Forget whether a sport is cool, let’s concentrate on women being active

Last week a debate raged across the internet over the funding given to England Netball to effectively grow participation in the game. £16.9 million no less, one of the biggest sums provided to a non Olympic sport and one that caused a great outcry.

Why? Because it wasn’t enough? It wasn’t targeting the right inactive groups in society? No, it was because netball as a sport isn’t cool.

Now, I’ve looked quite closely at Sport England’s strategy into ‘Working towards an active nation’ and coolness of sport wasn’t the big issue to tackle. What was, and continues to be, is that one in two women in the UK are damaging their health through inactivity, something that costs the country an estimated £7.4billion a year.  That isn’t cool.

The money invested to England Netball will be closely monitored to ensure they are building participation figures, because if you’re participating then the chances are you’re being less inactive. However such a situation was deemed unnecessary by Morwenna Ferrier, a writer for The Guardian, who wrote a column focusing on the ‘uncool’ aspects of playing netball.

Ferrier speaks of experience, she plays netball every week but has tried to hide it as she knows it isn’t cool. She used to play to a high level until she was sixteen but still finds the rules complicated. Funnily enough she hasn’t found another sport to play, just berates netball for being uncool.

What I find most sad about the article isn’t the fact she slams a game I’ve spent weeks upon months upon years of my life playing. It isn’t the fact she mocks a sport in which I proudly represented my country or one that I have made lifelong friends and been provided opportunities I may not have received had I not had this as my sport.

No, it’s none of those. It’s the fact that labelling a sport, any sport as uncool, can be massively damaging to women. People who’ve suddenly taken the step to get off the sofa and step onto the court are told that what they’re doing is uncool. Players being likened to performing nazi salutes or labelled bullies because of the position they play is not only wrong and offensive, it can be extremely damaging – ‘I don’t want to play centre, that’s where the bullies play’.

An England v New Zealand match earlier this month.
Captain Ama showing her incredible reach, not a salute.

I love netball, I would always want people to play it, but mostly I want people to be active. If neither of my children choose to play netball I would get over it as long as they were engaging in physical activity. That’s cool. Finding something that gets you engaging in sport.

Ama Agbeze, captain of the England netball team wrote a powerful and positive response to this negative piece of journalism and has made many women follow in her steps and write how they are proud to be netballers. #Netballontherise was trending on Friday in the UK and it was great to see how many women (and men) stood up to be counted for their sport. That is cool. Being proud and shouting from the rooftops that they play netball. And it showed, we don’t care what you think, we’re still playing.

Why did they get the funding? I’ll give you an example of why it works. I posted on my Facebook wall Ama’s comment. A women I have known since she was a child, who’s never been particularly sporty, said how sad and cross the article made her. Why? Netball has given her a release, once a week she goes to a mother and daughter netball group where not only is she exercising but her daughter is too – seeing positive role models but getting quality time with her mother. If that isn’t the epitome of cool then tell me what is.

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