Going Gold for women’s sport

When you think of sport, what does that mean to you? Do you picture Nadal and Federer trading aces, smashes and drop shots at Wimbledon? A team of sweaty footballers chasing the impossible dream of one day regaining Jules Rimet? Or, seeing as it is Rugby World Cup season, is your image of sport dominated by touchdowns from the brightest stars of All Blacks?

There is of course something wrong with these pictures. These stars, inspirational and talented though they doubtless are, represent only half of the world of sport. Just as important – and perhaps doubly inspirational – are the female athletes who train just as hard and are just as exciting to follow and watch.

Today we welcome over 500 girls from 39 different schools to Headington to take part in the annual Girls Go Gold conference. These girls are the crème de la crème, the very top young sportswomen in their schools. They are ambitious, hungry, talented. They are the elite athletes of the future and one day I hope some of their names will light up stadiums around the world and be answered by full-throated cheers from a nation supporting them. We are hoping to help these promising young female athletes in their pursuit of excellence, giving them tools and techniques they can use, providing them with expert advice, tips and hands on sessions.

Inspiration is already out there. To that end we have invited some exciting names in female sport. Olympic pentathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson and skeleton bobsleigh Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams will give keynote speeches. We have two members of England’s Rugby World Cup-winning squad, Rocky Clark and Kat Merchant, running workshops, along with Headington old girl and Olympic and World Championship rower Katie Greves.

We are still a long way off achieving equality in sport. While Wimbledon prize money is now equal, look at other sports and you will see a huge disparity between the men’s and women’s game. Look at the television schedules and you will see that male sportsmen dominate. The people in charge of the money and the schedules will argue there isn’t the same interest. Maybe that was true in the past but it is changing. There is a whole new audience of young women previously turned off by sport because all they see reflected in headlines and on the small screen is a game which excludes them. Capture that untapped audience by giving women a platform and those questions become moot.

We need to emulate the US model where university funding is equally matched between men and women’s sport. This year two of our own girls have headed to the US on sports scholarships to Yale and Duke universities and we expect this to be a pattern that continues over the coming years.

When people say women are not interested in sport, I cannot agree on any level because when I look at Headington I see girls who are passionate, talented, engaged and involved. Don’t say women don’t do sport. Instead let’s celebrate those girls and women who can and do and those who are yet to discover their sporting passion.

 

Caroline Jordan, Headmistress, Headington School 

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