Out Gallivanting – Eilidh Macrae at the Netball Scotland Annual Conference

A few weeks ago I attended the first annual Netball Scotland Conference at the fabulous ‘Oriam: Scotland’s Sports performance Centre’ based at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh

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Given my position as lecturer in sport development at the University of the West of Scotland, and with my research focus on gender and sport, I’d been invited along to this conference to sit on an expert panel. The issue up for discussion was the future of netball in this Scottish setting, and specifically how to make netball the first choice sport for women and girls in Scotland.

This prompted a fascinating discussion led by the panel and the Netballl Scotland CEO Claire Nelson.  The delegates in the audience helped shape the discussion through their own experiences in netball, as they were all individuals active in the sport from grassroots through to elite level.

The types of events I usually attend are general sport policy or sport history conferences, both of which tend to have only a minority of female delegates, so it was refreshing to come to this event. This was such an inspiring conference environment where the majority of people in the room were experts in their sport and were having a real impact on sport in Scotland, and they were almost all women.

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Netball is thriving as a sport in Scotland, with many ‘bounce back to netball’ teams bringing people back to this sport as adults, and the international netball of today is maybe a bit different to the netball we all remember from school.

Treagus (2005) has argued that in the early 20th century netball taught girls how to ‘play like ladies’, i.e. with ‘restraint’ in their sporting efforts, and a reserved physicality. This is not what we’re seeing today. The rules of the game haven’t changed much but the women and girls pushing this game forward are aspirational and confident rather than reserved, and, testament to their efforts, they have been nominated in the ‘Governing Body of the Year’ category for the Team Scotland Awards.

So the panel discussion centred on the vision of how to make netball the first choice sport for women and girls in Scotland. I started off the panel discussion by focussing in on the issue of what it means for a sport to be the first choice for women and girls – what does that actually mean in today’s society?

There is plenty to note about the issues we have in Scotland trying to get teenage girls to be active, but what I wanted to stress here was what is required for a sport to be the first choice for an adult woman in Scotland today, especially given the growing success of ‘bounce back to netball’ and high numbers of adult women returning to the sport. If you have a life that is already ‘full’ of childcare responsibilities, work responsibilities, family responsibilities, social responsibilities, where is the space for sport? In my book I note that 1970s Britain was a place where women still maintained the bulk of any childcare responsibilities and this therefore had a key impact on their sport and physical activity participation rates, or their ability to juggle these childcare responsibilities:

“These continuities in exercise experiences [from the 1930s to the 1970s] can be attributed to the lack of public funding to support development of both public sports facilities and sport in schools, and the persistent nature of gender relations in the household, which, whilst changing gradually throughout these years, still defined women as mothers first and foremost and the primary caregivers in the home.” (Macrae, 2016)

Has much changed today? At our feminisms conference a few weeks ago Zoe Fairbairns, and the majority of our speakers, reflected on how far we’ve come with feminism, but certainly also how far we still have to go.

There are numerous social changes that still need to be addressed if we are to develop equality in sport, and maintain the inclusivity of the ‘sport for all’ mantra that was the original 1970s policy focus for British sport. My point to Netball Scotland was that they have a real opportunity to shape and promote their sport as one that recognises the barriers still faced by women and girls in sport today. They can try and work around these barriers, offering something different as a sport for women, until we have more balance in wider society that frees women to engage in sport all throughout their lives without gendered barriers.  I hope Netball Scotland, and all those working in sport today, can rise to the challenge.

Eilidh Macrae (University of the West of Scotland)

A day of culture – Raymond Depardon and Women’s Peace Banners at GWL (18 June 2016)

A few weeks ago (Saturday 18 June) my daughter Sylvie and I had a wee day of culture in Glasgow city centre.

Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, 1980

First off was a trip to see ‘Govan to Gdansk’ at Streetlevel Photoworks. This exhibition featured the work of Raymond Depardon, whose photographs of Glasgow in 1980 (an assignment commissioned by the Sunday Times) were never published. Well, until now. The photographs have received a great deal of attention and I’d looked at them online.

It was good to see the photographs displayed full size at Photoworks. Obviously there wasn’t space to display all seventy-five, but it was unclear why the images displayed had been selected (in saying that, I didn’t have time to read all the displays as I had a five-year-old with me). The photographs show both men and women, boys and girls. But, for me, the images of women are the most evocative (probably because I can remember Glasgow in the 1980s and shopping trips with my mum ‘up Glasgow’).

Through Depardon’s photographs we get a sense of what it was like to live in Glasgow in the early 1980s, what the city looked like and the results of the city’s slum clearance programme. This should have been completed by 1980 (according to the city’s quinquennial plan of 1961) but building work and demolition continued well into the 1980s. But against this background we see women pushing prams, girls in brightly coloured dresses, children playing and teenagers hanging about.

Source: ©Raymond Depardon, Glasgow, 1980, Magnum Photos.

The exhibition runs until the 31st of July and I would highly recommend a visit if you are in Glasgow. You can also view the images online and of course you can buy the book.


Women and the peace movement, Banner Tales at Glasgow Women’s Library

After lunch, it was on to Glasgow Women’s Library to see some of Glasgow Museum’s peace banners displayed at Glasgow Women’s Library as part of on ongoing project Banner Tales, a joint endeavour by geographers Johnnie Crossan and Dave Featherstone at the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Museums.

As is the case it all Banner Tales events, it’s great to see a piece of history on display and think about the people, organisations and communities that produced the banners, what causes they were promoting and why. But the real strength of these events is that those attending have the opportunity to hear first hand from these people, whether they made the banner, carried them at a protest or have some connection to the organisation or cause depicted.

At this event we heard from Magi Sale who organised the peace march in Scotland in 1982 and saw a display of photographs from the march. It was really enlightening to hear about her motivation for organising the protest, the effects it had on her own family (her ex-husband, while sharing her views, wasn’t so keen on her activities taking her away from home) and the long-term implications it has had in her life.

While Magi spoke, Sylvie read a bit of a book on the campaign for women’s suffrage from the display which seemed particularly appropriate for a trip to Glasgow Women’s Library. She soon lost interest and we had to leave Banner Tales early and missed the Govan Allsorts Community Choir (always excellent – if you ever get a chance to hear them).

I’m hoping this is just the beginning of Sylvie’s interest in women’s history – well, to be fair, she doesn’t really have much choice!

(Just in case you are wondering Sylvie has read over and approved me writing about her in this blog)

Keep an eye on the Banner Tales website, women’s history always features in their events.

(Valerie Wright, University of Glasgow)