We often hear the phrase ‘standing on the shoulder of giants’ and last week I got to meet a true giant in sport who has been responsible for so many game changing organisations and campaigns which have changed the face of sport forever.
As part of the Women’s Sports Trust UNLOCKED campaign, 41 athletes were matched with an ‘activator’ from the worlds of sport, business and media. The list of activators was unbelievable but I never expected my activator to be somebody who I’ve always regarded as a real superhero in sport! That is the one and only Dame Sue Campbell, former chair of UK Sport and current director of women’s football at the FA. Whilst Sue’s list of achievements are incredible, it’s her focus on developing the teams she’s worked with, her commitment to building a positive culture, and her deep belief in the power of sport to change the world which is so impressive. So to say I was excited to meet Sue is a huge understatement!!
Our meeting took place on Feb 20th and I drove to St. George’s Park, the home of the FA. The facilities at St. George’s Park are excellent so it was great to visit in that sense, but meeting Sue was just amazing! Sue is deeply passionate about sport, not only about development and success at the elite level, but also what it can do at grassroots level and the impact it can have on wider society. She has a humility mixed with a steely determination cultivated over many years of fighting for progress and change, but it is her crystal clear clarity on the higher purpose of sport and how this manifests in her work which I found the most inspiring.
We talked about my pave the way project and she shared some of her experiences of setting up projects and charities. She explained that she started her first charity in a garage with just two people to begin with and minimal funding…that charity is the almighty force that is the Youth Sport Trust and now receives over £35 million in funding per year! Giant, indeed!
Like many other athletes, there are issues I’m deeply passionate about that I want to use my platform to try and impact, for me gender equality is one such issue. I started the Pave The Way project in 2017 based on the belief that gender should never be a barrier to human potential; whether that relates to sport, hobbies, careers and the workplace or any other aspect of society. Males and females at all ages still face bias, stigma and negative attitudes if they choose a path which goes against traditional gender stereotypes and that’s something which needs to change. At times trying to set up the project has felt like a huge uphill battle, because whilst passion is important, and some sort of plan helps too, having the necessary contacts and the right guidance can be crucial, and often the hardest piece of the jigsaw to find. This is especially difficult when time is a factor as we are all juggling these ‘side hustles’ with training and competing in our sports.
That’s why meeting with Sue Campbell and having her input, advice and encouragement had an enormous impact. If all of the other athletes have had a similar boost from their activators then it’s hugely exciting to imagine what all of these connections will lead to! The UNLOCKED campaign is a big reason to be optimistic and excited about women’s sport, every time I visit primary schools, high schools, or young people at local clubs and gyms, I let them know that they have an army of people behind them as they set out to achieve their dreams in sport, and that we are all working hard to make things better for them and for future generations, just as those who came before have done for us. Thank you to the Women’s Sports Trust and their incredible team for this fantastic initiative, thank you to the activators for giving us their time and supporting the next generation of disruptors, and to all the athletes for being prepared to step up and try to make a difference. When sport and business comes together, and when ideas, passion, energy and values are in alignment, incredible things happen. What will we unlock? Watch this space!!