Rugby World Cup winner Maggie Alphonsi knows what it takes as a female sports star to break through “barriers” and she wants to use her profile as a role model to inspire the next generation of talent.
Alphonsi came to national prominence as part of the England women’s side that celebrated World Cup glory in 2014 and, after a foray into the world of shot put, is now a highly respected pundit.
But her journey to become part of rugby immortality was not a straight-forward ride.
A lack of coverage and funding for women’s sports while she was attempting to break into the game, coupled with what Alphonsi described as a “stigma” attached to female participation at the time meant she had several challenges to overcome.
Alphonsi, speaking on behalf of Land Rover during a HITZ session at The Stoop to celebrate International Women’s Day, told Omnisport: “I had a lot of barriers. I guess there weren’t many women or girls playing the sport so it was a big challenge trying to get that level of respect being a female.
“Also, I grew up in a council estate, so the social-economic situation was different to others that played sports. I didn’t have large amounts of funds, it was hard financially supporting myself. Mum didn’t necessarily understand rugby or understand how it would help me get a job so those things had an impact, getting to training, getting to matches was very, very hard.
“Just generally women and girls playing sport I think people had a stigma around it. When you’re a young girl, not just a young girl, any young child, you start to think about body image – I had concerns about having muscle and so on. Nowadays what’s great is that there are a lot more role models out there so young girls are inspired by the fact of being athletic and strong, it’s not a bad thing – which I probably didn’t have that when I was growing up.”
— Women’s Day (@womensday) March 6, 2018
Land Rover is a key partner of HITZ; a national programme that uses the power of rugby to inspire and motivate young adults to get back into education or employment.
Alphonsi is hoping to use her status in the game to inspire those taking part in the programme, particularly as such a scheme was not in place when she was a similar age.
“When I was coming through at the age of 13, 14 there was absolutely nothing available and I found the sport by chance because my P.E. [physical education] teacher, a female rugby player, suggested I go to my local rugby club, which is Saracens,” she added.
“So, the young girls are incredibly fortunate to have a scheme like this because it gives them an entry point into the sport.
“The HITZ programme is very much working with young people and helping them become resilient, self-reliant and giving them confidence in education, normal working life and just to help them really, and using rugby to do that.”
— Maggie Alphonsi MBE (@MaggieAlphonsi) February 15, 2018
With Thursday marking International Women’s Day, Alphonsi is encouraged by the breakthroughs in terms of coverage and attention in women’s sport in England.
She believes the success of the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill at the 2012 Olympics in London, as well as World Cup wins for England women in rugby and cricket have done much to boost the profile of female stars.
“I think there has been a change in attitudes. Not just from the [Rugby] World Cup, I think probably from the 2012 Olympics with Jessica Ennis-Hill, Rebecca Adlington and so on,” she said.
“I think now young girls are seeing that being young, athletic and strong is not a bad thing. I think they’re inspired by that, then seeing us win the World Cup in 2014 and the women’s cricket team winning the World Cup in 2017 and the England netball team doing well, England’s women’s football team are doing well, so those things have helped change the attitude because there’s more coverage and more role models generally out there to look up to.
“That’s all had a big difference because there has been a change in attitude, not just in sport but in general.”
Maggie Alphonsi is a Land Rover Ambassador. Land Rover is a key partner of HITZ, the sport for change programme that uses rugby to motivate young adults. Follow @LandRoverRugby #WeDealInReal
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