Category Archives: Interviews

lacrosse

From ice hockey to lacrosse: Jussi Grut’s sporting journey

Jussi Grut has a hectic existence as he balances being a full-time second-year Journalism student at the University Arts London in Elephant and Castle with a career in Premiership Lacrosse.

Up to the age of six he was living in Canada and playing ice hockey. “I when I was three and I carried on playing until last year pretty much ,but when I was about 14 or 15, I watched a game of lacrosse in Canada and thought ‘I want to give this a try’,” he recalled.

“It was something on the side that was more for fun as the Ice hockey was pretty serious for me, but when I realised that I had gone as far as I could with hockey, I just started playing more lacrosse.”

It was a sporting switch which has paid off, and the 22-year-old is now receiving funding from the UAL Sports Scheme for elite athletes, despite the university not having a lacrosse team.

Jussi, who plays as a goalie, explained: “I was playing on the England Universities Lacrosse team, and people were putting the team sheet on their social media feeds. One of the sports guys at UAL saw it someone’s Instagram and messaged that person to tell me to get in contact about signing up for us this programme the university has.

“I didn’t even know that it existed until I got this message on Facebook that said you should sign up and we will see what we can do.”

Inspired

Growing up in Canada, where ice hockey is akin to a national religion, Jussi’s first sporting hero was Roberto Luongo, at the time the starting goalie for the Vancouver Canucks.

“Luongo was also Team Canada’s goalie,” he explained. “Every time I needed to get new leg pads, I would get the same ones as him, that kind of stuff, and he was just a nice guy. The way he talked to his team-mates inspired me, and that taught me how I’d approach talking to mine.

“When I started getting into watching professional lacrosse in the States, I started following a guy called Jesse Schwartzman, who is one of the best goalies in the Major League Lacrosse. Also, when I was about 16, I started going to training sessions with the Wales national squad, not with any hopes of making the team but to just to improve, and two of the goalies were really good guys. Not professionals who were playing in the States, like Schwartzman, but at the time it was like wow!”

With no UAL lacrosse team to represent, Jussi has been playing for the London Raptors, who are currently bottom of the table after four defeats in four games, most recently losing 11-5 to Hampstead, who won the league last season.

Though they will have a real battle on their hands to stay in the division after winning promotion last season, the Raptors can hope for a better 2020 as they have already faced Walcountain Blues, Hitchin, Spencer and Hampstead – three of the four finished in the top four last season.

A normal week for the goalie consists of going to the gym twice sometimes three times, then he has training with the London Raptors squad on Friday nights in Canada Water. Matches tend to be on Saturdays, while on a Sunday there are try-outs – he aims to attend those held by Wales.

‘The dream’

National recognition is on his radar, and when he discusses his biggest achievement so far he also lays out his ambitions.

“Getting scouted by Canada was big for me because that was the thing that I had set my sights on since I was a young hockey player. The dream was I want to get out of England and I want to play, and I did that. For lacrosse, though, I think it is just the next thing that comes along will be my greatest achievement.

“So far, it would be making the England universities team, or last year being in the Wales squad for the World Cup in Israel. I didn’t end up going because they took two goalies, not three, but it would have been a lot of money to go. I could have gone but I didn’t want to because it is self-funded and would have cost almost three grand to go and watch, basically.”

With the European Championships coming up next summer in Wrocław, Poland, the 22-year-old is hoping to make it again into the Wales squad but this time he believes he will be ready if he gets the call-up.

“I’m quite confident that I can make it, but as a goalie, there are a lot of different factors that coaches could take into account. For example, the first cut has already been done and they have cut it down to, I think, six of us, and I would say that I’m in a good position within those six. It depends whether the coach wants experience or a mix of younger and older players in terms of whether I make it to the tournament or not.”

Advice

On the global stage, the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) has met with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to lay out a way getting Lacrosse into the Olympic Games. Among followers of the sport, there is an expectation that by 2028, when Los Angeles host the Olympics, lacrosse will be back in the Games programme for the first time since 1908.

Jussi says: “I think if that happens then you never know how far the sport can grow. People might see it and be like ‘Oh yeah, let’s give that a try’. Team GB would be good team, and if it was on TV and kids in the UK saw British players competing against the best teams and doing well, then that would encourage them to start.”

For any interesting in giving lacrosse a go, Jussi says: “Just give it a go. I understand that it is not for everyone, but just go into it with an open mind. You might have to put up with a bit of stick to start with, and it is not something that you can pick up instantly. I remember when I first started, it was really frustrating because of the skillset that you need to even begin to start playing competitively.”

He added: “Once you get past that hurdle, it is amazing. It’s best if you can try and find clubs that are accommodating. Find one that has a second or a third team with its own training session, or even go and play with some of the mixed lacrosse teams. There is one called Rainbow Rexes, I think they play on Clapham Common every Sunday afternoon and it is just a pick-up, no contact, just throwing the ball and having a good time playing lacrosse.

“Once you have mastered the basics then you can look to move up into a bigger team, but if you don’t know how to throw or catch, then a Premiership team doesn’t want you there.”

Lacrosse photo by Doug Schveninger via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Scott Davies: I lost a quarter of a million pounds

When I watched Scott Davies playing for Oxford United back in 2014, it looked like he was living the dream. What was really going on in his life, though, was more like a nightmare.

Aylesbury-born Davies discovered his talent for football as a child and was on the books at Watford and Wycombe Wanderers before being signed by Reading in 2002.

He came through the ranks with the Royals as a dynamic midfielder with a good eye for a pass. He was briefly mentored by the highly-thought of now-Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers before breaking into the first team for a few games in 2009 after several loan spells elsewhere.

“It was a massive eye-opener training under a manager who, for me, is one of the best in the world. Even back then, he was different to other managers I had, ” says Davies.

From the outside looking in, it would seem he had the world at his feet. But, unbeknown to anybody else, he was going through a hellish gambling addiction that would soon overwhelm him and do long-lasting damage to his football career.

The downward spiral

From an early age, Davies had a competitive edge that made him crave success away from the pitch as well as on it, and that led him to the local betting shops.

“I was watching the ball go round on the screen at night and the room would be spinning.”

“I started gambling at 16 years old. I used to go into the bookmakers, never really got ID’d and was earning money for the first time. I was only on an apprenticeship, earning £50 week, but I was losing that within 15 or 20 minutes of getting paid,” says the 31-year-old.

