Monday, June 29, 2015

How did you get into sport?

PIC via EosFitness
On this blog I usually focus on people who are succeeding at some level, but it's good to remember back when some of us started out.

That first wobbly long bike-ride, the first time a punch connected with pads, the first time you ran without heaving up your lunch too ... the good times.

This video below I spotted on Vimeo started today's post. Shot in Master Toddy's MuayThai gym in Bangkok - where British fighter Emma Thomas trains - it features two women who may be in their very first boxing class ever.

You can see the trainers just fully chilling out, no need to worry about getting tired or hurt in this class. But I love how encouraging they are - even as they struggle to hold back laughter at how ungainly the women are,  they are pulling them along the path.

Eventually these women can cross the barrier from puffing through a little exercise to doing sport. Women asked why they avoid sports often list feeling intimidated and unfit at the top of the list. That can be changed.

It's a great thing to watch as so many women think just because they gave on sport after school that it can never feature again. Or maybe it never featured. I often wonder where talented women cyclists or rowers or boxers come from as in school we are usually pushed towards team sports like netball or basketball. 

How did you get into your sport?

Callie Muay Thai in Thailand from Dale Riley on Vimeo.

(UPDATED - Tuesday as this post had not uploaded on Monday as planned)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Laila B - an actress gets in the boxing ring

Laila B PIC via Facebook

How often have you heard about an actor who really  beefed-up and took on a huge physical challenge to play a boxer? A lot, right? How often do those boxers actually fight? Hardly ever.

In this latest Kickstarter project on women’s boxing, the team at “Laila B” are taking a more hands-on approach.

David Williams from the production team contacted me with this intriguing blurb: “In the midst of an identity crisis, Laila B. crosses paths with a deceased woman and discovers her first pair of boxing gloves.”

Unlike documentaries featured here before this is a scripted story inspired by true events in producer and actor Amy DePaola’s life. If you’re into film, they say it’s done in “cinéma vérité” or truth style.

Main character Laila B gets attacked outside her apartment. At first distraught, she later hears of a similar attack which resulted in the death of another woman. This makes her re-assess her own situation and she grabs what she sees as a second chance at life with both hands. Or both gloves.
De Paola says: “Part of cinéma vérité is to shoot what is really happening and be a fly on the wall. So I’m actually training to fight, and I am really, really scared.”
Amy de Paola via Kickstarter
She will take part in a fight on October 7th as part of charity boxing event “Haymakers for Hope Belle of the Brawl”.  

Their Kickstarter goal for Laila B is $7,000 (€6,200) of which just over $4,000 is already raised.

So what are you paying for? The crew has just this week gone into production so that final push over the line is what they’re looking for help with at this stage.

People have different opinions on Kickstarter and its value. But I think if you don’t like it, then don’t get involved.

I spoke to VICE’s Lindsey Newall about crowdfunding in sport for "The Expensive Road to Thailand, Crowdfunding in MuayThai."

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

Accepting the Hijab in sports

Hijab sport womens sport women in sport Muslim
Egypt's Eman Gaber PIC Reuters via Mail Online

A basketball player who couldn't represent her country drew attention once again to the challenges facing Muslim women who wish to wear the hijab while competing.

But that incident during the Asian Games is actually a blip.  A very public blip but when you look around as more and more federations have accepted women’s choices.

And this interesting post from Shireen Ahmed over on Muslimah Media Watch points out Muslim women have quietly been going about getting their way in many countries  - just off the Western radar.
‘There have been many, many Muslim women competing in athletics at an International level in various tournaments and competitions — most of it, unreported.  Sertac Sehlikoglu, a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and my colleague at Muslim Women in Sports , has argued that a disproportionate amount of media attention has been garnered by hijab-wearing athletes over their non-covered Muslim sister athletes.’
That is fair – I know for myself anything outside the basic sports-clothing catches the eye. 

Maybe it bothers me less because I accepted input from Buddhism which is the religion dominating Muay Thai. I wore a mongkhon around my head at the start of fights, learned an elaborate dance to ‘seal off’ the ring before fights, learned how to “Wai” and respect teachers or judges in a way linked to a strong culture.

Religion and sport are linked in a very real way in Muaythai, and it rarely bothers non-Thai boxers; we just do it.

