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Reader's Column: Girls need Sporting Role Models

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Naomi Cartwright from London writes about why we need more female sporting role models to inspire girls to take up sport.

Do you still remember what you wanted to be when you were younger? I wanted to be an Olympic Gold medalist. Whilst it is slightly disappointing now to realise that will probably never happen, I have loved every minute of the 2012 Olympics. From the very British Opening Ceremony to the overwhelming support for all our athletes now that the games are actually under way and the worries about public transport and ticketing grievances been forgotten, well apart from the empty sponsors seats…

Team GB has done amazingly well. Even when our athletes haven’t won medals, it must still be an incredible feeling just to compete, representing your country in an event that brings together the best of the best in the world. That’s what I’d tell my eight year old self anyway whose ambition for gold seems a little lofty when your realise just how dedicated these athletes are and how hard they train. Sport is quite literally their whole lives.

The participation of women and the successes of the female British athletes has been in the media a lot recently. I still can’t get my head round the fact that this is the first year that every country has sent female athletes to compete. It also seems hard to imagine that women were only allowed to take part in some Olympic sports, such as shooting as recently as 1984. That’s the year I was born.

We need more exposure on TV and in the media so that we get to hear about women in sport

I was in that rare 1% of girls who always loved PE at school – it might not have been particularly cool but I could live with that. I’m naturally competitive and have always enjoyed winning, but that’s not what I love most about sport. It’s the challenge, pushing yourself and knowing you can always aspire to be better. That said I’ve often learnt more from my sporting failures over the years than my successes. In my first national cross-country race I came 5th from the back. Out of 360 other girls. Why? The course was a mud bath and I wasn’t wearing spikes (the little studs runners wear on the balls of their trainers to help their grip). It was my first proper race and before that I didn’t even know what spikes were. But I kept going, finished the race anyway and promised myself I wouldn’t be so unprepared again!

I still love sport and have played with the same netball team for almost five years in London. I love being part of a team, working together and relying on each other even when it means dragging myself down to the courts to play a game in the freezing cold rain. Playing sport keeps me fit and healthy but it’s also the perfect antidote to a busy day in the office, the chance to focus on what’s right in front of me and switch off from everything else.

Weirdly although I consider myself sporty, I don’t normally watch much sport on TV. The Olympics is the exception and I find myself enthralled by events I barely understand the rules of. It makes me wonder why I leave Sky Sports to my boyfriend normally. Perhaps if there was more emphasis on women’s sport on TV, or there was less focus on sports with overpaid, often-dubious male role models I’d be more interested.

The Olympics has been a fantastic showcase for Team GB’s female athletes. Strong, confident, dedicated women at their physical peak with healthy body shapes. It’s not that we need more women like this to inspire the next generation, there are plenty of women like that around, we just need more exposure on TV and in the media so that we get to hear about them. It shouldn’t take an Olympic games to inspire little girls like my eight year old self to take up a sport.

Do you agree? Share your views in the comments below.

Picture credits: Rex Features

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