Asha Philip has very strong views on women’s participation in sport. Laura Winter catches up with one of the stars of the #OneChallenge film series jointly produced by Virgin Money Giving and the Women’s Sport Trust to learn more
Asha Philip’s life is so sports-orientated that the concept of women not doing sport, or not enjoying it, feeling that it is off-limits to them, is totally alien to her. The Olympic sprinter has been a one-woman, walking, talking advocate of women simply exercising for most of the twenty-six years of her existence.
Even at an early age, Philip could not compute the reluctance of her peers to embrace sport. She recalls: “I went to an all-girls school and girls would find any excuse in the book to get out of PE. I would say, ‘Guys, come on, you want to keep fit? Or do you want to be an Oompa Loompa when you grow up? It’s up to you. But it’s the one physical hour of the week and you should be able to do it’.
“But they just moaned a lot. ‘I don’t do sport.’ Sorry, what does that mean? That’s where it starts, getting the best teachers to promote it and getting kids interested in sport, and being fit and healthy. That’s what we are losing in this country. Women are taking a back seat, getting an easy ride and that’s one thing I try to encourage in kids that I meet.
“I’m all about supporting women and getting more women to do sport. I force everyone I know to do sport. Even if you have a disability – yes, you can do sport. Sport is all I know and that is something I am really passionate about. I push everyone to do it. My mum, to this day, still plays netball. I’m just an ordinary girl from the East End of London, who has accomplished so much. The fact that I am here today shows that anyone can do it.”
Philip, one of the stars of the Virgin Money Giving-Women’s Sport Trust #OneChallenge videos, laments the lack of media coverage given to women’s sport and sportswomen that would inspire the next generation. The first British woman to win a global 100-metre title, when she crossed the line first at the World Youth Championships in 2007, believes women simply “need to be seen”.
She argues: “Men can’t live without women. They need to understand how powerful and inspirational we are. I want to see more. As an athlete I don’t see enough of them – I pick up the Metro [newspaper], and it’s just football. At least put the women in there! I don’t want to see just men. And I feel that’s making our society believe men are powerful, and women who work so hard are forgotten. They aren’t getting the recognition they need. It doesn’t make sense. I don’t get it.”
To the decision-makers in the media, she says: “I’ve worked extremely hard, yet you see past or see through me? And you’d choose a man over a woman?”
Philip’s cousins, Sasha and Kadeen Corbin, both play netball for England in a sport which enjoys regular live coverage on Sky. For Philip, this is the blueprint for how the media should cover women’s sport. “The more it is on TV the more people understand it,” she argues. “That is a woman-dominated sport and it should be pushed out there. These are women who work hard, work together and bond as a team. It has to be promoted more.
“Times are changing. It might take longer than my generation for it to be right, but for my kids or my grandkids, it may be different. But at least I know I was there to start, or help out in the beginning.”
The #OneChallenge video series, which aims to put women in the spotlight, focuses on overcoming adversity and aims to inspire people one challenge at a time. Philip is no stranger to adversity: aged just 17, the wannabe gymnast broke her leg in a trampolining training accident. She faced months of recovery, learning to walk again, before getting back on the track as though she’d never trained a day in her life.
But she came back stronger. “Sport grew me,” she said. “When I’m on the start-line it’s just me. Not my mum, not my aunt – it’s me. I have to learn to perform and take what I’ve learnt in training on to the track, and do it myself. But people don’t understand the hard work that goes on behind it.
“You have to be so strong, mentally. Sport is 80 per cent mental, 20 per cent physical. You may believe you are not physically capable of doing it, but it’s only your mind telling you that you can’t do it. That’s what I’ve learnt and that’s what I tell people. How much stronger I am comes down to that injury.”
To watch Asha Philip’s Virgin Money Giving-Women’s Sport Trust video with fitness guru and presenter Davina McCall, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.