Tag Archives: Women in Sport

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.

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.

 

Why is it still so tough for women to succeed in sport?

Will women ever be equally respected as men in the sports world? Will they ever be paid equally?

Years ago, women were forbidden from playing, watching and supporting any kind of sport. They were expected to get married and look after their families.

Women were always classified as “weaker” than men, and therefore sports was considered too strenuous an activity for them.

Men developed most sports for themselves and this is why sport has always been extremely male dominated.

Unladylike sports

In the 1920s we saw the beginning of high level competitive sports and skilled athletes began emerging.

However, during those years it wasn’t considered fitting for women to play any contact sports or those which involved any type of jumping. Women were encouraged to play more ‘ladylike’ sports such as field hockey, swimming, golf and tennis.

As the years went by, they were allowed to participate in more sports, but it was never as competitive as the men’s game.

Women’s sport failed to gain as much popularity as men’s.

In some countries women, myths persisted such as the one about playing sports is a potential impairment to female fertility.

There are also still a lot of practical barriers stopping women participating in sport,  including poverty and scarcity of economic means.

For women this means lack of time, a lack of appropriate, safe and accessible infrastructure and adequate clothing.

Today, we live in a world where women are taught to stand up for themselves, and over the years every industry has become more accepting regardless of gender.

But women still face a lot of criticism on a daily basis, whether it’s at home or at work. For years, the sports industry has been reserved for men with the justification of “Well, women aren’t into sports that much.”

Paid less

The challenge that female athletes still face today is that they are often being paid half or less of the sums paid to their male counterparts. There are gross discrepancies between the incomes of male and female athletes.

8 out of 10 of the highest paid female athletes are tennis players. There has always been an ongoing battle for equal pay, as in most walks in life there has been a long divide between the earnings of male and female.

But when you have successful athletes and worldwide role models with amazing talent like Serena Williams who fought for equal pay and is extremely passionate about equality on and off the court, you can’t stay quiet for long.

This year marks a decade since women won the right to equal prize money at the oldest and most famous tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon. However, many associations have been trying for years to raise the pay for women athletes, but they haven’t succeeded as much as they would like to.

The England women’s cricket team

Many fans can proudly identify every male athlete, their families, family history, what position they play in and how successful they are. But what about the female counterparts?

Not only do people not recognise them, a lot of sports fans are unaware when women’s games even take place. However, as the years go by, the growth of sport has benefitted for women too.

A lot more media coverage for women’s football and different sports is available, however it is still not as much as the men’s side.

They also use more marketing to promote women’s games globally. An amazing support system you see in the industry is women supporting women, you have top female sports journalists such as Seema Jaswal who promote women as much as they can, because being a female, they all face the same challenges.

With more women entering the industry in different fields, it looks like it can only get better for them in the coming years with the right encouragement and support.

But instead of dealing with these persistent issues, society tries to publicly shame these aspiring athletes.

Female athletes are still objectified on the field as much as they are on the streets.

Whether you are a coach, a commentator or in the audience, women are looked as commodities showcasing themselves for men’s pleasure, not as athletes of potential and talent.

Even though women are breaking records and winning trophies for their countries they still can’t seem to live up to the men’s level in the male dominated sport.

She shoots, she scores

Women are a growing fan base and the sports industry is responding to it. The sports media has stated to adapt to more women in the industry. We are seeing more media coverage of women’s sport than ever before.

Women are finally starting to have their own say, the difference before was the criticism would force women to give up their passion.

But today even with others questioning females in the sports industry, they still continue to pursue a career in what makes them happy.

Encouraging women to play sport has not only helped women have fewer health problems and land better jobs, it is also good for countries to promote stronger women, stronger communities and stronger economies.

Overall, it is impressive what’s being done to support women in sport now, different campaigns and associations are marketing new trending hash tags and products to help women and supporting impressive programs designed to support getting girls and women into sport globally.

