March 7, 2013

IconExclusive Interview: Tammy Parlour, Co-Chair of Women’s Sports Trust

Women’s representation in sports is a rather funny concept.  There are thousand’s of women participating in sports on a daily basis here in the UK on a plethora of levels, whether they’re professional, coaches, volunteers, grass root players, university representatives, physio’s, sports comapany owners, I could go on.  Yet, for some incredulous reason, the level of support, guidance, and coverage women’s sports get compared to men is so off balance they might as well be on a different set of scales.

I’ve played sports since I was tiny, played hockey for over a decade for my North Wales club, Ardudwy Hockey Club, and Lancaster University, as well as being a sports rep for Lonsdale College (Lancaster has a collegit system in place which is invaluable, in my opinion), so sports has always been a staple part of my life.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a horrific article where one (male) journalist scrawled a terribly misogynistic portrayal of women’s sports, and how, in his humble opinion, women’s sports doesn’t deserve the same coverage and equality as men’s for reasons that are so nonsensical, I shant waste time delving into them.  I wrote a response (which can be read here) and decided, things need to change, and thankfully, a whole host of other sensational women who are the backbone of women in sports are dedicating a large portion of their time in helping to move women’s sports to the next, equal, level.

I got the opportunity to speak with Tammy Parlour, co-chair of Women in Sports Trust, and is a 4th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Hapkido, having practiced for over 30 years.  She founded Chang’s Hapkido Academy UK, a full-time martial arts and meditation school in central London.  Tammy specialises in the relationship between martial arts and personal development. She has written a book on meditation, lectures at organisations like The Wellcome Trust, and is doing a part-time MSc in Strength & Conditioning.

Hey Tammy, how are you?

Very well, but rather busy.

Ah, I can imagine! Enjoyed much sports over the weekend?

As I coach the marital art of Hapkido full-time throughout the week, Saturday is my ‘rest day’.  I’m also preparing to test for my 5th degree black belt in April so things are quite full-on.  Saturday’s are usually about gentle walks, Frisbee in the park or some sofa-TV action – Sundays I do a Strength & Conditioning session – I’m currently in a strength phase which I always enjoy – particularly squats and dead lifts.   We were glued to the TV watching the World Indoor athletics this weekend and last Saturday we loved getting to see the Women’s Rugby live at Twickenham.  There is little that beats the thrill of seeing  exciting sport right in front of you and one of the WST’s aims is to encourage more opportunities for watching live or televised women’s sport.

Very busy indeed! The rugby was wonderful, I made sure I watched too! The Women in Sports Trust sounds really fantastic.  Could you tell us a bit about how it started?

Women’s Sport Trust was stimulated by the London 2012 Olympics.  Like many people – women and men – we were massively affected by the increased media coverage of women’s sport and as a consequence access to strong female role models.  It made their previous absence from mainstream media all the more apparent.  In addition to this there were stories about female athletes representing their country yet struggling financially.  We thought “what can we do?”, and so we founded the Women’s Sport Trust.  I strongly believe that individuals can make a difference;  the Women’s Sport Trust seeks to bring individuals together into a movement that enables them to show that  women’s sport matters.  We have world champions, Olympic gold medallists and business leaders on board – but just as importantly we are getting support from individuals who are willing to donate small amounts of money, or get a group together to attend a match.  It all counts – and the more people who feel they have a connection to WST, the better.

That is really impressive! What’s the main aims the trust hopes to achieve?

We are a grant giving body dedicated to raising the profile and changing the perception of women’s sport in the UK.  We want a world where strong, diverse female role models are highly visible rather than hard to find, and sport is one of the most important public arenas we have – which means that sport has the potential to shift how women are seen and how they see themselves.  The Women’s Sport Trust is designed to make the most of sport’s ability to generate positive change for women.  Practically this means we want to provide an additional funding stream for women’s sport, we want to engage with media organisations to increase coverage, we want to encourage spectatorship and participation – and as a result of all this raise the profile of new and existing role models.

The more coverage the better, for sure. What do you think are the biggest obstacles infront of women in sports today?

Every female athlete we’ve spoken to has mentioned the lack of media coverage.  I believe we are seeing a change – post-Olympics, women’s sports stories are starting to get out and there is evidence to support that there is an enthusiasm for women’s sport – but more needs to be done.  We’d like to see the media able to fully capitalise on the appetite for women’s sport that exists.   The relative lack of media coverage also has a knock on impact to sponsorship and funding, creating a negative cycle that WST wants to play a part in breaking.  If potential sponsors are able to see more media coverage and large audiences, then they will be more compelled to provide financial support.

Ah yeah, and more sponsorship equals more opportunities in the long run. Women in sports have come leaps and bounds over the last century, but we’re still a long way off equality, why do you think that is?

This isn’t happening just in sport.  Just today there were a number of articles claiming that “public appointment processes are ‘loaded towards male characteristics and experience’”.  The Davies report also talked about getting more female representation on boards.  We need to review how decisions are made and check that they are not weighted against female representation.  We also need more diversity amongst decision makers and leaders – including more women.  Those who are in positions of influence have the potential to make decisions that positively impact on women in all spheres, including sport.  There is significant media and political attention on this but progress is too slow.  We hope to play our part in pushing things forward by raising the profile of both women’s sport and leading female figures.

I know we’ve touched on this but what do you hope to achieve with the representation of women’s sports in the media?

The simplest answer is that we want to see more of it!  It can be depressing to read through the back pages of a range of newspapers and notice the minimal coverage of women’s sport – although there are notable exceptions.    We don’t want to browbeat the media though – we want to work with them to change things and have actively engaged with a number of media allies.  We are keen to see a more diverse range of female role models in the media – so that women of any age can be inspired by and connect to them.  Our patrons, athlete supporters and grant recipients will also be a great source of positive media stories and we are actively planning to link them up with journalists.

Do you think the London Olympics and its legacy has made an impact on women’s sports?

I do.  The Women’s Sport Trust’s existence is living proof.  But only time will tell how much of an impact that is.  If access to women’s sport matters, then we all need to get involved.  We need to go to women’s sports events, blog about women’s sport, talk to journalists and programmers, be good role models for our daughters and demonstrate that the hunger for women’s sport is very real.   Whilst the Olympics were extraordinary, we can’t be complacent and just expect a legacy to emerge as if by magic – we actually have to do something.

Definitely! Where do you see the biggest shifts in participation? What sports?

I think we’ll see huge shifts in participation for any sport that the media decide to positively cover.  In all probability then, sports like tennis, football, cricket and netball will greatly benefit.  Upcoming showcase events like football’s Women’s Euro 2013  that will be covered live by the BBC and others, as well as the thrilling recent Australia – England Netball series are cases in point.  Work by progressive organisations like the WSFF are making a big difference – but so are the coaches who volunteer time and the parents who take their children to clubs.  It needs to be a combination of big policy changes, investment and media coverage aligned with the “little big things” getting done on the ground that will really make a difference.

Do you have any advice for girls who want to venture into new sports but haven’t taken the leap yet?

Sport and play tap into the same human desire to connect, run and be part of something.  There are some sports I’ve tried and I didn’t really go for – but I gave them a whirl.  Then there are sports I’ve tried that I’ve loved and have become an enormous and positive part of my life.  So my advice would be – dive in and give it a try.

Thank you so much Tammy for answering these questions for us, and I implore you, lovely reader, to take a look at Women’s Sports Trust’s website here and more importantly, take part!

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Ffion Davies


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