06 March 2023
If you asked anyone when I was a child to describe me, they would have said sporty and probably football crazy. The majority of my memories were made outside my house, in my front garden, either after school or during the summer holidays. Me and all my friends from my road, playing football, cricket, tag, you name it!
It’s probably worth noting that I was the only girl among this group of 10, sometimes 15 boys. On top of that, I am Indian, and so being an Indian girl, outside playing sports, with boys, was not considered the norm. I heard my fair share of ‘You’re really good at football for a girl’ and ‘You must be a tomboy’ because I couldn’t be a girl that liked playing sports?
I’m very grateful to have two parents who encouraged me to pursue my passions. They never let anyone else get in the way of what made me happy, and what I wanted to do.
However, I recognise that not everyone has had the same type of support.
- Out of 1.3 million teenage girls, 68% said that a fear of feeling judged prevented them from taking part in sport, while 61% said they lacked confidence (Women in Sport, 2022)
- 2.4 million fewer women than men strongly agree they find sport and exercise enjoyable and satisfying (Sport England, 2023)
- 40% of the women working in sport feel they are valued less than men in the workplace because of their gender (Women in Sport, 2021)
From my own experiences, and learning about the experiences of others, promoting sport and physical activity, especially among women and those of an ethnic minority – has always been important to me. I knew when I finished university, this was what I wanted to do with my work, but I didn’t know how.
My first role in coaching was for a FA Weetabix Wildcats programme at Featherstone Sports Centre. Here, I was offered a fully funded Introduction to Football Coaching qualification by the Middlesex FA in January 2022 as part of the Women’s Euro 2022 Legacy. This course not only gave me a qualification to receive paid work as a coach but opened doors and experiences which have allowed me to create a career in sports development for myself. A career in which I didn’t know if I deserved a place.
In the last year, I’ve had the chance to work at my local school sports partnership delivering a range of sport events and competitions to hundreds of young people, coach at my local women’s football team and project manage the initiative ‘Seeing is Believing’ with Indian Gymkhana FC which promotes football to the south Asian female community.
Most importantly, it’s allowed me to be a role model, to build my skills, knowledge, and confidence to be able to inspire young girls and women. It’s put me in a position to create positive experiences that allows them to believe that sports and physical activity is for them. That they have a part in this space, and they are wanted and appreciated. Not only to take part in sports, but to support them with sports as a career.
Importance of allies
Being a south Asian woman in a white and male dominated space has often led me to wonder if I am good enough. Can I do this? Do I have a place here? I’ve been fortunate to know people who have a progressive mindset and recognise their power to support other females in sport.
I am grateful to the men as well as women who have opened the door for me, giving me the space to learn and experiment, inviting me to programmes and opportunities that help my growth, and who have become mentors for me.
I also believe in the power of visibility – whether that’s in the media, in boardrooms, on the pitch, in schools, or at home. We all can play a role in changing attitudes and breaking stereotypes. Seeing women take strides gives us the confidence and that boost to take that next step, however big or small.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but the movie Bend it like Beckham left a lasting impact on me and I could relate to the difficulties the main character Parminder, was facing. The timeless movie explores cultural and societal expectations and attitudes to women in sports that females had to face each day and so much more. A movie released before its time, where 20 years later women’s football boomed – it was one of my favourite movies and it still is.
Fast forward over a year, I am currently completing my UEFA C License, funded by Sporting Equals as part of their Future Female Leaders programme, and I am three months into my role as Sports Programmes Officer with London Youth.
In the London Youth Sports Team, we currently run our flagship Getting Active Movement programme and work in collaboration with partners to deliver events and festivals to promote female participation, such as the Get Girls Onside Festival delivered last summer and the Good 4 Girls Project. We make sure our programmes aim to improve young women’s physical and mental wellbeing and give them the skills and experiences they need now, and for the future success.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #EmbraceEquity. At London Youth, we strive to challenge inequality by championing youth work and working with community youth organisations across the city.
These are few of many ways that we can embrace equity to develop ourselves and others as individuals and close the gap. My life has been about breaking stereotypes and overcoming barriers, so I hope to continue this with my work at London Youth and to allow young Londoners to do the same.
You can read more about our work here, in our 2021-22 Sports Impact Report.
You can watch a short documentary on the legacy Bend it like Beckham left and the impact it continues to have, here.
– Radhika Kalia, Sports Programmes Officer