“It completely got hold of me and then over the next few years, my football started to do really well. I scored 25 goals in my first 50, 60 games so was rewarded with a new contract where I went from £18,000 to £130,000 a year. I never got any life skills on how to look after money, and my bets just became bigger.”

Before he knew it, Davies’ debts started to pile up and he was beginning to struggle to find money for bills. Something that started as innocent fun was starting to become an issue affecting his life both on and off the pitch.

“I just couldn’t put my phone down. It was a necessity to stay up and gamble rather than get sleep and relax before a tough session every morning,” he recalls.

“There were times when I was playing the roulette machine so often, I was watching the ball go round on the screen at night and the room would be spinning. I would lean out the side of my bed and be sick because of the motion sickness.

“I used to bet on Hungarian handball or horse racing in Chile at four o’clock in the morning. I’d bet on badminton, table tennis; whatever would keep me stimulated throughout the night, I’d bet on it.”

Rock bottom

After leaving Reading in 2011, Davies attempted to revive his career at Crawley Town and Oxford. But by 2015, his gambling had spiralled out of control and he’d dropped into non-league with Dunstable Town after being let go by Chris Wilder’s Oxford a year earlier.

“I felt so worthless that I didn’t actually want to be here anymore.”

With his football dream in tatters, Davies was teetering on the edge of disaster.

“By that time I’d lost my career, I’d lost a quarter of a million pounds and spent about £50,000 of my parents’ money also,” the Bucks-born footballer explains.

“I got to the state of mind where I was suffering from depression, I wasn’t enjoying football. It wasn’t important to me anymore because I didn’t have a nice lifestyle off the pitch that enabled me to enjoy playing.

“In the end, I felt so worthless that I didn’t actually want to be here anymore because I had nothing to live for. It was a case of needing to sort things out before I ended up dead, I guess. “

Davies, by his admission, was a “closed book” and it was only until it really hit home just how much his addiction was affecting, not just him, but the people around him, when he took the first steps towards recovery.

“I was in the bookies one day and it all hit home when I turned round at the door and saw my mum in floods of tears, crying her eyes out. I looked at her and she looked so weak and vulnerable and for the first time in my life I thought ‘I can’t put her through this anymore’.

“I used to find her on the computer in the middle of the night googling how to help people with gambling addictions. It just wasn’t a nice place to be and my mum’s state of mind was probably just as bad as mine. I’ve got the best parents in the world and to put them through it wasn’t fair.”

The recovery

Davies checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic in 2015, opened up about his issues and, as of now, is four-and-a-half years without a bet. He encourages others in a similar position to do the same.

“Speak to someone. It’s quite scary, but not many people have a safe space to turn to and have that person who can listen and doesn’t judge. I had that for the first time when I checked into rehab,” the ex-Reading trainee recalls.

“I had a guy there who was an ex-footballer and a gambling addict. I was like ‘hallejuah, you understand me’. I’d say get it off your shoulders because a problem shared is a problem halved; that’s an expression that I live by and think it’s so true.”

Davies’ new role has allowed him to keep very famous Kompany.

Davies is using experience as a way of helping others avoid the same mistakes and now works with Epic Risk Management, a gambling harm-minimisation consultancy.

“I became the public speaker for the rehab clinic that I went to. They asked me if I’d be interested in going round and telling my story. I didn’t realise that I had a knack for it,” he says.

“I was then approached by Paul Buck, who is the CEO of Epic Risk Management. He just asked me if I wanted to run the new project that we’ve got and, for me, it’s been an absolute blessing. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the world.”

Davies is striving to educate players, both young and more experienced, on the perils and long-term consequences of gambling, and still thinks there’s a lot more work that can be done.

“Something I always say at all the clubs I go and talk to, if you have a problem with your groin or hamstring or you roll your ankle, who do you go and see? Straight away they say the physio.

“Then I say if you’ve got a problem with something that’s going on in your mind, who do you go and speak to? And they look puzzled. It’s just something we need to take the attached stigma away from.

“There is a lot of work going on by betting companies [to prevent addiction], but it is just the start of a very long road. Hopefully a successful one.”

Image credits: Epic Risk Management (@epicpgc). Follow Scott on Twitter.

Jamie Speight on the life of a journeyman boxer

Sport may just be about winning for some – but for former Southern Area champion Jamie Speight, boxing involves so much more than that.

Most young, up-and-coming fighters dream of lifting world title belts aloft or earning Floyd Mayweather money, but reality for the vast majority can ultimately be quite different.

After eight victories in his first eight fights as a professional, Jamie Speight probably had similar ambitions. But, with 26 more defeats than victories on his record in a career now spanning a decade, he has a different perspective on his role within the sport these days.

Speight – a scaffolder by trade – usually fights out of the away corner and is what many would describe as a ‘journeyman’ boxer – a role commonly misunderstood, especially in an era where just one loss can devastate fans’ perception of a fighter.

By his own admission, Speight was a “wimp” as a young kid; often pushed around and bullied by his classmates. He used boxing as a way of toughening himself up.

“I was one of these quiet, polite kids who didn’t want to upset or hurt anyone. I got bullied by the same five kids every day – it was just nit-picking, name-calling, not letting you in the group, being picked last for everything. And then it started to become a bit more physical as time went on, ” he says.

“My old man said ‘the school’s doing nothing about it, it’s time to take you down the boxing gym’. It was just to toughen me and so I could defend myself and I never looked back.”

From contender to away fighter

After a solid amateur career, Speight turned professional in 2009, defeating Pavels Senkovs on his debut in Bristol, and going on to win his next seven contests.

He went on to box a close fight with a current world champion in Josh Warrington in 2013, and picked up Southern Area belts in both the featherweight and super-featherweight divisions.

However, back-to-back defeats on Sky Sports in 2017 made Speight reconsider the direction of his career.

“I boxed Reece Bellotti for the WBC Silver International title live on Sky Sports at the O2 Arena. It was a good fight. Reece is a good kid, he broke my ribs in the sixth and stopped me in the eighth,” says the former English title challenger.

“After that, I got another shout for a Sky Sports show at the York Hall, where I boxed Joe Cordina. I knew Joe prior to this fight, I’d sparred him when he was an amateur, it was 50-50 and a good spar, it went well. I took the fight thinking I’d be fighting the Cordina I’d sparred as an amateur, but he was so much better.

“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent… the best time to learn is on the job.”

