Let’s get one thing straight.
Newcastle Knights cheerleaders are much more than pretty girls who wave their pom-poms around and smile.
This is the message from Alex Tsambos, which – we might add – was made in a very articulate and convincing way.
Alex is the Newcastle Knights Cheerleading Team director.
She’s been in that role for three years.
To Alex, it feels like the issue of whether rugby league teams should have cheerleaders comes up every year before the new season starts.
But the discussion took on even greater significance this week, with Formula One announcing that female models will no longer parade around the grid before each grand prix.
The so-called “grid girls” were no longer “appropriate or relevant to Formula One and its fans, old and new, across the world,” Formula One commercial manager Sean Bratches said.
“We feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern-day societal norms.”
A story also came out this week about “walk-on” girls being cut from professional darts tournaments in the UK over concerns about sexual harassment.
Alex knows rugby league cheerleaders who have been grid girls.
“They’re definitely disappointed. It’s just another blow to the promotional girl industry,” she said.
She said females should have the choice to work as cheerleaders and promotional girls.
“People go on about equality and feminism,” she said.
“But no one’s putting a gun to our head. We enjoy the work.”
She said cheerleading work was “about communicating and representing brands”.
“The majority of clubs back their girls 110 per cent because they know they do more [than cheerleading]. They’re part of that game-day experience.
“Little girls coming to watch the footy with their dad, brothers and mum – they run up to the cheerleaders.
“It’s a family thing. We bring that side to it.”
Off the field, the girls do charity appearances.
“The wider world thinks it’s a sexism thing, but we see it as working in a job like anybody else.”
Alex said Knights cheerleaders train four to five hours a week, as well as performing on game day.
They are taught to shut down any inappropriate behaviour towards them.
“They’re not just cheerleaders standing on the sideline with their pom-poms.
“We refer to them as ambassadors for the Knights on game day.”
As well as performing at half-time, they chat with and rev-up the crowd.
They also attend the Knights Fan Zone outside the western entrance of Hunter Stadium.
In this area, the girls dress more conservatively, hang out with kids and take pictures with fans.
“They get to meet the fans and know kids by their first name,” she said.
Once the game kicks off, the cheerleaders have the same passion as players and fans.
They want their team to win.
Auditions for this season began in December with more than 50 girls trying out.
This has now been reduced to a shortlist of 28 girls.
The final squad of 22 will be named in coming weeks.
“We like to make sure we have the right girls for the position,” Alex said.
The girls must show that they will love to cheer for the team.
“They’re not just there to be a pretty face,” she said.
“We make sure the girls have an understanding of the game and the brands they’re representing.”