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The Women's Sports Alliance


Dame Katherine Grainger - UK has a ‘treasure trove’ of inspiring sportswomen

Dame Katherine Grainger is one of the best-known and most iconic figures in British sport.

After silver medals at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008, the rower finally claimed the prize she craved most with an emotional gold in front of the home fans at London 2012.

Despite taking time out from the sport while she considered retirement Grainger returned for Rio 2016 where she secured a stunning – and shock – silver at the age of 40, despite a challenging build-up.

That success saw her become the first woman in her nation’s history to win an Olympic medal at five successive Games and she was rewarded by being made a Dame in the 2017 New Years’ Honours list.

Following her official retirement, later that year the history-maker was appointed as the Chair of UK Sport.

She entered at a time of significant turmoil with national governing bodies hit with a series with welfare scandals, but Grainger has set about transforming the face of British sport.

To mark International Women’s Day Grainger tells Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA) about the “pride” she feels after witnessing significant changes within the women’s sport movement and seeing more female athletes use their platform for positive social change.

“It’s thrilling to know that if you’re a young girl at school or a woman of any age, that there's female athletes there who will inspire, enlighten and engage you,” Grainger tells the WSA.

“That's something to be really proud of!”

Q – Fans are absorbing women’s sport in record-breaking numbers across the UK and around the World. How significant do you feel the transformations you’ve witnessed are?

“The profile of female athletes and of women's events is bigger and better ever,” says Grainger.

“There's been so much to celebrate in recent years like the Lionesses’ which we talk about as a moment in time for football, our country and around the world as well.

“Football is very much our national sport and to see women and girls feel that this is sport for them is really important.

“Also, when I was growing up, I don't think I could have named who was in the cricket, football or rugby teams on the women's side, whereas now we can.

“And for the Olympic and Paralympic sports, it’s like a treasure trove of female athletes.

“There's a much greater engagement from the public and interest from them, but do I think we've got where we need to get to yet? No, I don't, but it’s certainly an exciting time.”

After three silvers Grainger finally secured her “dream” Olympic gold at London 2012, with Anna Watkins.

Q – New UK Sport research has shown that members of the pubic are overwhelmingly in support of athletes speaking out about issues beyond sport and in addition to your ‘Power by Purpose’ campaign the #SayPeriod awareness movement also helped break down barriers. How do you feel about the growth of the ‘athlete voice?’

“When I look back on my time as an athlete I knew incredibly impressive, intelligent, charismatic, driven, smart, passionate women who were doing sport and yet no one really spoke out about anything other than the sport they were doing.

“Since I retired one of the biggest changes is that people are using their platform for powerful effect and we’ve seen the rise of women athletes as role models and their impact.

“Athletes have a role to play in much wider societal issues in terms of speaking against sexism and racism, or voicing LGBTQ+ issues and the public wanting to hear their voices.

“They’re also talking about issues around women's health to huge broadcast television audiences and by being open about things which are very relevant to every woman out there suddenly it removes taboos.

“When you see your role models having those conversations, you feel that maybe I can have that conversation at school or at home and it’s really important to enable that safe space.”

Q – We know there’s equality in terms of finance and competition opportunities for women and men in Olympic and Paralympic sports, but how important do you feel it is that there is now equality when it comes specific research investment for women?

“Absolutely and I think it's such an obvious thing. You wonder how we've got to the 21st century before thinking, ‘oh gosh, women are different from men’ in some areas!

“There was a huge piece of research done leading up to Tokyo, which showed that 75% of female athletes had never had an actual sports bra fitting and over 25% were saying they found it uncomfortable and difficult to compete because a bra wasn't right.

“That’s a really simple thing to address and fix to help improve their performance.

“Women are 50% of our population and now 50% now of our international teams and therefore the research should be reflecting that.

“We've also got much more support now for athletes who want to become pregnant while they're still athletes.

“In my time, that would be the end of your career, whereas now they can be funded through the time they're pregnant and in the first nine months after having children.

“Coaches and everyone around them are encouraged to make sure that they can be part of their performance programme too, so it's not an endpoint.”

Q – Paris 2024 is just over a year away now. How excited are you about British prospects come next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games.

“The big thing with Paris, it’s the first Olympic and Paralympic Games since London 2012 that will effectively be in our time-zone.

“The accessibility to watch it, to follow it, or to be there in person will make it the best it's been for over a decade and that's thrilling.

“It’s really exciting to think all these all these brilliant stars will be on our doorstep during these inspirational moments and there's just so much to look forward to!”

Q – Finally, what does International Women’s Day mean to you?

“I kind of love and hate it in equal measure,” Grainger tells the WSA.

“I love the fact that it’s a moment to stop and celebrate woman it’s globally recognised and it’s important, but the thing that frustrates me is that it's needed.

“Wouldn't it be wonderful if every day was women's day and every day didn't need to be sort of standout moment, but then then we live and work in the world of sport where there's so much to celebrate.

“International Women's Day is something that pulls together the world and that's really important and very powerful.”


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