He continues: “That’s the point where I went ‘that’s me, then’. I’d done my best, the best I can possibly do. I just thought ‘this is where I’m at now, I’ve had a good roll of the dice, I’ve had a good time, so let’s now earn some money and try helping some people along the way’.”

The role of the ‘journeyman’

The ‘journeyman’ role is an often confused and yet crucial job. You’re not necessarily there to win, but you can’t be a bad boxer. You’ve got to be durable, tough, technically sound and avoid getting stopped regularly in order to keep the British Boxing Board of Control off your back.

Speight ticks those boxes, although the term ‘journeyman’ doesn’t necessarily describe his role in the best way. He’s more of an in-ring mentor to younger fighters coming through the pro ranks.

“More often than not, if you’re ringside for one of my fights, you’ll hear me speaking to my opponent. I’ll be saying ‘tuck that left hand up a bit more, don’t do that, don’t do this,’ and try and give them advice, as the best time to learn is on the job.” the 31 year-old explains.

Speight travels here, there and everywhere, all over the country, trying to pass his knowledge and experience onto rookie pros with only a few fights to their name, despite never really being given much chance of glory in the ring himself.

“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me”

“You’ll hear people say this a lot: ‘Boxing is the most corrupt sport on the planet’ and that’s one of the truest statements ever made. I’ve had promoters tell me ‘Don’t beat this kid, move him round, don’t beat him, don’t hurt him’. You’re actually given instruction on what to do and what not to do,” says the veteran pro.

Just imagine Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asking Jurgen Klopp to kindly go easy on his current Manchester United side… And that’s not even mentioning the limited notice some of these ‘journeymen’ get for some fights.

“The shortest I’ve had is when I was at home on a Saturday morning, dropped my partner at work, I came back, just picked up my bag to go to the gym, my phone rang and it was my manager.

“He said ‘I need you to fight, get up to London [from Plymouth].’ I got changed, got straight in the car up and boxed that afternoon. So it can be that late, up to a few hours’ notice,” recalls the experienced fighter.

The future

If the grassroots, small hall level of boxing can verge on the farcical at times, what keeps people like Speight in the sport?

“The best way I can describe it is the sport is like a drug. And it’s the most addictive drug you’ll ever have. It’s what I call living,” he says.

“I can have a fight and come out with blood, cuts, bruises. But I know I’m alive, I feel alive, I feel high on adrenaline and just generally happy. You’ll never see a happier fighter than me.”

Despite his love for the sport, boxing is a notoriously dangerous game. Many fighters have paid the price for going on too long, and the recent, tragic passing of American boxer Patrick Day underlines and emboldens the peril involved in the sport of boxing.

“If I’m being foolish, I can make it last as long as I want because I’ve not burnt the candle at both ends, I’ve not been out every weekend like a lot of fighters,” says Speight.

“The more and more these things happen, the more it puts the fear of god into you. I value my life more than I value boxing, as much as I love it. I’m going to finish this year, give it one more after that and then that’s me.” he wraps up.

It’s likely that the role of fighters like Speight will never truly be understood. Fans will look at his record, see 41 defeats and go ‘he must rubbish’. But without guys like him, the sport as we know it doesn’t exist.

‘Journeymen’ keep the sport ticking over and they deserve a lot more respect.

Photo credit: mikeyray2013 via Instagram. You can follow Jamie Speight on Twitter.

‘Boxing for an athlete is a lose-lose’

British boxing has undergone a major resurgence in recent years, with the likes of Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury thrilling global audiences and enjoying huge rewards for doing so.

But the story of Dwayne Jones highlights the darker side of what former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis called the ‘sweet science’.

A good prospect in the light-heavyweight division, Jones is undefeated in five professional contests, but he hasn’t fought in over 14 months and has informally announced his retirement from boxing at the age of 26.

He told Elephant Sport: “I lost the hunger. When you turn pro, you maybe start to see hundreds of thousands of pounds and this glamorous life, but I wasn’t seeing that.

“Plus I was losing my appetite to fight because [I feel like] I’m a bully, and even if I fight someone on my level, what am I fighting for? I’m not getting paid life-changing money and I can get knocked out, or they can get knocked out.”

‘Dirty sport’

Jones continues:  “When you come into boxing, you don’t realise how dirty it is; everyone is in it for themselves, it’s a dirty sport, trust me. Look at it like this – you have journeymen who fight; they know they are going to get knocked out.

“But fighters like me train to some extreme level for pence and at any time I could lose my life or knock someone out.

‘Promoters don’t fight and they can promote until they’re 100. I can only fight until I’m 40, maybe. So in that time I have to train so hard, what for? Boxing for an athlete is a lose-lose.”

‘Even when I’m on top like AJ I’m going to be knocking people out who I don’t hate and potentially giving them brain damage, and all they are trying to do is feed their family. What kind of job is that?’

Some might say that, for a fighter with so much promise, Jones is being impatient in ending his boxing career so soon.

But for many fighters like him, especially those from humble beginnings, financial security is the be-all and end-all of the fight game.

“Many fighters come into boxing with that [money] aspiration. But they don’t know what they are signing up for. If you look at AJ for example, he’s a multi-millionaire; then you look at [his promoter] Eddie Hearn – who do you think has more money?

“AJ is the biggest boxer in the country and he still earns less than a promoter, because promoters can do 60 shows a year, taking 20% of each fighter’s purse, Hearn ain’t getting punched in the face.

“As a fighter you can only fight three times [in a year] maximum, and in between that you’re training – and you don’t get paid to train. Training is the hardest part, waking up at 6am to run, eating bland food; everything you put in your body has to be checked.

“And even when I’m on top like AJ I’m going to be knocking people out who I don’t hate and potentially giving them brain damage, and all they are trying to do is feed their family. What kind of job is that?”

Hunger

Jones admits he started boxing “for all the wrong reasons”.

“I never really had a hunger to fight, and I just can’t be arsed to train, to be honest. To be a top level fighter, you have to train hard, and I have no incentive. So I’m setting myself up for failure.”

Despite his decision to quit the ring, Jones can look back on a successful time in the sport which included sparring with some of England’s best prospects.

British welterweight Chris Kongo

‘I was training at a high level, sparring with some good guys at the time, people who coming through the ranks.

People like Chris Kongo, Joshua Buatsi, Richard Riakporhe, Isaac Chamberlain. I even sparred with Anthony Yarde for one round, but he was a beast, he hits hard.

