York successfully hosted the inaugural BUCS Women’s Football Festival at the Ron Cooke Hub on Friday.
The event, part of BUCS’ Women’s Football Week initiative, featured keynote speeches from BUCS Chief Executive Karen Rothery, This Girl Can campaign director Jo Drapier and York Sport President Cass Brown.
The hosting was awarded to York thanks both to the success of its women’s football club and the work of club president Ellie Whittaker with Marie Curie, BUCS’ official charity partner for the next two years.
The overarching theme of the day was female participation and leadership in sport. The telling of each of the speakers’ personal stories proved in different ways that gender should not, and indeed is not, a barrier to sporting achievement and enjoyment.
The opening plenary was delivered by Cass Brown. She echoed the Women’s Football Week’s aim to get 3,000 female participants into football by this March, and that the aim of Marie Curie’s alliance with BUCS was to fund a rugby team’s worth of cancer nurses in each region of BUCS competition.
Cass, York Sport President for the last two years, described some of her own experiences of gender discrimination in running for election as a Sabbatical Officer. She was generally positive about the direction of women’s sport at York, however, describing UYWAFC in particular as a “huge asset” to the York Sport Union.
Karen Rothery spoke for the most part about her own career in the business world before joining BUCS. Karen had been working in the garment manufacturing sector for 20 years before taking her first role in sport with England Netball, overseeing the introduction of the Sky Sports TV deal for netball’s top flight. She affirmed that she has “never thought she was worse than a man” when applying for a job and appealed for women in sport to have more “confidence and aspiration”.
Sport England’s Jo Drapier, the director of the highly successful ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, spoke about the role of the initiative in inspiring women to get active. Jo elucidated the chief reservations women have as regards sport, concluding that a “fear of judgment” was the main one. She believes that while having strong female role models at the top of sport is important, her campaign’s use of “real women” in their advertisements was crucial to its message.
After a lunch and networking break, the charitable cause- namely Marie Curie Cancer Care- was the focus of the second half. Kyla Collins, fundraiser in the York area, spoke about the essential palliative work done by the charity and the support given to grieving families, as well as some of the hair-brained schemes that fundraisers engage in to raise money. The event also saw the launch of a skydive in aid of Marie Curie.
Ellie Whittaker, Marie Curie Champion, brought proceedings to a close with an emotive speech about her own experiences of cancer. Ellie spoke about the loss of her grandmother, uncle and cousin to the disease and how this had compelled her to do something positive. After agreeing to donate £5 for every goal she scores this season, £35 has been donated to Marie Curie. A cheque for £350 was also donated to the charity by Football Development Manager Prathiv Kholia.
A coaching session for primary school children, led by Women’s Super League player Nicola Hobbs of the Doncaster Rovers Belles, followed at the York Sport Village.
Ellie spoke to Nouse at the end of the day: “It was amazing to hear from so many influential women today, and its an honour that we have been chosen to host such a prestigious event. I hope the festival will become bigger and better in the future.
“I’ve had a great year as President of the club (UYWAFC) and I can’t wait to see them grow and progress from here. Women’s sport at York is on the up and with Grace Clarke elected as York Sport President, this will only continue.”
Cass Brown was equally effusive: “It’s been an amazing day. I’m so glad that York were chosen to host this and it’s a testament to the hard work Ellie and her committee have put in over the last year.
“The football club have progressed brilliantly over the last year, and I don’t have enough words to say about how well they’ve done. I’m pretty sure they will be nominated for Club of the Year at the York Sport Dinner.
“Women’s sport is something we’re pushing hugely here. This event can be a catalyst going forward… we are focussing on women’s sport at Roses, and I’m also excited to see how Grace can take York Sport forward next year as a woman herself.”