But for commentators who have never experienced religion and sport together, seeing women like the Afghani boxers in last week’s Wordless Wednesday can be confronting at worst, and newsworthy at best.

Sports Hijabs in the news:
My go-to blog for information on this topic is Muslim Women in Sports Sadly not up-dated very frequently now, it's still a great resource.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Women in sport and online media

PIC via action photographer Mira Geh Facebook page
The internet is such a dark place for many women but for women in sport it’s become the place to go for information and support. Online journalism speaks to us in a way pages of men-only sport in magazines or newspapers just can’t.

This week I came across an exciting video project from Thailand, and a new magazine from England. Twitter is great for these finds – I made a list here for some good accounts to follow.

The blurb for this start-up magazine app says: “Sports Liberated is a multi-media hub focusing on women and girls in sport. That’s right, WAGs. It comprises a website updated daily, a monthly free digital magazine and a weekly radio show. There’s also a TV pilot in the offing but that’s a whole other story.  A plethora of women in sport stories are just waiting to be unearthed and it is in the telling of these tales that Sports Liberated, in all its guises, focuses.”

Publisher Jo Gunston is a former gymnast and has worked with the BBC and the Sunday Times, some of her team also bring solid media credentials.

Unlike most women’s sites which start off as free blogs, Gunstun is going for it with a Kickstarter campaign. This launched a few days ago and they have almost £1,500 (€2000 roughly) already. You can donate or promote from that page if it rocks your boat.


American fighter Sylvie von Duuglas Ittu found this video below on Youtube and tweeted it over. It’s made by a student at Bangkok’s Assumption University Mantakarn Sornsungthong and seems to be her Communications studies thesis. (a little support from the featured gym and a beer company along the way too).

It’s subtitled, and will leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling about the power of sports!

Also if you're looking for another way to keep in touch with this blog, I've joined the BlogLovin community: Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: MuayThai Afghanistan

Wordless Wednesday - these are NOT taken by me, but are from the Facebook page of  the Afghanistan National Federation of MuayThai.

MuayThai Ladies Championship on June 25th in Kabul, Afghanistan. **

Two (unnamed) Afghani women do MuayThai in Kabul

Prize-giving including one girl wearing MuayThai shorts (right)

Two Afghani girls doing the 'Ram Muay' - dance to show respect to trainers before a fight 
More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.     And here on Image-in-ing

** Thanks to Rosy Hayward for spotting these.

Monday, June 15, 2015

TV show to star women's boxing champions

MuayThai coach Paul Kelly, TV presenter Vogue Williams, fighter Ferial Ameeroedien
Women's boxing and MuayThai are getting some mainstream attention in Ireland with a new documentary series. 

World Champion Christina McMahon and MuayThai Irish champion Ferial ‘Felix’ Ameeroedien are among the featured fighters as well as MMA fighter Catherine Costigan. Presenter Vogue Williams is no slouch either having recently won Bear Gyrll’s Mission Survive against tough competition including Olympian Kelly Holmes. 

That pic above was posted on MuayThai coach Paul Kelly’s FB page a few days ago. Ameeroedien is recently back from Hong Kong where she successfully fought for the I-1 title against Alex (Ching-Yee) Tsang. And you may have seen her on Enfusion 5 also, filmed out in Thailand last year. 

She told Irish MuayThai website MuayEireann: ‘To all the girls who want to achieve something and feel like they they’ll never get there: Don’t give up. I am a shy girl from the back arse of nowhere, a ghetto of Cape Town where people laughed at me when I said I wanted to fight. I did what I had to do, I worked hard and still do and now I fight the best females in the world at my weight category.’ 

Ameeroedien trains at Bridgestone Gym in Dublin, a great home for women fighters and very open to beginners if you’re thinking of taking up the sport. (Disclaimer – yes, I used to train there) 

Williams even bravely got into the ring with Coach Paul Kelly - see the video on her Instagram Vogue Williams here. 

At 41 McMahon is an inspiration to every woman who thinks her sporting days are behind her. When I interviewed her after her world title bout in Zambia just a few weeks ago, she said everyone expected her to lose to the 23 year old opponent Catherine Phiri. 

She said: ‘I know what it’s like to be 23, she has no idea what it’s like to be me. So I was ahead really, they didn’t know what to think about that.’ 