Seema Jaswal: from TV runner to Premier League presenter

Meet Seema Jaswal, a multi-talented British TV anchor and presenter. She is a representative for the Premier League post-match reviews, Fantasy Premier League shows and Premier League Fan Zone show on Sky Sports.

The sports industry has always been seen as a ‘man’s world’ and many women have had discouraging experiences.

But Seema has become one of the first Asian women presenters to represent the Premier League and reaches 750 million viewers globally. Her experience has been nothing but positive in every field.

Jaswal, who is extremely popular on social media, says her favourite hashtag is #lovemyjob, “because I genuinely do!”

No negativity

Her success in the industry is a huge inspiration to a lot of females. She truly believes that everyone should do what they love, despite any blocks that may come your way.

“I am fortunate to have been in the industry at a time when things have changed so much for women in sport. especially in the UK,” she says.

“I have never faced any negativity about being female and have always worked with professionals that appreciate the work I do based on merit.

Jaswal wanted to get a job in research or marketing after graduating from university. However, as she started applying for jobs she soon realised that her career needed to be both fulfilling and something she enjoyed.

She has always had a passion for tennis, and at one point she was determined to become a tennis coach. But she decided to keep that as a hobby and soon after she applied for a job at Sky Sports and started off her career as a runner.

Seema Jaswal

“Being a runner is an interesting job as the role varies from day to day. Occasionally you’re thrown into the deep end and asked to help out with shows, which opened my eyes to the possibility of presenting,” says Jaswal.

Her family have a Ugandan Asian background. Even today, girls with an Asian background can struggle to follow a path into the sports industry.

They are forced into careers which are more socially acceptable in their traditional society.

It is uncommon for a young Asian girl to be supported by her entire family, as Seema was, in pursuing a career in sports presenting.

Families look at the sports industry as very male dominated and panic when their daughters choose that path.

It is comforting for young girls to look up to role models like Seema Jaswal and aspire to be as successful.

Moving to India

After years of being a runner, Jaswal finally felt confident and ready to embrace any new opportunities that came her way.

She started off presenting CBBC’s Sports Round, a show that involved trying out lots of different sports on a weekly basis.

Jaswal was also the presenter on The Wright Stuff before relocating to India for 18 months to become the face of Indian football for Star Sports.

Soon after she moved to India she was offered an opportunity to work for the Premier League, which is when she decided to move back to London.

Seema Jaswal at the FIFA U-17 World Cup

The live events presenter was thrilled with an opportunity to host the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

It was her most recent and successful venture and it filled her with excitement, turning out to be one of her biggest achievements. It was great days for England as they went on to win the trophy.

“I really enjoyed seeing the tournament through from start to finish and it was an honour to host India’s first ever FIFA event with the likes of David Moyes, Stuart Pearce and Luis Garcia to name a few,” says Jaswal.

Role model

Many people seem to think women are treated worse than men and have no chance of growing within the sports industry. Seema, who has always been appreciated for her work based on merit is a prime example that the industry is very open towards everyone. The effort you put in is always rewarded in any field, irrespective of gender.

A lot of different countries treat women differently in the sporting world. However the UK has always been one of the more accepting and encouraging countries for women to pursue a career.

Jaswal covers two very different football leagues in The Premier League and the Indian Super League. The Premier league is an established league that is 26 years old with 20 teams competing in it and the ISL is a newly established league in its early stages of development.

The Premier League showcases some of the world’s greatest talents and the most exciting aspect in that any team can beat another on their day regardless of where they sit in the league table.

Jaswal has come very far in the industry. She has worked in many fields and she is destined for a big future within the industry. Being a female with an Asian background she is a huge role model to a lot of young girls.

Darts ditches glamour girls and F1 follows suit

Darts looked distinctly different at the 2018 PDC campaign curtain-raiser, the Masters Championship in Milton Keynes.

But it wasn’t the absence of now-retired multiple world champion Phil Taylor, nor the presence of his newly-crowned successor Phil Cross.

No, it was the decision by the Professional Darts Corporation to stop using walk-on girls with immediate effect.

