By Philip Barker
It would be “a travesty” if Britain’s women Olympic gold medallists such as Sally Gunnell and Denise Lewis, pictured left, were not involved in sports coaching or administration in the future, according to Sue Campbell, the chair of UK Sport.
Campbell was one of the speakers at the launch of the Women and Leadership Development Programme at Charlton Athletic last week, a scheme designed to get more women involved a the top level of sport, where Gunnell, the 1992 Olympic gold medallist at 400m hurdles, and 2000 Olympic heptathlon champion Lewis, both said that they want more women to take up coaching and become leaders in sport.
The scheme is intended to give 11 women the skills and experience required to take on senior decision making roles. “This isn’t just about three years , this is a huge project,” said John James, of the British Olympic Foundation, one of the scheme’s principle supporters.
“Women could be better coaches and leaders many ways. A lot of it is about understanding and women are sometimes much better listeners.”
The women’s “first XI” will develop their skills in communication, sports law, national and international sport structures and good management Each governing body taking part has promised to provide opportunities to learn and develop. The ultimate goal is that they’ll be able to get some of the top jobs in sport.
Its only a quarter of a century since the International Olympic Committee co-opted its first woman member, but the British scheme is in part a response to IOC-set targets to improve the representation of women in the top tiers of sports administration and coaching.
Gunnell and Lewis, each three-time winners of the SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year award and both of them mothers, admitted that the demands of having a family had militated against them getting involved in coaching or administration so far, while the conference also looked at the differences in media coverage between men’s and women’s sport.
In cricket, for example, women’s one-day series receive television coverage, but while the 2005 Ashes success of the English men’s side captured the nation’s imagination, the women’s Tests series between England and Australia that summer received little coverage.
“It is wrong fundamentally to try and compare, what we should do is try and promote women’s sport for what it is.”
Gunnell suggested that with careful management, women can still manage to achieve the same level of media coverage as their male peers.
Gunnell recalled her own experiences after the Barcelona Games, where Linford Christie also won Olympic gold. â€œIt wasn’t just a case of sitting back, we actually approached people, went out there and gave them an angle,” Gunnell said. “People like personalities, they like to know your background so you have to try and find the angle. It took a lot of thinking before we went out.”
The highly successful world rowing championships staged at Dorney Lake, Eton, provided an example of the sort of coverage high quality women’s sport can enjoy, with the women’s quad enjoying a comparable amount of coverage to the men’s four. At Eton, the press operations of FISA, the world governing body, and the championships were run by women, as was the international broadcast, while the president of the Amateur Rowing Association is a woman, Di Ellis.