‘To me all of those guys can [get to the top], but Yarde was an animal, non-stop attack, like I was landing shots and he was still coming forward.

‘Riakporhe is cruiserweight, so that was actually better for me because in my mind I was thinking if he beats me it’s because he’s bigger so it made me fight with less pressure.

“Kongo he will be a great fighter, in fact if I had to put money on it I’ll say he will go the furthest.

“He was probably the hardest fighter to fight I’ve ever had to fight. I like to land punches; if I don’t land then I get disheartened, and I was swimming when I was fighting him. He is great defensively.

‘Buatsi I sparred with years ago, like before all of the other guys and he dropped me so, it is what it is.”

On a whole it is a great time to be a British boxing fan due to the emerging talent coming through and it will be interesting to see who goes the furthest.

With that said, boxing has in Jones lost a fighter who could have been a real star.

Q&A with BT Sport presenter Jules Breach

It’s a sunny Wednesday afternoon in February. Britain is experiencing its ‘Indian Winter’ and I’m walking to the Market Place Bar in London’s Fitzrovia to meet sports presenter Jules Breach, fresh off the train from Liverpool.

I’ve known Jules for just over a year and I’ve been able to see her grow as a TV presenter but also as a person. I wanted to interview her to get her own insight into her life and hear her views and opinions on challenges in presenting sport as a female.

As I arrive, she’s got a little suitcase and is wearing a tiger print shirt, which makes her even easier to spot in a relatively empty bar.

She orders a hibiscus and peach tea and is frustrated at me when I paid the bill for the drinks.

 As a child you were pretty well travelled: has this helped with the travel now involved with your job?

“I was born in Brighton then moved to Mauritius when I was six months old, then I moved back to England when I was about five, and then moved to Jamaica when I was eight. I moved back to Brighton when I was 15 to stay with my aunty and uncle as the schools were better here.

“Definitely, I look back at my whole life and see that it’s just preparing me for what’s to come.

“It’s funny. I never imagined I would be working in football when I was 15, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I loved journalism, I loved TV, I loved performing but I never knew that it would be a career when I was 15.

“I was playing tennis at quite a high level and I still had dreams of being a professional athlete for a living in that just didn’t work out.”

Moving to the UK without your parents: how was that?

 “It was terrifying. My mum slightly bribed me by telling me that I could be my only female cousins’ best friend and that we’d share a room together. We had a little den in the third-floor attic conversion and it was great!

“I did miss my parents and it wasn’t like it is today where you can Facebook, WhatsApp or Skype all the time. We genuinely wrote letters and the phone calls were only every so often. It was a different world to what it is now.

“It was hard at the time, but whenever people ask me about that period of my life I didn’t know any other way. It is just normal that I didn’t live with my mum and dad and we lived on the other side of the world.”

You work regularly on the Premier League, you’ve covered a World Cup, you work on the sidelines at Champions League games and done some presenting at the Rugby World Cup. What’s next? The Cricket World Cup – I ask as a bit of a joke…

“Funnily enough, I am actually doing something for the Cricket World Cup but just for a charity. I’ve recently become an ambassador for Street Child United; it’s a phenomenal charity that helps street children through their love of sport.

“They have a really big presence in the Philippines, which is where my family are originally from, so it’s a really lovely thing for me to be involved.

“They have some amazing people that are coming over to play at Lords Cricket Ground in the summer, so I’ll be there with the charity and hopefully help raise money and awareness and play a little bit of cricket. Obviously, I have no idea how to play cricket, but I’m so excited – it’s going to to be great fun.

“To work at the Champions League final is definitely on my bucket list – I don’t know if it’s going to happen this season, so fingers crossed.

“On a serious note, I just want to keep enjoying myself. I know it sounds cheesy! But I just want to work and have fun and enjoy my job.”

You host BT Sport’s Score programme with Mark Pougatch. What has working with him been like?

“Mark Pougatch has been an absolute legend to me. Before I worked with him, I knew Mark from his radio work, and he has been the most incredible person to work with.

“He is so helpful and is so understanding. He’s worked in this industry for a long time but he was paired with someone who is completely new to it, but yet he has so much patience and understanding with me. He’s always wanting to help me in every different area of our work.

“It was an insane achievement for me to go from a screen test to actually getting the job, and then work with Mark, and for him to kind of mentor me has just been amazing.”

Recently, female football pundits have faced sexist abuse from trolls online. What has been your experience with this?

“Whenever I saw these Twitter trolls, the small-minded people, I have kind of always just let them go over my head

“Rachel Brown-Finnis did that piece on BT Sport and it really got to me. It upset because it was such an attack personally on her and because I know her, and I know how great she is and how phenomenal her knowledge of the game is.

“It’s just wrong and unfair that those kinds of opinions still exist in this day and age.

“She didn’t deserve it, and BT Sport decided to have a piece on the abuse female pundits get, only for it to be greeted by more abuse.

“One thing that’s nice is working for BT Sport as they are one of the channels that want to give more women an opportunity to work in different sports.”

Before we leave, I make her promise me that she’ll take me to the World Cup Final in Qatar in 2022 as the final will be held on my birthday. She laughs and says she will.

Feature image courtesy of BT Sport.

The Palace for Life Foundation Powerball team

PalaceforLife Foundation Q&A

PalaceforLife is a charitable foundation set up by Crystal Palace FC to help change the lives of young people from South London via sport. PFL’s disability manager Michael Harrington gives Elephant Sport an insight into its work.

Tell us a bit more about PalaceforLife: how and when did it start?

The Palace for Life foundation has been working with the South London community for over 25 years. We exist to leverage the power of football and the Crystal Palace FC brand to change the lives of young people across South London, particularly the most hard-to-reach and hard-to-help.

We work with over 13,000 people each year, inspiring them to find a better path and to lead a healthier life. We cover a broad spectrum, from football sessions for young people with a disability, to delivering engaging assemblies and workshops in local schools and colleges.

Michael HarringtonTargeting young people in areas of deprivation, we offer free sessions in sport and other activities, alongside pastoral support, to instil positive values and help prepare our participants for a better life.

We have strong connections within the local community and businesses and run programmes designed to equip young people with the skills they need to start thinking about their future careers.

We believe that everyone matters, irrespective of their background and beliefs, and by giving extra support to the most vulnerable, we will help create a better community and society.

How long have you been with the Foundation, and what does your work involve?