It was the first time in over 23 years at a televised PDC event that players hadn’t been flanked on their way to the stage by glamorous models.

A statement from the organisers said: “We regularly review all aspects of our events, and this move has been made following feedback from our host broadcasters.”

Tradition?

Walk-on girls have accompanied players to the oche since 1994, just a couple of years after the birth of the PDC in 1992, in its attempt to attract the wider public to the sport with music, glitz and glamour.

Many fans across social media have argued that walk-on girls are therefore part of darts’ tradition and that their role should very much remain.

However, others have rightly suggested that darts has been around for more than just the two decades that the PDC and the walk-on girls have existed, so it’s far from the be all and end all.

A petition addressed to PDC chairman Barry Hearn has since been started in favour of keeping walk-on girls, attracting more than 40,000 signatures.

A tweet from five-time world champion Raymond van Barneveld urging the public to sign the petition read: “I will really miss the girls! For me they are a part of the darts. Sign their petition so they can keep their jobs.”

The models also work at other sporting events, including horse racing, boxing, cycling and as Formula 1 grid girls.

However, F1 has followed in the footsteps of the PDC and announced the withdrawal of models from the sport.

Domino effect

In a statement F1’s managing director of commercial operations Sean Bratches said: “Over the last year, we have looked at a number of areas which we felt needed updating as to be more in tune with our vision for this great sport.

“While the practice of employing grid girls has been a staple of Formula 1 grand prix for decades, we feel this custom does not resonate with our brand values and clearly is at odds with modern day societal norms.”

Leading national charity the Women’s Sport Trust also stated: “We applaud the Professional Darts Corporation for moving with the times and deciding to no longer use walk-on girls. Boxing and cycling… your move.”

As momentum and pressure continues to grow, it remains to be seen whether there is a domino effect which ultimately ends the use of female models in promoting sporting events, but it would come as no surprise should others follow suit.

Ritu Phogat (second from left)

Female Indian wrestler fighting stereotypes as well as opponents

“Every girl should confess her passion to her family and show what really matters to them.”

Ritu Phogat (above, second left) speaks eloquently about the challenges she and her three sisters faced in India as they pursued their dream to become elite wrestlers.

Despite their father being former wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat, the siblings met with rejection, derision and misogyny in a society where sportswomen battle to gain acceptance and support.

Such are the daunting barriers they face that Phogat’s father had all but given up hope that the family name would continue in wrestling.

But three of them – Geeta, Babita and Ritu  – have done him proud on the international stage, as have his nieces Vinesh and Priynka, who he also trains.

Medal success

Geeta was India’s first female wrestler to qualify for the Olympics and won Commonwealth gold in the 55kg freestyle category.

Babita, Ritu and Vinesh are also all Commonwealth champions and looking forward to more medal success at next year’s Games in Australia.

Perhaps more importantly, they are all trailblazers for Indian women discouraged by their society’s traditional gender stereotypes from achieving their sporting potential.

Ritu, 23, told me: “As an international player, I love supporting female sportswomen, I always encourage them to work hard and prove everyone wrong.

“We Indians are more emotional and connected to our culture, so we care too much about what society thinks of us.”

Changes

Such is the inspirational nature of the Phogats’ story that last year it received the Bollywood treatment in the feature film Dangal, directed by Nitesh Tiwari.

In the film, Mahavir (played by Aamir Khan) makes Ritu’s elder two sisters take up wrestling, much to their initial embarrassment.

But they soon realise how much it means to their father to see them competing and growing in confidence, and they – and their younger sister – embrace the sport with great success.

“The movie shows how my life exactly was, we faced many problems but we overcame them together,” said Ritu, who this month competes at the U23 World Championships in Poland.

Ritu has since gone on to become the most expensive female wrestler in India’s Pro Wrestling League auction, joining the Jaipur Ninjas for 360,000 rupees.

It’s a far cry from her younger years, when the family were mocked by their fellow villagers, disowned by their own extended family and the sisters laughed at by schoolmates.

