By Molly Williams, Sheffield Hallam University student and WXC World Racing Team cyclist
Sheffield heroine Jessica Ennis-Hill once said: “I believe we all have a journey. I was once a small girl from Sheffield, dealing with bullies and normal teenage insecurities but I always believed. And when you do that your life can be unbelievable.”
As a former athlete and someone who competed for nearly every sports club going at school I can tell you getting involved is not as scary as it seems. And for all our apprehension and fear the reality is really worth the risk.
None of my mates at school were really interested in sport but I gave it a go anyway and it has since taken me across the world, given me success on a national level, life stories I will be telling for years to come and some of the strongest friendships I could ever have wished for.
It’s well known that sport builds confidence, self-esteem, teamwork skills, discipline - but most of all it’s fun to do and it shouldn’t be something that’s exclusively for men.
Sport England statistics from 2015 showed 8, 650, 000 males and only 6, 870, 000 females aged over 16 played sport once a week amounting to a 1, 780, 000 gender gap.
Maybe the media should take some responsibility here. A lot of our perception of the world comes from the media. So maybe it isn’t surprising that women aren’t out in their masses getting the benefits of exercise when only seven per cent of sports coverage is on female athletes.
In addition to this Jessica Ennis-Hill once pointed out: “It’s embarrassing but one of the first things that come up when you type my name into Google is ‘Jessica Ennis bum’.” Which is probably partly down to radio presenter Colin Murray’s comment in 2012 when he said at the Olympic Stadium the ultimate athlete would have “the stamina of Mo, the speed of Bolt, the leap of Rutherford and the bottom of Jess Ennis.”
Which is ridiculous. If the media are using the very brief broadcasting time they give to sportswomen to sexualise great female athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill it sends out a message that being physically attractive is more important than being successful. It undermines the achievements of female athletes.
Not all sports media coverage is so derogatory. And Sport England’s campaign This Girl Can is a step away from the idea that we have to be model-like or super athletic to get involved. Their campaign celebrates ordinary women of all ages and backgrounds sharing their stories of how sport has enriched their life. So whoever you are, whatever your sport get out and go for it.