometimes say unpleasant things or don’t like it when they are beaten on track. And that isn’t nice of course, but it appears to end there. They’ve never told me that they’ve been discriminated against by their team, in fact I’ve always come across team managers who speak highly of their women riders, underlining their strength and tenacity.
Letizia Marchetti’s opinion
I asked multi-titled Italian champion Letizia Marchetti what she thinks about it all: “I’ve met Sharni and she’s really good, so I’m sorry she’s taken this decision. From my point of view and in my experience, I can say that when I was racing I might get a few smart remarks from the men, but rather than annoying me it would spur me on. The aim was to be strong so that men would no longer think women can’t be fast on track. In motorcycling, but also in life, you can’t give in to the insults and unfortunately I also know many guys who stepped away because they couldn’t face up to certain situations, and that’s because sadly there will always be some idiots, wherever you are. I can confirm that the motorcycling federations are working hard to increase the participation of women in two-wheeled disciplines though. And in any case, I’m convinced that passion should be cultivated and not abandoned. We shouldn’t let anyone influence our lives and our dreams”.
A touch of empathy wouldn’t hurt
In analysing what has happened to Sharni, I think we need to consider two factors. The first is that the Australian already had a contract for 2021, so those accusing her of having retired because she wasn’t fast might ask themselves why she would quit if she already had a team betting on her? This should perhaps go some way to highlighting how hard her decision must have been and how she must have been feeling emotionally. On the other hand, as several of her colleagues have said, people should perhaps try to be more empathetic.
Without judgment or insult (as we’ve already seen too much of that), we can say that in the end, it is Sharni who is fighting her own battle and it is she who - as things stand and in the hope she might change her mind - has ‘lost out’ to her passion and dream. It takes strength and courage, every day, to bare yourself, to stand up to life’s ups and downs, but also to return to the track. And as for the rest, and all the things we cannot know, it’s best to keep quiet.
Translated by Heather Watson