I have been at the foundation for about 15 years. I am a UEFA B Licence football coach and currently head up our Disability Programmes.

This involves delivering some football coaching sessions myself, managing a small team of full and part-time employees, overseeing our wide and diverse weekly delivery schedule and developing new and existing partnerships with like-minded organisations who can have a real impact on the lives of people with a disability.

What are the most rewarding and satisfying parts of your job?

Working in a sector where everybody is trying to do the right thing to make people’s lives better, and the variety of people that I come in contact with on a daily basis.

Why is it important to Crystal Palace FC to make a positive impact on its local communities?

Being part of Crystal Palace FC and the Premier League, we are in a unique place to harness the ‘Power of Palace’, combined with the immense benefits that sport can bring to everybody’s lives.

These include improvements in physical fitness, self-esteem and confidence, reducing isolation and educating people around the importance of e

Selhurst Park
Selhurst Park is the home of Crystal Palace FC

ating well, working hard and establishing core values such as honesty, fair play and teamwork.

Do the club’s players and coaching staff get involved in the work of the foundation?

Yes, players and staff make regular appearances not only as inspirational guests at our delivery sessions in schools, colleges and local sports centres, but also at our staff development days like [manager] Roy Hodgson did in July.

Today’s elite footballers get labelled as greedy and selfish; is this unfair, and do the Palace players do their best to help with your activities?

Yes, I think this is unfair. The players do a lot of good locally within the community that often goes unnoticed.

This can vary from making financial contrbutions to local projects – for example [goalkeeper] Julian Speroni buying two sports power-chairs for our wheelchair football team – to other players turning up unannounced to support weekly football training sessions for young people.

What kind of projects and initiatives does the foundation help to fund?

We have the following impairment specific groups and a few of these have a football team attached to them: Powerchair, Down’s Syndrome, Mental Health, Learning/Intellectual Disabilities, Vision Impaired.

We also run an schools programme that either delivers PE lessons throughout the year or we have a specialist six-week plus mini-festival programme targeted at new schools and those more inactive to generate an interest in playing football or becoming more sporty.

In terms of the foundation itself, has there been any changes in recent months?

The foundation is always changing to meet the needs of the local communities that it reaches.

The past eight months has seen the start of our Targeted Intervention programmes that aim to build up the resilience of young people at risk of anti-social behaviour and crime, whilst also working with young offenders to restore good mental and emotional health following adverse and challenging situations.

Young people are given educational opportunities and the chance to gain accredited qualifications, as well as learning the importance of healthy behaviours and how their actions affect not only themselves but the local community.

We have also started the Work Ready & Prepared (WRAP) programme which combines real-life, meaningful work experience with industry-specific accreditations, and training to prepare young people for the world of work.

Julian Speroni
Long-serving Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni supports the PFL Foundation’s activities

This comprehensive 15-week study programme is designed to provide a wide-range of opportunities to practice skills within the workplace for 16-18 year olds.

What do people say about PalaceforLife and what kind of an impact does it have on your team?

We get a lot of positive feedback from those who we come in contact with, but to find out what others really think about us you would need to ask them.

Is the foundation dependent on Palace doing well on the pitch and staying in the Premier League, or is its funding protected?

The Premier League are a large financial contributor to our activities, but we are not wholly dependent on them to enable us to function. Obviously, it is beneficial for Palace to be a PL team, both financially and for the high profile it gives us.

Are you always looking to expand its activities and get more people involved in your programmes?

Yes we are, our aim is to engage with more people who are inactive and do not currently have the opportunity to play any sport.

Does PalaceforLife have any targets for 2019?

To continue to have a positive effect on the lives of young south Londoners.

How would you sum up the PalaceforLife foundation in three words?

Bold, Helpful, Strong.

Feature image courtesy of the PalaceForLife Foundation. Selhurst Park image courtesy of Ajay Suresh; Julian Speroni image courtesy of Richard Fisher, both via Flickr Creative Commons under licence CC BY 2.0.

Follow the PFL Foundation’s work on Twitter @PalaceForLife.

Halftime London’s goal is empowering women in sport

It has been a long time since sport was considered just a ‘men’s thing’. However, there is still a lot to do in terms of giving voice to women and respecting them as athletes, without having to talk about sexism or gender inequality.

Kelly Mackay is one of co-founders of Halftime London, a community built by women in sport for women in sport with the intention of empowering females to become and remain active.

“The name Halftime came about because it’s a moment for reflection in a game, and that’s essentially what we want to be known for – a project that makes you think.”

Since meeting Kelly for the first time some years ago, she has always shown me how important it is to speak up and demonstrate the importance of females in our society and, even more, in sport.

So why create a platform about women in sport? She explains: “As a children’s football coach I’ve watched kids from as young as two playing football together, boys and girls.

“They have no problems with a mixed-gendered game until around the age of five. At this point, the girls get shyer and the boys get more confident. Why is that? Is this their education? Is this their environment?”

“I wanted to find out what was the true reason behind the sudden slip in confidence, which is why I started Halftime and why I believe that by empowering women and girls we will level the playing field across all sports.”

Beginnings

The idea was well thought-through and analysed before being realised.  “I was sitting having a cigarette with my friend Marissa in her kitchen in Glasgow. We were talking about the importance of confidence when it comes to trying something new.

“This triggered a question for me about why women and girls feel held back from trying new sports. Fast forward a few months, I was sitting in a pub with Cari, Halftime’s other founder, and we were discussing who are the real women of sport.

“We realised that the everyday sportswomen – whether that’s someone running for the first time or a committed footballer – are the real women of sport.”

Halftime London began as a way of showcasing the women and girls they know and respect through their commitment to a sport.

“We started by taking photographs of them in a studio environment and interviewing them. It has now grown into a project which is entirely dedicated to empowering as many women and girls to become and remain active in any way that interests them through many different mediums.”

Empowering women

Although empowering females was the main intention why this platform and community was built, Mackay emphasizes that the real fight is against inequality. Empowering females in sport is as important as it is empowering men, being equality the outcome and only achievement Halftime London is after.

‘I still remember when the 17-year-old girl living in me some years ago was asked to share my relationship with sport to help them start this project’

Consequently, she tells me that “sexism is a strong place to start, but it shouldn’t be the only thing discussed. Yes, we all face challenges, but the most important topic is discussing and sharing the way we overcome them.”

A look through their Instagram account highlights loads of different types of women and stories.

