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Report by Julie Rea on recent Sport in the Community Conference, Women in Sport & Mental Health in Sport Workshops

On Wednesday night Claire McIlwaine and I attended the Sport in the Community Conference at the National Football Stadium at Windsor Park. The conference was organised by Belfast City Council and the club was invited to attend by Cormac McCann. 

The evening began with talk from the keynote speaker, Michael Arends. He shared his experience of how his football club (SV Werder Bremen) became one of Europe’s leading clubs in the delivery of social responsibility programmes. The club have successfully integrated themselves into the community through delivery of wide range of initiatives including disability, environmental and ethnic minority programmes.

Next on the agenda was the first of two workshops. The first workshop was of particular interest to Claire and I, Women in Sport (20×20 Campaign). Mary O’Connor (CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport) explained the vision of the new 20×20 campaign which is an all-inclusive movement to shift Ireland’s cultural perception of women’s sort by 2020 with:

A 20% increase in media coverage of women in sport

A 20% increase of female participation at all levels of sport, from playing the right through to organising and managing.

A 20% increase in attendance at women’s sporting events

The campaign is using #if she can’t see it, she can’t be it and it showed very powerful video of girls aged between 10 and 12 from different sports and not one of them could name a female role model.  

NI Sports Forum facilitated a very useful discussion about how clubs and National Governing Bodies can get involved. As always, the hurdles for getting women involved are the same no matter what the sport. Lack of confidence, difficulty in finding time with family commitments and for many young women it is just not ‘cool’. We were given lots of advice about using social media such as scheduling the time of your posts to maximise exposure, tweeting during an event and using hashtags. 

The second workshop that we attended was about Mental Health in Sport. Pat McGibbon (former Manchester United and NI International) spoke about his own personal story about how he was inspired to become a mental health ambassador and set up his charity ‘Train 2be Smart@ which aims to promote positive mental health and wellbeing in sport. What I found interesting about this was how other sports, particularly football is so reliant on coaches and because of this there is very clear developmental pathway whereas with cycling although pathways exist for youth riders, they would be a lot harder to identify. A less structured approach can be beneficial, but it would be good to have a bit more structure within the club. This could make addressing mental health issues easier to identify at an early stage.

This was a very enjoyable evening. I have attended a lot of meetings since I have taken on the role as Chairperson  in the hope that I can give equip myself with the knowledge to do the role justice and for the benefit of Phoenix Cycling club