35 elite female athletes including football stars Nikita Parris and Caroline Weir, World Champion wheelchair racer Hannah Cockroft MBE and Rugby League England international Jodie Cunningham, have come together to tackle diversity in sport head on, as part of a unique programme created by women’s sport charity, The Women’s Sport Trust.
The programme, named ‘Unlocked’, is now in its second year and aims to help athletes accelerate change across the sports industry. Representing 27 different sports and with athletes at different points in their elite careers, the group provides a unique, diverse and powerful insight into the challenges and opportunities that exist in women’s sport, based on those who sit at the heart of it.
Tammy Parlour MBE, CEO and Co-Founder of The Women’s Sport Trust says, “It has been a challenging year for many, but as we come out of Covid-19, there is no better time to turbo-charge our effort and continue to unlock the value of women’s sport. We believe the best way to do this is by supporting these elite women and connecting them together. Individually they are strong advocates for change but together they are unstoppable.”
Other athletes in the group include England netballer and Commonwealth Gold Medalist Kadeen Corbin; England rugby union prop Shaunagh Brown, British Sailor Alice Masterman, British World & Rowing Paralympic Champion Lauren Rowles MBE and Team GB Hockey player Sarah Evans.
Sarah Evans says, “I strongly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to play sport, be a coach, or hold positions of power in sporting institutions and in boardrooms. It is not good enough that the sporting landscape currently looks like it does. Many sports, like my own, are not diverse enough. I want to be able to enact positive change to help sports become more inclusive.”
Lauren Rowles MBE says, “I wanted to be part of Unlocked to understand how I can tackle the detrimental impact social media can have on young athletes. Having experienced this, growing up in sport, I know how dangerous it can be. I hope to be able to understand what systems and schemes I could help develop within sports organisations to improve their understanding of the issue and strengthen the support given to athletes.”
As part of the Unlocked group the athletes will access experts from across the sport, business and media worlds. The Women’s Sport Trust hold workshops and opportunities to hear from industry insiders, as well as provide athletes with their own ‘activator’. The activators are leaders in their field who will share their connections and experience to help the sportswomen tackle the issues and areas they feel passionate about. Working with the other athletes in the Unlocked group will create a lasting network and a chance to learn from others who face similar challenges and opportunities. Virtual hangouts with the group and The Women’s Sport Trust team are also a valuable source of support and inspiration.
Last year’s Unlocked programme proved to be a gamechanger in empowering athletes, with four of the group now taking positions on sporting boards including two-time Olympian, swimmer Lizzie Simmons who has recently been selected as the new Chair of the British Olympic Association’s (BOA) Athlete’s Commission and GB Paralympian Vanessa Wallace who has joined Sporting Equals as a Trustee.
Parlour adds, “Unlocked has proven to be a gamechanger for the sports industry providing a model for how to empower sportswomen effectively, showing the power of actions, not words, in tackling diversity. We can’t wait to see what this year’s group will achieve.”
To celebrate the launch of Unlocked, The Women’s Sport Trust has released a short film featuring a poem by Commonwealth Champion boxer Stacey Copeland. Copeland took part in the programme last year and was inspired to write about her experience. The poem, ‘Our Time’ charts the rise of women’s sport and the importance of women coming together to inspire change.