Mackay says: “The difficulty is not in finding the stories, it’s in finding the time to cover them all. I find stories everywhere I go, so I usually have a pen and notebook on me to try and write them all down. Most females are very open with their experiences because they believe in the mission of our project.”

And that is absolutely true. I still remember when the 17-year-old girl living in me some years ago was asked to share my relationship with sport to help them start this project.

Every time I have met her since then, she has been with the notebook or paying attention to every single story surrounding her. When meeting her, I have sometimes doubted if it was me or her the journalist there, as she keeps asking questions and seeking stories.

Sportswomen’s success

“It’s incredibly important to acknowledge the difference between work and play. We all have our passions which are external to our business, and it’s important to feed both sides of our lives.”

Empowering women through their successes in sport, and not their personal lives, is what makes the difference. Why do we consider the personal aspects of successful women’s lives when they are not considered in men? Here, the media has a lot to do.

“Now that women are slowly entering the limelight, the media is trying to figure out the best way to cover these stories. So, unfortunately, pro-athletes get asked to twerk on stage, or articles are written which refer to a sportswoman as the wife of someone rather than giving them their own autonomy.

“This is changing, but it only exists because the media has been built with the tools of the patriarchy. We’ll get there, we’ve just got to grit our teeth and keep fighting.

“Acknowledging the irrelevance of someone’s personal life with regards to their successes is something that allows us to take success at face value, rather than looking for deeper meaning into why it happened.”

Personal challenge

On Halftime’s Instagram account we can see posts from a solo-motorcycle road trip Kelly did from London to Lisbon, via Spain’s northern coast. She tells me it was a way to prove herself that she could do it.

“Many people told me that a 125cc motorcycle wouldn’t make it, but it did and so did I.  Many problems faced, but overcome just as efficiently. That trip proved to me and everyone I know that anything is possible, regardless of doubt and fear.”

Moreover, this perfectly reflects Halftime’s principles. As one of the project’s co-creators, Mackay says she would love this trip to be an example for other women who don’t think they can achieve things through sport.

“I want Halftime to be a place to find stories, to feel both inspired and challenged to do something you’ve always wanted to try.

“Anything which involves travelling and meeting new people is beneficial to Halftime. It challenges me to ask questions and get out there, and it makes people feel heard and valued. Both important factors indeed.”

Next step

Moving on to the wave of feminism that has impacted our society, there is hope in Kelly’s eyes.

“Certainly in the past year or so, projects like This Girl Can and initiatives such as Women In Sport have had a huge impact on how we see and interact with women’s sport. The challenge now is to keep it all going until we see a completely equal outcome- financially and socially.”

Moreover, she claims that the most important thing for women is to realise that improving confidence is the best way to reach an active lifestyle.

“It’s all about showing people that they’re capable of any sport the minute they set their mind to it.”

On her future objectives for Halftime, she concludes: “Halftime is currently having a bit of a makeover. We’re looking at what we want to physically provide this year and how we can be as present in the world of female sport as possible.”

Halftime London is on InstagramAll photos used by kind permission of Halftime London.

 

Ken Doherty: I’d love to get back to the Crucible

Ken Doherty can’t help but smile at the memory of it all.

The feelings that have eluded many of snooker’s aspiring world champions come flooding back — potting the colours that made up his victory lap, shaking the hand of a bested Stephen Hendry, holding the famous World Championship trophy aloft — the culmination of a career’s effort and toil.

“It was what I’d dreamt of from the moment I picked up a cue all those years ago,” reflects the Irishman on his 1997 triumph at the Crucible.

“I watched Alex Higgins win it, I watched Dennis Taylor win it. To lift the trophy myself, beating Stephen who hadn’t lost a match at the Crucible for like six years, that was just the icing on the cake.”

Almost 22 years later, Doherty still boasts the same bright eyes and cheery smile which defined that moment of glory. Although he has gradually drifted further away from snooker’s top table in recent years, currently lying 66th in the world rankings, his work as a TV pundit still allows him to revel in the thrills of the sport’s majors.

Rivalries

“It’s nice to be involved,” he says as we chat in the dim confines of the media centre at one of snooker’s triple crown events, the Masters.

“I’d be sitting at home watching it on TV anyway, so I might as well be here, enjoying the atmosphere and catching up with the rest of the lads.”

The ‘lads’ he’s referring to are the BBC’s familiar team of pundits and commentators. It’s a group made up of many of the game’s former greats, including seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry and six-time winner Steve Davis.

With on-table rivalries long set aside, it’s the viewers who benefits from the team’s camaraderie.

“You never stop learning, I think that’s the key”

“I think it’s the same for us all, we just love catching up and enjoying the snooker. At the end of the day, we’re all snooker fans as well.”

Indeed, in working as an analyst, Doherty has come to fully recognise the wide array of technical intricacies snooker’s different exponents display, an appreciation he wishes he had made in his younger years.

“Going back 20 years, I wish I’d have watched a lot more snooker,” he reflects. “I think it would have helped my game a bit more. When I was involved in tournaments I wouldn’t watch that much of it other than playing in my own matches. I wish now I had.

“If I was giving advice to young players, I’d say watch a lot more snooker. It can help you identify weaknesses of potential opponents, but also how the top players go about making breaks, and the safety shots they play. I think that’s important. You never stop learning, I think that’s the key.”

Elder statesman

Now one of the sport’s senior players at the age of 49, the Dublin-born potter is realistic about his chances. A new wave of players has come along and left past greats like Doherty, Peter Ebdon and Jimmy White floundering in the sea of talent which is the modern tour.

For Doherty, simply preserving his tour status is his highest priority, although he still allows himself to dream of a return to snooker’s mecca.

Doherty still dreams of a return to the Crucible

“To get in the top 64 is my top target,” says the man who has won six ranking titles, “but I’d love to get back to the World Championship at the Crucible. I’m going to put in as much work as I can now and try and get back there for April.”

That is easier said than done, unfortunately, as the road to the Crucible is a gruelling one beset by potential potholes.

Three best-of-19 qualifiers must be navigated by those outside the top 16-ranked players in order to secure one of those coveted berths in Sheffield.

It’s a challenge made all the harder by Doherty’s inconsistent form of late, which he himself admits is “not great.”

However, if there is cause for a kernel of optimism for Doherty, and the loyal Irish fans still willing him on towards further triumphs, it was his display against Ronnie O’Sullivan at this season’s UK Championship.

