I was asked to sit on a panel for the Women In Sport North Conference. I knew this was going to be an amazing day and it certainly didn’t disappoint. 48 hours later I’m still buzzing. It was fun and interesting, yet quite challenging at times and I have many things to ponder. To me, that’s a successful conference; one that’s enjoyable, informs you, connects you to like minded people but also gives you lots of food for thought and questions going forwards.
The event was a collaboration between the BBC and Kate Hardcastle. Kate’s vision was to provide an event in the North of England that was free to attend, covered all ages from eight to eighty and represented women from all backgrounds and sporting levels. She succeeded, this was truly an accessible and diverse conference.
Hosted in Media City in Salford, after some Tai Chi, the opening welcome was given by Barbara Slater, Head of Sport at the BBC. She said that 30% of sports coverage at the BBC was women’s sport and whilst this is not 50%, it has increased dramatically and is way above the percentage seen on many other channels.
Key note speakers were Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson and Hannah Cockcroft. We’ve come a long way but we still have so far to go. The barriers facing Paralympic athletes when it comes to funding and sponsorship were a shock to many in the audience. Eye-opening statements about the language and imagery we use made us gasp. I was humbled by the description of the choices that athletes have to make to be the best in the world.
There was audience participation when Button Lane Primary School and the Manchester United Foundation demonstrated the BBC Supermovers programme. This is online active learning for kids with routines linked to the national curriculum. Teachers can access these for free and they’re a great way to introduce activity into the school day at the same time as helping learning. We were certainly challenged with completing our six-times table whilst performing dance moves! I’m definitely going to suggest my daughter’s school has a look at Supermovers.
It was great to hear from young sportswomen as well as seasoned athletes. Chelsea Pearce is on the talent pathway and aiming for an Olympic place in three day eventing. Lele Nairne explained what it was like to leave home as a young teen to train at the British Judo Centre of Excellence; she now fights for GB.
There were three panel discussions, expertly led by Tanja Arnold and Jessica Creighton :
Women in sport trail-blazers panel
Women’s sport coaches panel
Encouraging the older woman to exercise panel
I loved the variety of the panel members. From Lisa Pearce, CEO of the London FA to Krumesh Patel, the Leicester Riders Women’s Basket Ball Head Coach. From Kadeena Cox and Marilyn Okoro, Olympic sprinters to Edwina Brocklesby, the oldest British woman to have completed an Ironman triathlon.
I won’t attempt to summarise all the discussions that were had but there were some common themes throughout. Firstly the use of the word ‘inspirational’. I feel this is an over used word but I don’t have any issues with it. There are many women that I find inspiring and who help to motivate and encourage me. The biggest dislike of the word came from the Paralympians and I can see their point. They want to ‘lose the back story’ and just be recognised for the pure successful athletes that they are. All women have to overcome barriers and hurdles to achieve success and when their disabilities are used in this way they quite understandably find it patronising. Kadeena Cox prefers the word ’empowering’. That to me has a different meaning. What do you think?
Secondly, alongside the language we use, we need to consider imagery as a tool to changing attitudes towards women and disabled people in sport. Positive images of women of all ages and background and abilities help to normalise exercise, especially as we age. We need leading an active life to be the norm and remove the ‘you’re too old, too obese, too sweaty’ views which act as strong deterrents.
We spent some time discussing why there are so few female coaches at high level in sport. Why don’t women apply for the positions? There seems to be some differences in how men and women consider and approach an application to a role like this. How do we make our good female coaches great and desiring of these positions?
I was in awe of the women working at such high levels in boardrooms of major sporting organisations fighting for change. They really are doing an incredible job. We were all encouraged to join a board, speak up and make a difference. There was a strong theme of collaboration. We all need to work together to make change.
The focus on the next generation was welcome. Having children as part of the day made us all remember that whilst increasing participation at all ages is important, our children should be a major focus. Making activity part of their everyday lives and increasing access to sporting opportunities in all socio-economic groups is vital. Children need to learn physical literacy otherwise, in the words of Tanni Grey-Thompson, ‘Expecting them to play sport is like expecting them to do geometry without teaching them maths.” They need to learn to jump, hop, throw and catch first.
It seems to do the day an injustice to summarise it in so few words. There was so much more to take home. I was truly honoured to be there, let alone to be given the opportunity to speak on stage. The energy, positivity, creativity and determination in the room was palpable.
Huge congratulations and thanks to Kate Hardcastle, the BBC team and all guests, speakers and panelists. It was wonderful to be celebrating women in sport in the north of England with you all.
The next Women In Sport North Conference is Friday 26th October 2018
p.s special respect and thanks to Bev Playle who re-enacted the comedy sketch by Victoria Wood and had us all wiping tears of laughter from our cheeks.
p.p.s There’s something pretty cool about the BBC at Media City. Only downside; everyone uses the lift. The security guard who was chaperoning me said we could take the stairs if I really wanted but he’d have to accompany me down and up five flights and get someone else to do lift duty. I felt a bit sorry for him so just went with the lift but made sure I took the stairs in the multi-storey!