Gina Davidson: Make sure our girls get a sporting chance

The This Girl Can campaign encourages women to take part in sport
The This Girl Can campaign encourages women to take part in sport
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TONIGHT it’s gymnastics. Yesterday it was basketball and hockey. Earlier in the week was Tae Kwon Do and Friday will bring athletics. And exhaustion. Well all that driving my daughter around is tiring.

Sometimes I wonder if she’s doing too much, and then I read how it’s around her age – nine – when girls begin to stop participating in organised sporting activities, become aware of how they look, that “being sweaty” could be held against them but “being thin” is definitely a good thing. So I stop wondering and encourage her even more.

Yet already she’s looking at her tummy, sucking it in and asking if I can see her ribs. I laugh it off, tell her she has an amazingly strong body which can do cartwheels and high kicks, is quick and agile and fit.

But without doubt it worries me – neither of my boys, who also do plenty of sport, have ever spoken to me about their body shape. The misplaced focus on the physical attractiveness of young girls and women above all else they might achieve, is something all parents have to fight against.

Which is why initiatives like Women in Sport Week – which is this week in case you hadn’t noticed – are vital. We might all still be bathing in the reflected glow of our Olympians after Rio, but this week is a chance to highlight all the sports where women are excelling and also to encourage young girls and women to try their hands at new physical activities.

Supported by various agencies across the UK, including Sport Scotland, all those involved in playing, delivering, leading or working in sport are trying to increase the profile of women’s sport from rugby to rollerderby and generally get more women off their sofas and into fitness.

But the most basic problem is that it’s the media which is most responsible for discouraging women from getting involved in sport. There’s too little coverage of women’s professional sport and too much emphasis – particularly among fashion and lifestyle mags – on looking groomed rather than post-match grubby. Even when physical fitness is featured, the images are generally of women with not a hair out of place wearing the latest in expensive gym gear.

The glorious This Girl Can adverts turned that idea on it’s head – showing anyone can go out and run as long as you’ve got a reasonable pair of trainers. Or go to zumba if you have some rhythm or get on your bike. And so what if your boobs bounce and your face goes red and you have sweat patches on your back and under your arms? They’re all normal female body responses to exercise and are nothing to hide or be ashamed of.

The Olympics have given young girls many female role models to emulate (and it’s hard to believe there was ever a time when women were not allowed to compete in the Olympics) but of course not everyone is cut out to be an elite athlete. But getting our daughters into the habit of taking part in sport, finding a physical activity that they can take with them through their lives, is as vital a part of parenting as ensuring they have a healthy diet and are sticking in at school.

So if you’ve a daughter on the verge of giving up on her dancing, or who no longer goes out on her bike or who becomes reluctant to go swimming, put your foot down and make them. Be the parent who doesn’t say it’s OK to stop because it’s less hassle for you.Go swimming with them, get on your bike or lace up your trainers – be the example and prove that healthy bodies are far more important than perfectly coiffured hair and make-up.

So much more than ‘guy who was always ill’

IT never fails to amaze me how many people take a diagnosis of cancer as a trigger to do something inspirational. Millions must have been raised by the people battling the disease as well as their loved ones – all in the hope of finding a cure.

Tranent’s Johnnie Meechan is one of those. He’s just 39 and has been told he has cancer for the second time – only it’s terminal.

Instead of retreating inwards to deal with such a blow, he’s launched a video blog to leave something for his five kids, something which shows them he just wasn’t the “guy who was always ill”. Already it’s received 30,000 views and no doubt will raise a lot of money too.

Of course, he was never just that “guy” to his family. But his decision to go through his illness publicly will be a support to them, and also too many others also battling with their own diagnoses. I hope he too gains some succour from that.

Overseas students welcome here

EDINBURGH University has just announced a $27 million scheme with the Mastercard Foundation to bring 200 African students to the Capital to study over the next seven years.

It’s the kind of outreach programme the university excels at and should not be put in jeopardy by Brexit and the Government’s rush to reduce immigrant numbers, including overseas students. The welcome mat should always be out in Edinburgh.

Clock ticking for five more years

EDINBURGH Zoo has had it’s Chinese pandas for five years. And still no sign of a cub, despite the best efforts of the zoo staff – if not of the pandas themselves. There’s only another five years before the pandas will likely go back home. The clock is ticking, but it’s not Tian Tian’s biological one.

Fancy a cockroach?

PATISSERIE Maxime has launched a Hallowe’en menu, which it hopes will see customers crawling there to try its chocolate locusts and lemon-salted grasshoppers. Hope it doesn’t give the fast food places with cockroach problems any ideas…