He established a 4-1 lead in their second-round clash, before ultimately succumbing to the eventual champion in a 6-5 defeat.

“I played a good match against O’Sullivan, and could’ve beaten him. I just let it slip, but he came back really strong. I’m hoping that I can get a few results before the end of the season.”

Irish pride

Doherty, nicknamed the ‘Darlin’ of Dublin’, takes great pride in his roots, and still remembers vividly the reception he received back home when he became Ireland’s first world champion from south of the border.

In a nation often starved of sporting success, the Irish celebrated Doherty’s 1997 triumph with typical vigour.

“It was amazing,” he says, momentarily lost in his reverie. “I remember being on the open-top bus going through the city centre in Dublin, all the cars stopping and beeping the horn.

“I knew it was my chance. I just thought, ‘I’ve got to grab this with both hands”

“People were waving flags and running by the bus, coming out of their offices and homes, just waiting to catch a glimpse of me and the trophy. In my home village of Ranelagh we had a big party with all my friends and family. It was just amazing, you know?”

He became a man in demand, parading his trophy around the country at different clubs and sporting institutions, and as a lifelong Manchester United fan, fulfilled a lifelong dream of a lap of honour on the Old Trafford turf, trophy in hand.

“That was an incredible experience, to take the trophy out at Old Trafford, as well as Croke Park and Lansdowne Road when Ireland were playing. I was a right tart with the trophy, I took it everywhere!”

Challenge

His celebrations were more than justified. The nature of representing a country for which individual sporting triumphs are few and far between brings its own set of pressures. Doherty, however, saw this as a challenge to relish.

“I knew it was my chance,” he says, offering a flash of the steely determination which has perhaps mellowed slightly with age. “I just thought, I’ve got to grab this with both hands and keep focused.

“I tried not to worry about what was going on back home, and tried to keep myself away from all the hype. Luckily I did, because I could’ve easily been enveloped by it all. It was an emotional ride, but fantastic in the end.”

Sadly, Ireland has not seen a champion of Doherty’s ilk since. Fergal O’Brien, another Dublin native, continues to toil away on the tour, but there is a notable dearth of young Irish talent breaking through in snooker. The reasons why remain up for debate.

“I wish I could put my finger on it,” Doherty laments. “Property prices got very high in Ireland and for many snooker clubs, to simply stay open was very expensive.

“Of course, the advent of the internet, video games, and phones have had an effect. Other sports like rugby have become more popular and snooker has sort of fallen down a bit.

“Hopefully, that changes. Mark Allen has done very well from Northern Ireland, Fergal O’Brien has done well, but I’d love to see someone else coming through and taking on the mantle.”

The battle ahead

Doherty currently lies 66th in snooker’s world rankings

One of the big questions facing snooker is what can be done to get young players devoting their time fully to the sport, and not merely seeing it as a hobby or pub game. For Doherty, it requires a marriage of both facilities and familial support.

“They need good competition, good coaches, support from their own families — mams and dads, you know? We can’t do anymore than we are doing TV-wise because we have so many great matches, and lots of people are watching it. It’s just about getting kids into snooker clubs and getting them started. That’s the first battle.”

The development of a new video game, Snooker 19, for Xbox One and PS4 could be a way of getting the younger, technology-fuelled generation hooked on a sport they may never have given much thought. Perhaps the key lies in utilising technology to advance snooker’s cause.

Doherty is optimistic: “Hopefully, the new video game will encourage some kids to give snooker a go, and sort of get them started.”

Doherty’s vested interest in the future of the sport is borne of a love for snooker that transcends mere silverware or legacies of success.

He is one of the game’s great champions, both in a literal sense of on-table triumphs, and in his desire to ensure snooker continues to make dreams come true for others as it did for him.

When he does finally hang up his cue, the Ranelagh man will be able to reflect on a career in snooker in which the joyful highs more than outweigh the painful lows.

“I’ll look back with a lot of fondness. I have a lot of great memories, and I’ve made a lot of great friends. I’ve had a great time. Snooker’s taken me all over the world. Being the only man to win the junior, the amateur and the senior World Championships — I’ll be very proud of that.”

For now though, ‘Crafty Ken’ is still determined to make his mark on the modern game. Don’t be surprised if, come April, we see Doherty emerge into the Crucible arena, trotting down those few little steps with that same infectious smile upon his face. It would be another great tribute to the beautiful ideal that class is permanent.

Kabaddi – Vinay Gupta Q&A

Vinay Gupta is currently balancing the demands of his medical degree with representing England and his university team in Kabaddi.

The 22-year-old from Birmingham competed in this year’s Nationals and IC Cup, with the World Cup in April 2019 now in his sights.

Recently, he won his first IC Kabaddi Cup with the University of Birmingham team.  So, how did it all begin for him, and what are his plans for the future?

How did you get into kabaddi?

It was through an organisation called Shaka , in which i still attend, that got me into kabaddi. Initially, I was quite scared to play as a young boy, but I then got involved near the end of sixth form at school.

As a student, do you find it hard to balance being an athlete with your studies?

Obviously, it’s difficult, but you just have to be quite efficient with time management, especially as I’m studying medicine at university – there’s a lot of work to get through.

But training is usually on weekends or later in the evening on weekdays. Sometimes, we have to travel to London at weekends for England practice sessions, so it is a big commitment. However, we enjoy playing the game, so we don’t really mind.

Overall, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to balance; in fact it makes you more efficient because you get more done as you have more commitments.

How important is it to have a good bond with the team-mates?

A lot of the game is based on tactics and teamwork. You could be the best player in the world, but if you don’t have a good bond with the six players around you, then you won’t be very efficient as a player.

A lot of the game is related to tackling as a group and communicating with your team. Having a good bond, like we do in the current university and England squads, makes it more fun and you feel on a better wavelength with your fellow players.

Teamwork is especially important in defence, so everyone can support the tackle and anticipate as a unit. When raiding and attacking, it is more individual.

What is the training like for kabaddi?

The training is split between individual and team training. Individual stuff is practising footwork in the garden for example or improving your technique for certain movements.

A lot of kabaddi is technique-based rather then strength, but there is a strength component to the sport, hence why I try and go to the gym four times a week.

As a team, a lot of it is based on us practising on the mat together. Getting tactics right, being in situations where you are on the same wavelength as team-mates and being cohesive as a unit.

There are many drills as well to improve muscle-memory tackles, for example diving on the leg or dashing someone out.  We also individually practice going for bonuses, basic movements and improving quickness of feet.

