As Megan Rapinoe says, it’s time to ‘claim your space’

Positive news from UK Sport this week as a new leadership programme was announced, with a plan to double the number of female high-performance coaches in Olympic and Paralympic sports by the Paris Games in 2024.

The organisation has selected six of the best female coaches in the UK to offer help and development guidance for the next generation of elite coaches for a six-month period. 

Paula Dunn (para athletics), Kate Howey (judo), Mel Marshall (swimming), Bex Milnes (para triathlon) and Tracy Whittaker-Smith (trampolining) all agreed to the roles while former GB and England hockey coach Karen Brown will be a mentor for the whole programme.

It is all part of UK Sport’s long-term plan to address the under-representation of female coaches at all levels in this country. The knock-on effect of their plans will surely be an uplift in female sports participation too.

CEO at UK Sport, Sally Munday, said: “UK Sport is determined to see greater diversity across the high-performance community. There are currently far too few female coaches operating at the highest level of performance and we are committed to addressing this reality and, working with our stakeholders, driving the change we want to see.”

While recent years had shown a steady increase, the charity Women in Sport carried out research during the first lockdown which reported that  32% of women surveyed said that they couldn’t prioritise exercise as they had too much to do for others while 61% said they wanted to put more effort into getting outdoors and being active.

At elite level, currently only around 10% of coaching positions within the high-performance community in the UK are held by women and UK Sport want to more than double that number to 25% by 2024.

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “I’ve been clear that it is a priority of mine to support women’s sport at every opportunity, pushing for greater participation, employment, commercial opportunities and visibility in the media.

“Key to this is having an infrastructure in place that delivers a pipeline of talent, whether that be athletes, coaches, officials or administrators.

“I welcome UK Sport’s ambitious leadership programme, which I hope will mark a turning point in greater diversity at the highest levels of coaching in elite sport.”

It was a welcome bit of news for Huddleston following the previous week’s horror show for the FA which resulted in the resignation of its chairman Greg Clarke.

Giving evidence to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) meeting Clarke made headlines when he referred to black footballers as “coloured” and suggested that there was a lack of people from South Asia in football because they preferred to work in IT.

But in the same session Clarke also relayed the fact that a football coach had said to him that there was a lack of women’s goalkeepers because girls do not like the ball being kicked hard at them.

Clarke resigned on the same day and has since left his role as FIFA vice-president, admitting it was “better for football” that he stepped down. But his comments about women, which garnered far fewer headlines than his ones about colour, appeared to reflect a worrying attitude in elite sport which continues to hold women’s sport back at all levels.

There was outrage in women’s sport when, as part of lockdown 2, girls academies at Women’s Super League and Championship clubs were unable to reopen while their boys equivalents were allowed to stay open. The Government relented on that but the feeling lingered that men’s and boys’ sport had been prioritised over women’s again. The hunt is now on for a new FA chairman and there are widespread calls for the next one to be more progressively-minded than Clarke.

And then, right on cue this week, came the release of footballer Megan Rapinoe’s autobiography: One Life. An extract published in Telegraph Women’s Sport this week, recalled the moment she won the World Cup with USA last year:

“I threw my arms wide, and shouted, “I deserve this!” Along with Alex Morgan, I had been the tournament’s top scorer and had been awarded both the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball for outstanding player,” she writes. 

“I made a speech, asking those watching to look at our team; black, white, gay girls, straight girls. “We have to love more, hate less, listen more, talk less,” I said. I hoped that people could take what inspired them about the World Cup and apply it to their own lives. 

“There’s a fallacy in America that acting for the common good means sacrificing the individual. But you can win for the team and still celebrate your own performance. 

“I believe this especially with regard to women, whose individual needs have long been overlooked in favour of the collective good of men. When I yelled, “I deserve this!” I was speaking for women who are told to be selfless, invisible, meek; to accept less money, less respect, fewer opportunities, to be grateful, uncomplaining. You can share, and help, and be part of your community, and you can also stand tall and enjoy your success. No caveat, no apology. Arms out wide, claim your space.”

Inspirational, charismatic and hopeful. Rapinoe can lead a new generation of women to get out and get active.

In the same vein, it was inspiring too, to see Women in Sport announce a commercial partnership with ACAI Outdoorwear, calling for women to embrace the outdoors and boost their mental and physical health by “turning Black Friday bright”. From November 27-30 the clothing manufacturer is donating 10 percent of  all its sales to the charity while encouraging women to wear their brightest clothing when they are doing their walks, runs or bike rides and spread the message of just how good exercise is. 

We at Sportside continue to be inspired by the likes of Rapinoe and Women in Sport and urge all our followers – female and male, young and old, from beginner level to expert – to claim their space as we gear up for launch. We hope the end of lockdown 2 is nigh and look forward to being able to see you Connect and Play very soon.



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