If you’ve been wondering where we’ve been over the last week, then I’m bit worried that you didn’t attend or saw on social media that we were having the time of our lives at the SW/S 2021 Conference. Have a browse through our conference programme Here.
Let me set the scene.
The first in real life conference that many have been to since before Corona was just a beer and masks were just for medical professionals, the first time most had ventured out to The Capital….
It was horrible and rainy but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those attending and of course, despite our speakers coming from near and far, in true Scottish fashion, the weather was rubbish.
However, we all know the next best thing that the Scots are famous for, is their welcoming hospitality. Coffee and pastries to welcome our guests, a delicious lunch selection from the catering staff at Tynecastle, and I chose the Scottish Salmon, after my delicious starter, and did anyone try the exotic fruit salad? It was amazing.
In all seriousness, Tynecastle, whether you’re a Hearts fan or not, was a beautiful venue and there is nowhere I would have rather been for the 2021 Scottish Women in Sports Conference.
The lovely David Tanner opened the show for us, and firstly introduced David Ferguson, CEO at Observatory for Sport in Scotland. He and his team, have been researching women in sporting leadership roles, funded by SW/S from a kind donation from Steven Lawther . I’m not going to go into too much detail because the final research is being completed as we speak. However I will let you know that what I picked up on, was that based on research over the past five years, it is going to take another 15 years until we will reach complete equality between men and women in sport. The rate of progression we are moving at now means I will be 38 by the time we see equality in sport. For equal pay, for equal representation, for equal treatment. That’s not even touching on race and sexuality.
Next, we had Julie-Anne Jamison, she was discussing diversity on boards. She has held significant leadership roles within the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland and is the current chief executive of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry: In August 2022 she will also be take on the role as President of Changing the Chemistry. Their aim is to create a network so that people interested in setting up boards or looking for new members can create a diverse and talented board. By providing organisations and businesses with the structure and know-how in order to create these boards will in turn bring in new ideas and benefit in the long run, I’ll just say it, the economy.
We then had Robert Nisbet, the Head of Physical Activity and Sport at SAMH, alongside Anneli Ritari-Stewart, managing director at Andragogy.co and SW/S trustee. They were discussing the effects that poor mental health can have on young women and how a new mentorship scheme between SAMH and SW/S will have a positive impact. Working with an expert panel of young women we believe our scheme will have a strong impact on the mental health, confidence and belief of young women in sport and I feel that the quicker we make sports equal and diverse, the better. We have to level the playing field and Anneli, said at the end of their presentation; “If we want to encourage young women, we have to have their backs”.
If you saw our last blog, then you’ll have read Eszter’s interview with Clíona O’Leary. You can have a read it here, if not. But Clíona was presenting research that was looking into how we can ‘Reimagine Sports’. Clíona has been a sports reporter for 23 years and has recently been part of a research campaign to get better gender-balanced media coverage onto mainstream media platforms, including on your screens, at home without having to pay extra or find it online through a dodgy link, just to watch women competing in sports. She also discussed the measures being taken to increase the number of female presenters in the field (which would really help me out) and why a more diverse media will lead to better and more interesting coverage.
You can find more information on Clíona and the report/handbook from Eurovision Sport, EBU, here.
Next, we had my favourite speaker, I don’t want to go as far as saying I’m a fangirl but Dr Emma Ross is a legend. Do you know how her research came about? Well, I’ll tell you. When Team GB came back from Brazil, women had won only 35% of the medals in comparison to other countries whose rate was much higher. People wanted to know why and that’s where Dr Emma came in.
But it wasn’t that simple because you can’t come up with these answers overnight, there’s a lot more to it than that and so Emma took a step back and realised that there was a lot more to figure out. So in 2018, she co-formed The Well. An organisation that is at the cutting edge of research and knowledge about unlocking the potential in the female body.
Our founder Maureen McGonigle said in her opening speech “Women aren’t just small men” and boy did Emma prove that. When Dr Emma presented figures like 30% of female athletes don’t have regular periods because coaches don’t understand how to give them the right nutrition, therefore their bodies begin to shut down systems not needed in order to survive and focus on the things that keep them alive: You begin to worry. I think the worst part of figures like these, is when in my own shock I have said to people wow look at these shocking figures, and I get responses like, well isn’t it handy that they don’t have to deal with their period?
Well no, not when Dr Emma explains that this can affect your fertility in later years and can attribute to female athletes developing osteoporosis at 26 years old. And the fact it is happening because they’re not eating properly makes me think we all have to take a step back and think to ourselves, why are we allowing this to carry on?
Dr Emma talked about Hannah Dines. A Scottish Paralympic trike racer, who had such bad inflammation on her vulva because the saddle she was using wasn’t designed for women, that she had to have surgery because of swelling and tissue damage: “A woman’s vulva isn’t designed to take all the weight and pressure that cycling on a normal saddle is designed for”, said Dr Emma, as it was designed for men, not women. I’m not trying to claim I’m an expert here, but Dr Emma is. What she is trying to show sports professionals is that their are issues to be aware of and that can be fixed and actually its not okay to send women’s football teams out into matches wearing white shorts because 86 per cent of women (not just athletes) get their period unexpectedly.
I won’t go on with too many more figures but when there are simple solutions to very serious issues, like how 40 per cent of female athletes leak urine when training, and this is all of them not just women who are ‘older’ or those who have had children. All of them. There are however, exercises that mean this won’t happen or will be considerably reduced.
Dr Emma hasn’t finished her research, but she’s made a really good start to address the inequality and unjust behaviour that female athletes face in sports.
Courses and consultations about the work Dr Emma and the team have been doing can be found at The Well HQ.
Katie Sadlier, the World Rugby GM for Women’s Rugby wrapped up the show for us, with her presentation on the Global development for Women’s rugby. Since 2016 Sadlier has been working to get women across the world into the sport, including women in deprived areas of the world. In the past five years, she has worked World Rugby to increase the number of women playing in the sport as well as increasing female coaching.
AS this will be one of her last engagements for Word Rugby as she takes on the role of the first female CEO of The Commonwealth Games, we would like to wish her every success in her new role.
With the Conference over, some headed for trains, others stayed to mingle. A room full of women and male allies to create a world better for women and girls in sports.
Does it get any better than that?
A special thanks to sportscotland and GRM Marketing for supporting the conference and making it possible to have such an amazing day.