More competitive

However, Ritu claimed Indian women aiming for careers in sport still face hostility because “Society matters, [the opinions of] others matter”.

She added:  “It won’t get better for the new generation, in fact it will be harder and much more competitive.”

But the fact that she is one of eight Indian woman heading to Poland for the U23 Worlds tells its own story.

Things are changing in Indian society, albeit very slowly in some respects. But each time another young girl chooses to pursue her ambitions in sport, pioneers such as Geeta, Sabita Ritu and their cousins have won a wider victory.

Photo courtesy of Ritu Phogat; you can follow Ritu on Twitter @PhogatRitu

‘We had this look in our eyes like this is our day’

“You’ve got to believe in yourself because if you don’t believe it’s going to happen and you don’t make it happen, it won’t.”

Nicola White is recalling the advice her mother gave her long before she won women’s hockey Olympic gold in Rio de Janiero.

White lives by those words and is honest when discussing the turnaround that led her from failing to make her first England trials at the age of 15 to becoming Great Britain’s hero as her late equaliser to make it 3-3 in the final against reigning Olympic champions the Netherlands forced the game to a shootout decider.

White and the GB hockey squad ensured hockey became compelling viewing in Rio. When it comes to discussing the team’s journey from London in 2012 to Brazil four years later, White’s steely undercurrent and strong motivation becomes apparent.

“My journey wasn’t particularly perfect,” she admits. “I had my first England trials when I was 15 and I didn’t make it. I didn’t get my second England trials until I was 19 and I was quite a latecomer really because under 16’s and under 18’s is crucial for the development. To come in at under 21 level fairly late, I was really lucky.

“One of the things that we worked really hard since London was our culture. There’s 31 of us that train and it was sometimes hard to agree on something and get the best out of ourselves, but we improved our values and we embraced it.”

Competition 

Her and the team’s success is a result of perseverance and dedication but it is also a tale of competition. “Everyone in the squad had a responsibility to do their best,” she says.

“We wanted to make a difference and it created this massive bond of trust within the team. I think one of the most amazing things was stepping onto the pitch having built this culture. The competition for places was so high and we used to play high-paced games on a Thursday within the squad.

“The coaches would send out the game plan on a Wednesday night so we knew what we had to bring and what we had to do.

“Everyone brought their best games, and it ensured this amazing standard of hockey and brought out the best in us all.

“These little things impact hugely because when you get into an Olympic final, the pressure is massive but you know how to deal with it.”

Golden moment 

White is still overwhelmed by the team’s stunning success this summer. When it came to Rio and taking on the Netherlands, who were vying for a third Olympic gold in a row and huge favourites, there was a determination among the GB players.

The game was drifting away at one point, but Britain’s never-say-die attitude led by an indomitable White performance, paid off when she made it 3-3 in the final period.

Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch then pulled off some stunning saves in the shootout as the GB girls achieved history.

White remains refreshingly low-key about her golden moment. 

The forward says: “I knew we had eight minutes to go and we were losing against the reigning champions of the world.

“Holland are historically a really good team and I was so glad we played them because they were the elephant [in the room] and people thought we couldn’t beat them when it came to the crunch.

“All I remember is we had a short corner and I was just on red alert, and I’ve never been on red alert like that before and I thought if we can get this level, I knew we would hold on and it would go to penalties.

“The ball just fell and I put it towards the goal and I thought nothing else of it. Everyone’s faces were the same as we had this look in our eyes like this is our day. We just had this confidence about us.”

Overwhelming 

Looking back on the summer heroics, White admits the feeling of winning an Olympic gold medal has only just recently sunk in.

“It’s a real cliche, but it’s pretty much a dream come true for me and my team-mates. I’ve started to come back down to earth now but at the time it was just so overwhelming.

“I had so many emotions going through my head when we actually won it. It was just sort of flicking from happiness and emotion and I had happy tears, but it was an amazing experience.