McMahon trains in Belfast and with her husband/ trainer Frick McMahon at their home gym in Carrickmacross in Monaghan. She's also a personal trainer and having seen her in action, you couldn't do better. Details on her FB page. 

I’m not sure when the show is going out on air, but will let you all know! 

Friday, June 12, 2015

How do you support women in sport?

Get out and support women's sport was the message from a conference in Dublin yesterday. Running on  social media #supporthersport the campaign wants to put bums on seats.

It made me think about the women who supported me when I was fighting - and who inspired me to keep going and now support other women.
  •  Lisa Houghton Smith from Bad Company gym in England used to train sometimes at Jittis; my head still remembers an instructive boxing-only sparring session. And we cornered together for a Thai woman Boon-Term Kitmuti who had her first fight totally against her husband's wishes in Rangsit stadium - you can see clips in this National Geographic doco.
  • Melissa from the Jungle Gym down on Koh Phangan was another inspiration. That gym now seems to be closed, but she had been the first female fighter to train at Jittis - really opened the path for me. 
  • Cat Bennet from England lived and trained for years in Bangkok. We bonded over our bruises and injuries and are still mates today. That links takes you to one of the few videos around from that time, shot at Loy Kratong festival fights.
We all worked together, even though for the most part the only women I met were my opponents! But the few women I met were such an inspiration. That's why we need to get more attention shining on athletes because they can be great role models.

When I went windsurfing a few weeks ago there was a German family doing it too, the woman/ mother was  maybe in her late 50s. By the 2nd day she was carrying a shiny black eye having walloped herself with the mast somehow but it didn't put her off. Her 20-something daughter was just so proud. 

This is one campaign I can really get behind. It's all very well complaining about the lack of coverage for women's sport or lack of sponsorship but the one thing sure to change that is making our support visible. Sponsors go where the money is, and some day sports editors will also go there in larger numbers.

The launch got great coverage to be fair, helped by stars like Sonia O' Sullivan and Claire Balding. The English presenter was quoted yesterday as saying: "As Billie Jean King put it, ‘if you want to be it, you have to see it.'. Watching women push themselves beyond what most of us would consider painful barriers is enlightening and inspiring.”

And isn't that the very crux of it? Why is it always men who are our heros? The campaign is also calling on us to bring our sisters, mothers, nieces and friends to our favourite sports - great idea.

    Join the campaign online using the hashtag  #supporthersport

    Wednesday, June 10, 2015

    Wordless Wednesday: Swimming

    Wordless Wednesday - fishing gear spotted after a (cold!) swim

    swimming fishing

    swimming west of ireland

    swimming fishing boats

    More Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.     And here on Image-in-ing

    Monday, June 8, 2015

    FIFA Women's World Cup Stickers

    Women' World Cup stickers PIC via Facebook

    Womens World Cup stickers PIC via Facebook

    Looking for attention for women's sports can sometime feel like rolling a square rock up a very steep hill. But one Swedish women’s football fan has managed to change her sport just a little. 

    This week the football (or soccer depending on where you are) Women’s World Cup takes place in Canada. Bad news is FIFA is torn apart with scandals, and the women are playing on astroturf. That second thing is pretty awful to be honest, you would ever hear of a similar men’s tournament not on grass. 

    But in one corner of football something good happened thanks to Elin Bjarnegård. 

    Have you ever seen little kids sitting in the playground avidly swapping football cards? You might have noticed they’re usually male players. 

    On July 5th 2014 Bjarnegård started a Facebook group with this post: 

    “Collector cards featuring football stars are very popular among young football fans. Consequently they are produced for every major football event - except for when the players are female. The company Panini has no current plans to produce cards for the FIFA World Cup taking place in Canada the summer of 2015. They have also indicated that they may be willing to reconsider, should there be an interest in collector cards featuring female football stars.”

    Almost 2000 people joined with many others advocating in their own countries. And now the stickers exist. 

    Hilariously the FIFA/ Panini statement made zero mention of the pressure they were under. Just this sideways acknowledgement:

    Panini’s Peter Warsop said: “We have already had many fans of the game reaching out to us from all over the world in anticipation of a sticker album being launched and we are delighted to be providing this to them.”

    You can find out where to buy the cards and read back on how the campaign developed on Bjarnegård’s page simple called:  We want collector cards for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup

    Thank you to the Norwegian reader who sent me a link to that page!