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CBC defends plan to air alternate female-targeted Stanley Cup commentary

TORONTO - The CBC is planning some counter-programming for female non-hockey fans who might be forced to tune into the Stanley Cup final next week.

Viewers can go online to listen to an alternate commentary from Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso, who run WhileTheMenWatch.com. They describe their site as a sports talk show for women, "Sex and the City" meets ESPN, with banter "from a woman's point of view."

"One afternoon while (our husbands) were both watching the same game on TV Jules and I were on the phone and we started just making comments to each other like, 'Did you see that guy's hair?' and 'What's going on with that coach wearing the suit four sizes too big for him?'" said Sutherland of their web show's inspiration.

"And we kind of thought, 'Wow, this is funny, wouldn't it be great if we could tune into an alternative version of the commentary from a female perspective?' And that was kind of where we got the idea."

On Twitter, a slew of posts denounced the programming as sexist.

"Seriously #CBC? While the Men Watch? I'm a serious sports fan and can go toe to toe with any male fan. Thanks for the patronizing insult," wrote Laurie Kempton.

In an interview, Kempton—who follows hockey, soccer and NFL football—said she doubted her non-sports-watching female friends would be interested in the commentary.

"They would equally be insulted. Most of the women who are my friends are engaged in gender issues, they're looking for equality and full participation in all aspects of life, whether it's politics or arts or sports, and the idea that it's limited in this kind of really narrow paternalistic way, they would be insulted," Kempton said.

"It's incredibly patronizing and insulting and I can't believe in 2012 we're reduced to dividing sports along decades-old gender stereotypes."

Marsha Boyd, an Edmonton Oilers season-ticket holder, agreed and said she has a group of female friends who love hockey just as much as the guys do.

"It's quite insulting to anyone who's a woman and a sports fan, as if we don't exist or we can't possibly enjoy hockey without looking at pretty boys," she said.

"This is not a play on sports, this is a play on women being dumb, or liking shoes, and not having any depth."

Julie Bristow, executive director of studio and unscripted programming for CBC Television, said she doesn't think the optional commentary is sexist.

"We think this is a really interesting and fun way of engaging people in our national sport—both men and women," she said.

"I think it really just captures the kind of conversation that happens in living rooms and bars across the country when hockey is on."

A couple of Canadian female hockey stars also said they have no problem with the commentary.

In an email, Canadian gold medallist Hayley Wickenheiser said she looked forward to hearing it.

"If it captures a new audience of people who may enjoy the game from a more entertaining viewpoint versus traditional commentary, then I think it's a win for the game of hockey in general," she wrote.

And in a press release, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, an analyst on CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada," said she too wanted to hear the alternate game call.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun for more casual viewers," she said.

"It may even resonate with some of the most dedicated fans."

Sutherland defended the show's concept and said it's "all in good fun."

"I think we're pretty clear we respect women who like to watch sports and who would rather watch the regular sportscasters. And the women sports journalists out there—they do a great job," she said.

"So all the power to them, we're just doing things a different way and this is a new way to enjoy the game."

She and Mancuso are thrilled to have won the CBC's support, which is taking their web show to another level.

"We like to say we were like 'Wayne's World' broadcasting out of our living room, and now to be invited in by the holy grail of hockey is quite an honour," Sutherland said.

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