London 2012: Inspiring a Generation … of Girls

The motto of London 2012 has been “Inspire a Generation”, and now that the Olympics are over, the work to make this happen must begin in earnest. And although we want all boys and girls to be inspired, there is a particular case to be made for working to inspire the next generation of girls. A report earlier this year by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation showed that just 12% of 14 year old girls – half the number of 14 year old boys – are physically active to the levels recommended for healthy living. Over half of the 1,500 children surveyed, both boys and girls, said that there were more opportunities for boys to succeed in sport than girls. 48% of the girls surveyed said that getting sweaty was perceived as “not feminine”. Similarly, and worryingly, nearly a third of boys said that “sporty girls” were not very feminine. 43% of girls – almost half, in fact – said that there weren’t many sporting role models for girls.

Well, this has to change, and it can. The health and wellbeing – mental and emotional as well as physical – of our young people is too important, not just for them but for the future of society and for our world. When we are fit in body, mind and spirit, we are able to contribute and make the difference that the world needs; sport provides us all with a positive focus, an opportunity to work hard, individually and as part of team, to develop ourselves in every way … for so many reasons, sport should be a central part of our lives, and this is why we need to ensure that our young people have the opportunities that will enable them to play and grow into sport. We must look forward, and we must commit to this goal.

As we look forward, though, we can draw inspiration again and again from the memories of these amazing Games. Here are my top, female-focused, memories to inspire the next generation of girls …

– the participation: these were the first Games – of many, we hope – in which every nation represented brought both female and male competitors. Remember the cheer in the Olympic Stadium when Jacques Rogge announced this at the Opening Ceremony …;

– the GB medal tally: the first medal on the table was a Silver earned by female cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, the first Gold medals on the GB tally were earned by female rowers Hannah Glover and Heather Stanning, and the women’s medals continued to flow in, helping to make this the best Games of modern times for Team GB;

– the role-models: all our female athletes deserve role-model status, but who can help but admire especially athletes like Jessica Ennis (just think of all those personal bests, and her storming approach to no fewer than 8 disciplines). These are celebrities worthy of our adulation and interest;

– the determination: Katherine Grainger’s performance was an example of sheer doggedness, leading her to win Gold after winning Silver (no mean feat either) in no fewer than three previous Olympics;

– the hard, hard work: no words were more truly spoken than those by Rebecca Adlington as she took back her apology to the crowd for earning Bronze rather than Gold in the 800m Freestyle Final: “that was so painful … I gave it my absolute all … I hope people see that and don’t think I let them down.” Being an Olympian means being among the fastest and best in the world for that sport – it is tremendously worthwhile, and it is this because it is hard work.

– the real females: women of different shapes, sizes, heights and appearance, interviews without make-up, with sportswomen expressing real emotions … this was hugely refreshing to see, and a reminder that we have to fight against the airbrushed, sexualised images of women that surround us most of the time. When Joanna Rowsell, who has lost most of her hair to alopecia, stood on the podium, holding a Gold medal for the cycling team pursuit, we were proud of who she was in her entirety;

– the former pupil: Laura Bechtolsheimer, a Calne pupil in years gone by, won Gold in the Team Dressage and Bronze in the Individual Dressage. It is always fantastic to have connections with medal winners, and the girls at school will be even more inspired by this connection;

– the great female commentators: Clare Balding, Hazel Irvine, Sue Barker, Gabby Logan – the Olympics have showcased their intelligence and humour;

– the women’s team sports: from football to hockey to basketball to handball – we have seen how thrilling they are, and we want to see more. Saturdays should no longer just be about men’s sport.

So – it is up to all of us not to let these memories fade. Let us keep them alive in the media, in our conversations, in our school lessons. Long live London 2012, and may the Olympics indeed inspire a generation of children and, especially, girls.


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