In-form uniforms

6-a-side and 6-pack.

For those who are actively following my activities (I love you mum) through the various social media platforms you must now be aware that I am back on track with my sporting life. Before moving to the UK I used to play really regularly volley ball. I am not talking about working on my tanning in a cute little bathing suit whilst flexing my abs every time a lady walked by... No, I am talking about regular indoor volley ball, 6 on 6, no sand, just hard (really hard) ground.

"Regularly" means, sorry "meant", two two-hour practices per week plus matches on the week-end. Usually that was just enough to remain sharp and to leave my professional stress in a locker. But let's face it, after 18 years jumping and digging around, winning a few medals on the way like a University National Champion title in 1998, the skin of my knees and my meniscii were asking for some relief. I thus decided to grant them and stopped playing when I crossed the Channel in 2005. Since then, the harsh combination of
Cornish Pasties and sudden lack of exercise have had a dramatic effect on my athletic silhouette. Bye bye 6-Pack, hello "one-pack with handles"!

Merry Christmas... she said.

Of course I could not decently let my beautiful body down, and as decided in my
2008 resolutions, I joined a gym and got on a diet. Not enough apparently for my beloved better-half who had the brilliant idea to offer me for Christmas a forced registration for the Annecy Half Marathon. Got the message, I love you too...

Obviously the great thing about volleyball is that it is played indoor, on a 9m by 18m field. So it suited perfectly my taste for explosive short sprints in a warm environment, rather than endurance runs in the freezing countryside. But as I said above, I have now quited my career of volleyball player, so I have to discover the joys of the other sports. As a result, since January I am regularly running on the Thames banks and around Hyde Park. Every two days, 10km as a minimum. And when I really want more, I go to the gym...

Uniforms... Doh.

My gym being part of the Fulham and Hammersmith borrough infrastructure, it is also visited by the local schools. It is therefore not too rare to share the apparels with a bunch of girls in their school uniforms.

Now this is something quite odd to me. Obviously after a few years in the UK I am now used to seeing all these pupils in their uniforms in the tube. The boys with their stripped ties half done over a stained white shirt, the girls in skirts and dark tights. But to see the later in the gym with skirts over jogging pants is really puzzling me. I don't get it. It seems to me like a desperate attempt to respect outdated traditions, no matter the practicity of it.

I understand why the school uniforms. It is statutory for the private schools and set their pupils aside from the crowd... A social statement that will one day be replaced by an expensive car or silk suits. In public schools, the interest is different. It is a way to normalise the different social classes. All students are equals: no one can boast an expensive pair of sneakers or a fancy designer sweatshirt... This should enable to avoid tensions linked to different buying power, or even racket.

Tradition versus practicity and pragmatism.

As a child of the Republique, this social value is critical to me. "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity) is indeed the motto of the French Republic. It is thus critical that everyone has equal chances, especially in terms of education. Back in the 60s, all French pupils attending state schools (by opposition of private catholic schools) were wearing grey blouses as a uniform. One model, no fancy accessories. Everyone dressed in the same dresscode. The only eventual difference were maybe the buttons of the trousers (which inspired
a book to Louis Pergaud, "the Button War" where two bands of village boys are fighting over a treasure of buttons). It was a social choice, combined with some pragmatism, i.e. avoiding the children to get dirty.

But soon enough these codes relaxed to enable individual expression, non-conformism... And practicity. For instance, the technical evolution of sport gear and the intensity of exercises rapidly required the sport gear to evolve. You could no longer run with basic shoes, or you would risk to damage some ankles and knees in the process. The State is of course responsible for the physical integrity of the pupils. It is also supposed to remain commercially unbiaised: as a result it could not encourage parents to buy a given brand of sport shoes. The decision to buy or not shifted to the parents...

So you can wonder whether school uniforms are good or not. In Italy the politicians are considering bringing them back after dropping them in the 60s. France is more reluctant, maybe because uniforms relates to an iconography of private education.

I personaly understand the social dynamic behind the debate, but for god sake let's remain pragmatic. There is no need for a girl to wear skirts in all circumstances, and certainly not over a trouser... Why would they? To make it clear that they are girls? Let's level social differences, but at the same time let's stay away from sexual discrimination. Girls don't need to be ridiculous in a sport uniform. Otherwise, how do you want to cheer desperate sportsmen like me to finish their gruelling endurance programmes, seriously?

To read further:

Edit: for the curious, I ran the above-mentionned half marathon in 1 hour 56 minutes... And celebrated that with a delicious cheese fondue. Well worth it!

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