Newham Girl Athletes Benefit from 2012 Promise
by Kimberly Springer
The Newham Sports Academy is offering elite-level athletic training to local girls.
Newham Sports Academy Members
It seems outdated to think that for a short time women were not allowed to participate in the modern Olympic Games. It was only four years after beginning in 1896 that women were admitted to compete in events such as tennis and croquet. Over a hundred years later women fully participate in events ranging from archery to wrestling to BMX racing.
The elite-level coaches at Newham Sports Academy want to maintain the heritage of sporting women. Girls are less than half the Academy's members, but they are already proving that girl power is alive and running toward Olympic stardom. Launched in October 2006, Newham Sports Academy gives non-elite athletes a shot at bringing home the gold in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Newham Sports Academy is located in one of the city’s most impoverished boroughs. Forty-three percent of the population is poor and working class. Producing winning athletes is no small effort. If over 60% of contemporary Great Britain medalists come from independent school backgrounds and they lack access to state-of-the-art training facilities, do athletes from a borough like Newham have any chance of breaking into the top ten rankings of their fields? Only with this ranking can athletes qualify for the resources National Governing Bodies offer.
Access is especially relevant for female athletes. They are more likely to be shortchanged by inequalities in funding and coaching. According to Liz Davidson, National Development Manager for the Women’s Sports Foundation, “There is a tendency for slightly lower funding” when it comes to subsistence grants for elite female athletes. Women receive approximately £1000 less than their male counterparts. If this inequality happens among elite athletes, the reality for non-elite athletes is starker.
Clarence Callender, 1988 Olympics silver medalist and native of Newham, hopes to correct these disparities by offering local youth members access to the benefits of the 2012 Games. Secondary school coaches identified athletes with potential and Newham Council held open days for any interested young person to try out for one of fifty Academy openings. More than 500 came out to be tested on their agility, strength and speed. There are currently 41 members, mostly training for track and field events, but also hoping to compete in fencing, judo, rowing, swimming, and table tennis. Callender proudly tells of the coming renovations to the Newham Leisure Centre’s facilities, such as a new ten-lane track and improved seating. “We, as British people, need to open our eyes to the possibilities,” he said as he showed off the beginning stages of a new conditioning weight room.
Coaching that works
Doja Atanda, 13, tried out for the Sports Academy because she saw an opportunity for a higher level of coaching. When asked what makes coaches like former competitive athlete Coral Nourrice different, she describes them as “harsh…but in a good way.” Doja has only been participating in athletics for two years, but has already built up an impressive list of cross-country achievements. She is looking forward to this July’s English Schools Track & Field Championships to see how being part of the Sports Academy has pushed her along. Triathlon competitor and Academy member Venita Dabhi, 16, agrees with Atanda about the quality of coaching, “They pay more attention to us and set specific goals for each of us.”
Once the girls are accepted as Newham Sports Academy members, the coaches work to bring them up to speed both physically and mentally in preparation for competition beyond their usual comfort zone of inter-club races. Advice and mentoring comes from psychologists, as well as sporting medalists and former Olympians Callender, Tony Jarrett, and Julian Golding. Free access to Newham’s sports facilities and bursaries toward equipment costs begin to take advantage of Olympic promises. Callender proudly tells of the coming renovations to the Newham Leisure Centre’s facilities, such as a new ten-lane track and improved seating. “We, as British people, need to open our eyes to the possibilities,” he said as he showed off the beginning stages of a new conditioning weight room.
Unlike the 40% of girls who, by age seven, claim not to be “sporty,” young women like Venita and her sister Neha Dabhi, 13, do not see obstacles to their sports involvement as females. Instead, they expressed a desire to show what Asian athletes can do. “People think Asians are only good at science or can be lawyers, but we want to show that we’re good at sports, too.”
Davidson, of the Women’s Sports Foundation, thinks Newham Sports Academy is on the right track. She believes that the coaches will inspire non-elite female athletes to achieve and, more importantly, improve the overall sporting environment. If the dedication and determination of the coaches and athletes are any indication, the Newham Sports Academy is already harnessing the benefits of the 2012 Games for one of London’s most neglected talent pools.
last updated: 19/05/2008 at 13:02