What is the funding and sponsorship situation like in the sport?

We have our own association, the England Kabaddi Association. Currently, though, we are trying to become part of Sport England which means we need 700-800 signatures from people around the country to become affiliated, which would improve our funding.

At the moment, a lot of facilities are provided by the universities. This year, our university sponsors bought us international playing mats. Funding and sponsorship at the moment isn’t great but hopefully the Sport England affiliation will help.

Whats the most memorable moment in your kabaddi career so far?

The most memorable moments have been representing England, which I’ve done in two tournaments. Firstly, Malaysia in June 2018 where we played teams including Taiwan, Malaysia and some Indian state teams.

I also represented England in May 2017 in Denmark where we played Italy, Poland and Denmark. Aside from that, I’ve been playing university kabaddi for five years and this year was the first in which we’ve won trophies, so that’s another highlight.

As an athlete, what’s your ultimate goal?

My goal is to continue representing England. My short-term aim is to win many more trophies with the University of Birmingham, and there’s a national competition coming up in February.

Then I’d love to represent England at the World Cup in Malaysia (April 2-15), which will be biggest competition in history of game.

After missing out on the 2016 World Cup due to injuries I would love to play in April and give it my all.

How have your family supported you in your career?

When I was going to give up because of injuries, they told me not to quit. Also, since my older brother plays as well, he’s someone to look up to who has inspired me to try harder, reach the England set-up and get better. Family has been very important.

Are you pleased with your results and the progress you’ve made?

When I first started playing at university, I wasn’t the best player, but I was committed to becoming a good player. I studied the game a lot through watching the PKL (Pro Kabaddi League) in India, and then trying to put that into practice at university level. Over the years, it’s seen me rise into the England team, so I think the hard work has paid off.

Is your aim to become a professional kabaddi player?

That will always be a long-term aim of mine. However, being a medical student, logistically taking three or four months off to play in the league in India isn’t really that feasible.

So that’s why I’m aiming more at the level of staying in the England team and being a major part of England Kabaddi, so I can continue on the path of being a good player.

Obviously, playing professional kabaddi is an amazing thing to achieve, but it would also require a lot of hard work and a lot more effort to get to the standard of the guys who play it.

Mathilde Arassus and the art of tandem surfing

Surfing is probably one the most individual of sporting disciplines.

Wet suit, surfboard and a decent swell – these are all a surfer needs. Once out on the water, surfing can soothe away the intricacies of life; you can shut yourself off from the rest of the world. It’s just you and the waves.

However, Mathilde Arassus is skilled in the art of sharing her surfboard with someone else – the art of riding those waves in tandem is a dazzling blend of balance, board-craft and gymnastics.

The 17-year-old tells me: “I started surfing almost when I was a baby. I come from a small city on the west coast of France where surfing is very popular.”

Mathilde has always been a sports addict. She started gymnastics when she was five and was soon competing at a high level.

“Although I consider myself as a huge fan of surfing, my main sport was always gymnastics. It’s a mix of adrenaline and excitement. You need to train really hard to reached the top level.”

The sport taught her the necessary rigour and discipline required for surf. “At a high level, gymnastic can be very tough and challenging. You have to be strong mentally and physically if you want to succeed.”

New passion

However, when asked why she decided to quit gymnastics, Mathilde’s expression darkens.

“I had significant health problems a few years ago. It was a really hard time because gymnastic means a lot to me.”

Moving on to tandem surfing, Mathilde’s new passion, her expression changes and a smile lights up her face.

“Gymnastics carried me towards an enjoyable sport: tandem surfing. It’s a mix of surfing and gymnastics so it was the perfect combination for me.”

In 2015, Mathilde signed up for a surf course in Ocean Roots, a small surfing club in Arcachon, where she decided to test herself with a few friends.

After a few days, she met Nicolas, a 38-years-old surfing coach, and the alchemy between them resulted in an instant connection.

“Nicolas is a really good surfer and, as you can imagine, I’ve got a few gymnastic skills.

“After a pretty good session, we watched a video on YouTube and we thought ‘Why not give it a try?’ I would say that my journey into the world of tandem surfing came quite naturally.’”

By running her fingers through her hair with a discreet gesture, she tells the difference between being solo and tandem surfing.

“I discovered a truly different sport. The relationship with your partner is key. If you don’t get along with him, you will not be able to do any acrobatic figures. Team spirit is key.

‘Through Nicolas, I realised how surfing could creatively bring people together. Most individuals think that surfing is a self-taught discipline where a surfer’s ego predominates, but this is not true.

“My relation with Nicolas is genuinely strong. Tandem surfing requires a particular combination of partners in order to be successful. In addition, I think that communication is one of most important part of tandem surfing.

“Another different facet is the view. When you’re on the shoulders of your partner, you have a very different perspective on surfing. You are on top of the wave and you realise how magnificent nature is.”

Formidable

Mathilde is keen to stress that tandem surfing has “a lot of history”, going back to the beginning of the 20th century in the surf mecca of Hawaii “It is such a rich sport,” she adds.

Asking Mathilde a few questions about competitive tandem surfing, her face brightens again and you can easily tell that she is a formidable competitor.

“I love competition. I think that every sportsperson has something to do with it.

“When we started tandem surfing, our first priority was to enjoy and to have fun, nothing else. But when we first competed at a regional level, we realised that we were quite good.

“Although the sport is not massive in terms of representation, we rapidly reached a national level and I felt very honoured. We reached the fourth place for three consecutive years and our next goal would be to grab a place on the podium.

“In addition, we competed at the World Championship in 2016. We came seventh and it was such a tremendous experience.

“I had a French flag under my name and I felt so grateful. Representing your country is the best reward that you can get.”

Surfing is getting more and more attention and will become an Olympic sport at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, but Mathilde is wary about this increase in its profile.

“Although major surfing competitions would automatically bring more facilities, I think that more attention can affect our sport. More coverage means more money, and I doubt it is a good thing.

“People surf because it’s a very unique sport. Surfing is a way of life and it is all about being connected with nature. Therefore, I don’t think that surfers need to be under the spotlight.”

Tackling her future objectives, Mathilde remains very modest.

She laughs: “I don’t want to think about anything apart from enjoying what I do. I’m still very young and I’ve got plenty of time to think about my future.”

Mathilde is on Instagram.

All photos used by kind permission of Florian Alzay.