“The girls who took the penalties were confident and I knew that if we stuck to what we did, we would win.

“We all knew, as much as we were nervous at the time, that if anyone was going to win it, it would be us. We are so used to that feeling of being under pressure in penalties that we thrived on it.”

Support

The support of her family has been key for White, particularly in picking her up from that England trials rejection aged 15.

“My mum has supported me massively on my journey. I remember she used to tell me a lot when I was young that you’ve got to believe in yourself because if you don’t believe it’s going to happen and you don’t make it happen, it won’t.

“That’s probably what’s stuck with me the most. Her telling me that if I keep working and don’t give up in the first hurdle, it’ll all pay off, and she was right.”

Spotlight

With success comes greater attention, and White agrees that more interest from the media and general public in hockey can only be a positive thing for her sport.

“We have gained lots of media attention as a team,” she says. “That’s really good for our sport, and I think the biggest thing is how much the sport has grown.

“I guess the legacy started at London 2012, when we won bronze, and has grown since our gold medal.

“When we go around the country, people tell us how they didn’t watch hockey before but now they love it.

“People have warmed to us and that’s probably the biggest change because people are now talking about it.

“When I say ‘I’m Nicola White, I’m one of the hockey girls’, they’re like ‘we love you’! Previously they would have been confused as many people didn’t know about us, so it’s nice to now hear them say that.”

Mindset

As a seven-year-old in Shaw and Crompton, Greater Manchester, White dreamt of being a hockey player.

White and the rest of the GB women’s hockey team

“I was lucky that my school played hockey because a lot of schools didn’t,” she explains. “I was lucky to get involved with it at such a young age, and that my teacher was involved in the pathway to internationals.

“She was in the county and regional set-ups, had the best hockey knowledge and knew where to go and how to make it happen. She guided and started me off.

“Skills-wise you’ve got to have a certain talent to be good at any sport. What I’ve realised on my journey is that your mindset is just as important.

“It’s all good and well having the talent but you’ve got to apply yourself. Every day you have to wake up and want to give it your all, and it’s that commitment, that desire and hunger that’s needed to be successful.”

Women in sport 

As a youngster, the GB hockey star idolised female athletes such as Kelly Holmes and Tina Cullen, and says she has seen progress in the amount of media attention women in sport receive.

“I think there’s more of an acceptance that women are successful and need to be given as much credit as the men get, and it’s a major thing that’s been highlighted probably in the last decade.

“Women haven’t had as much recognition as they should have had. People are pushing for more equality. Tennis now offers the same wages for men and women, and things are becoming more equal.

“That should be the norm and moving forward, I think it will be. It’s being driven by the successes we have had in football, hockey, rugby union and other sports.

“I love it and I’m so proud because that’s all we ever wanted. We just want people to accept us for what we’ve done and give us the recognition.”

Tokyo 2020 

White regularly refers to her competitiveness in her downtime when playing other sports like tennis and golf with her two brothers, but the main objective is to get prepared for another four years of gruelling build-up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Preparation is well underway, and White says it will be harder to stay at the top of the tree in 2020 because everyone will be aiming to knock GB off their perch.

“We have to not just be happy with the gold we won, but say to ourselves that we can win it again”

“It sounds so scary thinking about how we will be back in four years time,” she says. “No doubt we will be looking for a gold medal because you cannot go from this success to not target another gold medal.

“I remember our coach Danny Kerry, after the Olympics we sat in a room in Rio and he was talking about success on success and how much of a difficult challenge it is and that’s what we are accepting.

‘As much as the journey is hard to get to the top, it is much harder to stay there. You’re now at the top and everyone’s chasing you, so it’ll be about rebuilding the culture, replacing the players who have retired with new players.

“There’s nothing holding us back now so we have to relish it. We have to use it and not just be happy with the gold we won, but say to ourselves that we can win it again. That’ll be the challenge but we are aiming to go for it again.”

You can follow Nicola White on Twitter @NicolaWhite28 and on Facebook @NicolaWhiteGB28