If an actual athlete has to trick herself to exercise, then I don’t feel too bad

Joanne O’Riordan: Why aren’t we exercising more? 'No Proving, Just Moving' explained

Sarah Colgan, cofounder of the 20x20 initiative: ‘What 20x20 wants to give everybody is a big hug and the opportunity to experience the gift of being active.’ Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Sarah Colgan, cofounder of the 20x20 initiative: ‘What 20x20 wants to give everybody is a big hug and the opportunity to experience the gift of being active.’ Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

It was only last week I caught myself on a lull. My good quarantine routine went out the window, back to hunching over my laptop for work. Effectively, I was like a dormant volcano, nothing moving except my expanding waistline. Then I interviewed Sarah Colgan, one of the two brainchildren behind 20x20, and she informed me about Lidl Moves and their new joint campaign with 20x20, No Proving, Just Moving.

Led by ambassador Sarah Rowe, a Mayo footballer and AFLW star, the idea is very simple. “It’s just them starting something small in terms of activity,” Colgan explains. “If it’s just putting on your runners and doing a couple of minutes for the first seven days and then building from there. What 20x20 wants to give everybody is a big hug and the opportunity to experience the gift of being active. Not just to get the perfect set of abs or anything like that but to feel good and to feel happy.

Lockdown

“We have a partnership with Lidl who are one of our sponsors and who have now launched a platform where you can actually – it’s basically to hold your hands to get you started on something that maybe you might’ve started doing during lockdown or you’ve been thinking of doing for ages. There’s a series of questions at the start asking you ‘Do you want to sweat or do you want to smile?’”

I decided I wanted to give this a go. Despite doing yoga once a week, I made it a priority during lockdown. Then my workload increased and my time became limited. As a result, I was back to old habits. I took the survey (I wanted to smile, the first few days I sweated), answered easy questions about my habits and to my surprise, I was intermediate level yoga. I’m somewhat decent.

But why aren’t we exercising more? Sure, I see people run past my house but they’re usually infrequent runners, and typically it’s the same men I see, rarely a woman would go past.

“If it’s doing something for only 5 per cent today and then it is down to you as to how you progress, it’s how you keep going or progressing if you want to go up a level or introduce something different. By taking the questionnaire at the start you can see, ‘Okay, look, here’s a kick start’. You’re going out, and then you can see from there.

“Things like for me, I would have always thought, ‘I need more time’. Everybody thinks that they don’t have the time. I have three kids, and I say, ‘Look, I’ll do it with one of my children’. I thought my daughter wouldn’t be able to keep up with me, and we had never done it up until lockdown. It has been the most incredible thing for us in terms of a little bonding thing for the girls going out for their walk.

“Sport Ireland did a study on the number of women who are cycling or running, and walking has gone up over lockdown. No Proving, Just Moving is about keeping that going. Now we know from the women that we’ve spoken to, taking that away they would miss it. Take Sarah Rowe as an example. She’s studied linguistic programming and hypnosis and life coaching and even hearing her talk about the tricks that she plays on herself to encourage her. For someone who’s such a brilliant athlete, has such skill in that area, she’ll give herself little rewards to make her do that exercise that morning,” Colgan reassures me. If an actual athlete has to trick herself, then I don’t feel too bad.

“I think the difference that we’ve noticed from anybody who’s starting this habit, but then when you take it away they realise they’re not their best selves. It brings out a side for themselves that they’re happy with, and that gives so much in terms of that mental health aspect for life. It’s really a gift for themselves rather than anything else.”

Colgan is incredibly passionate when it comes to this. After all, the last few years of her life have been somewhat consumed by making women’s sport equitable with the men’s game. The women’s game was enjoying a seismic wave of support, and the women on the sport train was well on its way out of the station, with or without everyone on board. Did the global pandemic potentially derail that train ever so slightly?

“With 20x20, initially looking at how the fixtures have been cancelled and training not happening, and matches and competitions are postponed. We’ve been more go, go, go than ever in just pushing visibility in terms of female athletes and teams. Social media takeovers with showing skill. AIG have extended their Show Your Skill competition and doing takeovers across our social media channels and a lot of extra content.

“In terms of the data, we’re still looking at that because obviously attendance also will be massively affected, whether it’s in-person attendances or even in terms of television. RTÉ and TG4 have done a good job of pulling some of the women’s stuff out of the archives, but it’s not a 50/50 split. When you go past the red tape of licensing and rights holders and a lot of that stuff that doesn’t give the broadcaster the ability to pick and choose whatever it wants.

“There is just such a smaller pool to pull from because we have only traditionally shown fewer women in sport. It’s what we’re trying to look at now, and what we’ve seen across the board is that even on club level – and it’s across grassroots of all sports – is female players, girls, and women taking this opportunity to show their skills or to come together as a club in ways that they haven’t before. It’s such a turning point now for women’s sports.

Swamped

“I’ve seen some really positive stuff in terms of from players and the public, but what happens next is going to be crucial in terms of ensuring that we don’t go backwards.”

Sport is resuming across the board throughout July and August, right up to Christmas time. While the women’s game may potentially get swamped amid the onslaught of men’s games, 20x20 and Colgan are still reminding clubs and governing bodies that they have signed up for the 20x20 charter.

“The men’s sports in a time of economic crisis, from the competitions themselves to sponsorship to the actual sporting bodies being on their knees, the men’s game being the greater money-spinner is partly prioritised. The danger would be that all progress that the women’s game, which is to make it a money-spinner, which is exactly the direction it’s going, is lost and taken backwards. There’s an opportunity in this moment if the decisions now on how sports is resumed, it just will have equity as a top priority. That doesn’t mean equality necessarily because, of course, the same funding can’t be given in the same way, but there has to be an equity of opportunity for the women’s game to be able to get back on its feet.”

Just like No Proving, Just Moving, the aims are mostly the same. We have all signed up for something to better ourselves and society. While sponsors can hold our hands along the way, it is up to us and governing bodies to ensure that the equal access is there for the women of today as well as the women of tomorrow.

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