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International Women's Day: Impact in Women's Sport - Hayley Fitzgerald

As part of our celebration of International Women's Day 2020 we have spoken to academics in the Carnegie School of Sport whose research is having a significant impact in women's sport.

IWD impact in womens sport Hayley

Has anyone ever told you, you skip just like a boxer?

There was a time when I’d just acknowledge this comment, offer a friendly nod and carry on skipping. Now though, I’m more inclined to say “I am a boxer”!

In her recent TEDxLeedsBeckettUniversity focusing on the Grey Planet Professor Jayne Raisborough argues that society needs to stop ridiculing age. This call made me think about our students, some have interesting views about ageing. For example, I remember a few years ago teaching a group of sports students and asking them to think about what kinds of activities they would offer to a group of people over 50. Apparently, all we are good for is indoor bowls and a cup of tea and a biscuit afterwards. Now, some people may be very happy with this kind of leisure activity. But it’s not for everyone.

According to Professor Raisborough, for those of us who are over 50 we need to be agents of change and go surfing. Well my choice wasn’t surfing but it is perhaps something not immediately associated with a 51-year young woman. Like other notable women from Yorkshire including Barbara Buttrick, Nicola Adams and Terri Harper, I am a boxer and boxing coach. Of course, it’s important to recognise this is not a ‘new’ sport for women. In fact, just like women’s football, women’s boxing has a long but less well-known history that has seen women prize fighting at fetes and fairgrounds. Internationally, official governing bodies of sport have taken much longer to sanction women’s boxing. Gendered power relations continue to influence provision and experiences in sport.

I may be over 50 but I am as serious about my training as the 18-year-old young men I train and spar with. I look for my coach’s approval as a marker of my progression, spend hours in front of a mirror working on my technique and shadow boxing. When I’m training, I obey without question, the round timer and will not stop until I hear the high-pitched, electronic ‘beep’, ‘beep beep’, ‘beep’. I strive to succeed in boxing just like everyone I train with. I agree with Marion Dunn, who writes in The Boxing Diaries: How I got Hooked, that age or gender should not define who boxes. Of course, the same could be said for any sport. As my boxing gloves and I embrace becoming part of the Grey Planet, I will continue to work with my students to help them better understand active ageing.

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Dr Hayley Fitzgerald

Hayley joined our University in September 2005 as a Senior Lecturer. She teaches on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules focusing on social and cultural aspects of leisure, sport and physical education.

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