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2013 Event

Sport: can it really change women’s lives?

The third annual AWF event was held in Chichester on the 20th November and posed the question ‘Sport: can it really change women’s lives?’.

An audience of two hundred people heard contributions from an Olympic Gold medal-winning athlete, a youth sport community coach from Ghana, and the European regional development manager for one of the biggest sports in the world. The event was preceded by the official launch of the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy (WSLA), part of a partnership between the AWF and Females Achieving Brilliance (FAB).

Dr Sarah Gilroy (Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), University of Chichester) opened the evening by recognising the heritage of sporting excellence that has emanated from the University of Chichester. Sarah also reflected on how sport has influenced her career, including how it aided her in becoming Deputy Vice-Chancellor despite the relative absence of women in senior roles in UK higher education.

Dr Elizabeth Pike (Chair of the AWF) gave an overview of the AWF and its achievements to date before officially starting the evening’s proceedings by introducing Dr Anita White OBE who would be facilitating conversations with the guests; the first being Dr Katherine Grainger CBE.

A video of Katherine’s journey to success at London 2012 (with Anna Watkins in the women's double sculls rowing) was played as she walked to the stage. The emotions, both positive and negative, provided a fitting starting point for the conversation Anita was to have with Katherine. Katherine admitted that although she has watched the video many times before, each viewing provided a different perspective of her success.

Unsurprisingly, Katherine stated that winning her London 2012 Olympic Gold medal was the proudest moment of her sporting career and reflected how winning in front of a home crowd was “the moment” she had worked so hard to achieve.

Due to greater investment in women’s rowing, and through her own interest and enjoyment, Katherine claimed sport has “empowered” her. After switching from martial arts to rowing at university, she highlighted the values which grew her self-confidence and the ability to accept losing as well as winning.

These values have influenced her decision to give something back to sport through her involvement in the sport-based charity International Inspiration which aims to inspire, empower and transform people’s lives through sport, in particular women and girls:

“We may be exhausted after a day in the boat but you then realise people in some areas of the world are walking as far as we have rowed to get clean water. You can see how sport can be used as a vehicle for change and transform people’s lives because it helps at so many levels where hope and opportunities have previously been denied”.

In the questions from the audience that followed talking with Anita, Katherine reflected on the patriarchy she encountered in martial arts whilst at university and how rowing offered a more sociable environment full of people and characters that helped her grow as a person.

Following Katherine, Anita introduced the second half the discussion in order to understand whether sport can really change the lives of women who come from poorer countries where women have not had the kinds of opportunities to develop and excel in sport that Katherine has had. This was supplemented by an International Inspiration video of a women’s empowerment project in Kenya.

Nick Pink (International Cricket Council (ICC) Regional Development Manager for Europe) has had a varied career working in the international development field in different sports organisations, and Anita asked him where he thought sport had had the biggest impact on the lives of girls and women. Nick highlighted how investing in individuals has led to significant outcomes, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and how fortunate the UK was that investment in sport is seen as so important.

The AWF’s engagement with a leadership programme in Tanzania was on Nick’s guidance and he praised the AWF for developing its involvement from building trustworthy relationships with those involved, to engaging in communications through the student action group on Facebook.

The final guest for the AWF Event has had first-hand engagement in the leadership programmes and the cultural issues highlighted above. Francisca Korantemaa Darfour was one of the first Ghanaian leaders on the programme, and stated how “it was amazing because people were sitting down and listening to us – if you understand the cultural programme, it helps!” Franka explained that her engagement in sport empowered her as a person, and as a woman, because of the skills and values she learned.

The questions from the audience following the discussion were wide-ranging and encompassed many issues women encounter in sport, including the lack of leadership opportunities.

Anita highlighted the plethora of examples raised throughout the night for how sport has the ability to change women’s lives and develop them as women. Whether it be at an elite level with Katherine or at development levels such as Nick what facilitates and Franka epitomises, the range of skills and values ensconced under the umbrella of sport have the capacity to change not only sport itself, but those women who are engaged in sport. In summing up,

Franka said: “I believe totally that sport can change lives. Investment in sport is an investment in women! Only through sport did I get to learn about myself and have the opportunities to progress like I have”.

Nick said: “We need to get away from the point of view that investing in women and sport is a risk. It’s not, it’s worthwhile. We are not seeing enough women in sport leadership. It will initiate change”.

And Katherine said: “We should be proud of where we are. It was not too long since women ‘didn’t do sport’, but we are now in more events than ever before and in greater numbers”.

Professor Clive Behagg (Vice-Chancellor. University of Chichester) closed the evening by expressing his pride that the University of Chichester hosts the AWF. The AWF fits into the history, ethos, and mission of the University to inspire individuals to exceed expectations and Professor Behagg remarked that the University “had got that right tonight”.

For the full report of the event, please see our download.