At the BeAGameChanger Awards in May 2015, my wife and I publicly made a pledge committing us to a personal challenge that would help promote Women’s Sport and also raise funds for The Women’s Sport Trust.
We’re delighted to confirm that we have now completed the challenge we set out to achieve – to attend and promote 30 women’s sports in 30 consecutive days, between 28 Aug and 27 Sept 2015, and hence support The Women’s Sport Trust’s mission to raise the visibility and increase the impact of women’s sport through promoting role models, increasing media coverage and improving funding.
Our 2100-mile journey through the sporting landscape has challenged our assumptions and shone a stark light on the realities that female athletes face in seeking to be the best they can be. We’ve been privileged to spend time with outstanding athletes, seen the positive impact of parents, coaches and volunteers, and experienced some truly great sport. We’ve also found ourselves surrounded by people who love being energised and inspired by sport.
“The #Thirty30WST challenge is a brilliant idea, and what a fun way to support and promote women’s sport.”
Charlotte Edwards CBE
England Women’s Cricket Captain
“It’s great what you are doing to increase awareness and support of women’s sport. I’m sure that you’ll have a lot of fun see some fantastic sport and meet some amazing sportswomen on your journey”
Jordanne Whiley MBE
Women’s Wheelchair Tennis GB#1 & US Open Champion
We’ve previously written individual articles about each sport which you can read here, and so the purpose of this summary is to bring together a collection of insights from our experiences to help encourage and accelerate change – at an individual, organisational and societal level.
#1: BEING A COMMITTED WORLD CLASS FEMALE ATHLETE & ROLE MODEL DOES NOT GUARANTEE FUNDING
There was one word consistently highlighted in our discussions with outstanding athletes including Kelly Edwards (Judo), Jordanne Whiley (Wheelchair Tennis), Sam Taylor (Taekwondo) and Helen Freeman (Wheelchair Basketball): ‘committed’. To being the best they can be, to their goals, training, team, coaches, sponsors and, consistently, to enjoying the sport.
Yet the challenges are also consistent, especially lack of funding and of organisations willing to invest as sponsors. We experienced examples across each sport, highlighted by the situation of potential Gold-medal winners at the Rio Olympics:
Edwards’ plight is stark – not having the funding or sponsorship support to be able to travel to the 8 qualifying competitions for Rio. Current funding would enable her attendance at just 1.
Determined as she is, Edwards had to resort to online crowdfunding activity to raise the £3000 to compete in the African Open in Mauritius. This world class athlete, approaching her prime, having to plead for financial backing which, in her own words, “is essential to have a realistic chance at Olympic qualification”.
It’s the only time in our discussion that Edwards’ steely eyed-gaze falters. Fully committing to training, competing and being the best she can be, it’s clearly an emotional drain to know that her drive to travel the globe, usually on her own, to meet and beat better-funded competitors in the search for qualifying points may be in vain if sponsors are not forthcoming.
Opportunity: We encourage you to take a positive step forward. Make a difference. Help level the playing field by investing in women’s sport. Whether £20K to sponsor Edwards or Jordanne Whiley on their roads to Rio, or find your local sports club and get involved.
There are many opportunities to make a difference, but not enough people and organisations willing to match the commitment of the athletes taking part.
#2: UNKNOWINGLY, WE’RE SURROUNDED BY OUTSTANDING ATHLETES & ORGANISATIONS DOING GREAT THINGS
The average distance we travelled for each event was 70 miles, with the longer journeys to Manchester and Cardiff balanced with more local trips within Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands. In truth, the shorter voyages of discovery were no less rewarding, and it was eye-opening to discover the variety and quality of sporting activities taking place close to home.
From the thriving, 260-strong Banbury & District Canoe Club (associated with Team GB kayaker Angela Hannah), to the high-energy performance and development environments created by Wade Gymnastics, Go Trampolining, Banbury Boxing and NOA Netball Club.
You may know a high performance athlete amongst your friends or someone you work with – we talk from personal experience that taking an active interest in them creates connections and opportunities. That’s how we met Sam Taylor, World Championship medal-winning member of the GB Taekwondo squad, who, in-turn, introduced us to Master Andy Whiteley who runs the Thames Valley Taekwon-do Club, inspiring and encouraging female athletes to be the best they can be.
Opportunity: You don’t have to travel far to be able to get involved in great sport – either participating or supporting – and the biggest distance is probably the one between not engaging and actually deciding to take part. Either for you, your children or your parents, we encourage you to go to a taster session, take up a sport you used to do, or try something new like coaching or volunteering.
#3: IT’S NOT EASY ENOUGH TO IDENTIFY EVENTS TO ATTEND & ACTIVITIES TO TAKE PART IN
We learned this the hard way – by creating and agreeing the challenge idea, and then beginning the search to identify the 30 sporting events to attend.
Locking in the first dozen sports was a breeze, aided by the quality of web sites plus the responsiveness of relevant Governing Bodies and energised individuals within those organisations. Kudos to the England Cricket Board, the FA, England Golf and Pentathlon GB. Also helped by enlightened forces for change such as Mark Cooper (Banbury Boxing), Ian Byers (17 Sports Management) and Steve Lane (Abergavenny Road Club, an exemplar for inclusive and inspiring sport).
Then it quickly became a game of attrition. Hours spent searching out of date web sites, chasing for responses and seeking someone, anyone, who would help us include their sport into the challenge. We only managed to include Netball through a chance meeting, and that cannot be desirable for a sport competing for investment and visibility.
Organisations such as Womens Sport UK supply a much-needed service by consolidating fixtures and results across a few key sports into one site through significant personal efforts from volunteers with finite resources.
Opportunity: Governing Bodies to invest more into online sites and social communications, media organisations to increase coverage of women’s sports within their content streams, and athletes to demand better representation of their sport to enable improved visibility and increases accessibility.
#THIRTY30WST THANK YOU
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported us to achieve our challenge, including all generous donations.
To the inspirational members of the Women’s Sport Trust for encouragement and ideas.
To Maureen Cozze, Anne Greenwood, Emma and Paul Gallagher for taking care of Oscar and Fergus during our Phileas Fogg-like travels* (*credit to the wonderful Sue Mott for that description).
And thank you to Julie, my constant #Thirty30WST companion, social media evangelist and joint force for change. I’m proud to be your husband and friend.