Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge joined SportsAid at the London Stadium last Wednesday (26 February) to champion the parents and guardians of talented young athletes and highlight the important role they play in British sporting success. The Duchess, who has been the Patron of SportsAid since 2013, also delivered a speech to guests where she shared her admiration for the parents and guardians while thanking them on behalf of the charity.
The Duchess spent time with currently supported SportsAid athletes, as well as several of the charity’s most famous alumni, as she witnessed a series of a track and field demonstrations, in addition to taekwondo and judo, just a matter of months before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games get underway. The Duchess met several groups of parents and guardians along the way as she gained an insight into their experiences and challenges.
"Thank you so much. It’s been fascinating to speak to so many of you here today and also to hear, just now, about some of the experiences you all have, as young athletes and as parents.
"SportsAid are a shining example of how organisations can reach out and listen to families, and provide the best support possible to enable their children to flourish.
"The crucial role that parents and caregivers play in our children’s lives cannot be underestimated.
"For all of you here, you go, and have gone, above and beyond the call of duty; you’ve committed your time and devotion to nurturing your children’s exceptional talents. And as a parent, I have a huge admiration for you and I know just how complex and time-consuming your role is.
"You are simultaneously the transport and logistics managers, nutritionists, laundry service, psychologists, financiers, and crucially, the ones that provide love, support and encouragement when things are tough.
"You may not always feel appreciated, or sometimes even noticed on the sidelines, in the car park or sitting high in the stands. But I am so proud that SportsAid recognises how key your role is and that they understand the challenges and worries you face.
"On behalf of SportsAid, I'd like to thank all the parents and guardians who have played, or are playing, their part in developing this country’s young sporting talent.
"Finally, I know this is an incredibly exciting but daunting time for many of SportsAid’s young athletes, so I’d like to wish the best of luck to all those aiming to participate in the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year. We’ll all be cheering you on.
"Thank you for having me."
The Duchess was accompanied by Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and Tim Lawler, SportsAid’s Chief Executive, throughout the course of the visit. Upon her arrival, The Duchess read a copy of a hand-written application form submitted by Jessica to SportsAid as a 15-year-old back in 2001. She was seeking funding to support her athletic development and had outlined that her long-term ambition was to ‘compete in major championships’ with a short-term aim of ‘gaining selection for Great Britain’.
Her Royal Highness was then given a run-down on the starting blocks, how sprinters use them and the differences for para athletes at the Indoor Track. The Duchess was introduced to Coral Nourrice, the Paralympic Talent Development Co-ordinator for British Athletics, para sprinter Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker, 18, and wheelchair racer Danny Sidbury, 25, as they talked her through the blocks and shared their stories within sport before she had a couple of attempts at a sprint start alongside Jessica.
“I hadn’t been in a pair of blocks for years and to line up against The Duchess…I felt nervous!” said Jessica. “She was fantastic and excited to hear everyone’s individual story and how SportsAid has supported them and what their journey has been like. For her to do some block starts - she didn’t just do one, she did two - it’s great to see her getting involved. The second one that she did you could see she got a bit more confidence and went for it. If she could’ve, she would’ve got her spikes and kit on!”
Shortly afterwards, The Duchess was given an insight into the jumps by heptathlete Holly Mills, 19, para long jumpers Karim Chan, 19, and Molly Kingsbury, 18, pole vaulter Emmanuel Thomas, 20, and high jumper Dom Ogbechie, 17, before spending time with Paula Dunn, Head Coach for the British Athletics Paralympic Programme, and discus thrower Amy Holder. The Duchess found out more about the cost of equipment from Paula and Amy, 23, and the level of financial commitment required.
Double Olympic champion Becky Adlington and her mother Kay reflected on the journey they experienced as a family, particularly when the swimmer started to progress rapidly in her sport, as The Duchess met two groups of parents and guardians. The Duchess listened to the challenges they face and heard about the difference SportsAid had made to their families. They also discussed the personal development workshops they’ve previously attended with their children through the charity.
“I think we’ve only really looked back on the enormity of what Becky achieved since she retired,” said Kay. “Watching her break a world record was off the scale of the sort of thoughts you have when you’re taking her along to the swimming baths as a child - just so she can learn to swim to be safe on holiday. As a family we’ve had an incredible journey. There have been tough times but we learned to deal with them and we’ve all taken so much from what we’ve been through together.
“When Becky and her sisters first got into swimming we thought it was a cheap sport but we quickly realised that isn’t the case - particularly the higher up you go. It was huge to receive the recognition from SportsAid. It was nice to know other people were taking note and for it to come around when it did was massive. I’d given up my job, we had three children and Becky was swimming an hour away. It wowed us and we didn’t expect it but it was special because it came from what she was achieving.”
The Duchess was given a short tutorial on how to throw a reverse punch, as displayed in taekwondo, by double Olympic medallist Lutalo Muhammad after watching Mia Pachansky, 15, and Jacob Fairhead, 15, demonstrate an array of kicking techniques. She also spent time observing judokas Simone Cross, 17, Sam Eaton, 16, and Jake Popplewell, 19, before meeting modern pentathlete Alex Bousfield, 18, and her father Phil, who had set up a target range for laser shooting practice.
“I got into taekwondo through my dad - he started teaching me when I was three years old,” said Lutalo – who received SportsAid awards in 2009, 2010 and 2011. “I think he just wanted to give me discipline because I was boisterous and full of energy. When I was nine years old we were watching the Sydney Olympics. That was the first time taekwondo was an official Olympic sport. I saw the gold medals, men going up on the podium and
thought ‘wow, this would be cool to do one day’.
“I remember having the initial elation [receiving SportsAid support] then the feeling of responsibility. I think that’s so important for young athletes especially around the ages of 14, 15, 16, when they’re making the transition from junior into senior. Having people like SportsAid can be monumental. I’m just so happy that my circumstances were what they were. I’m just extremely grateful that I had the parents and the family that I did because if it wasn’t for them there’s no way that I would’ve made it.”
The Duchess headed to the Arnold Hills Suite where she sat down with parents and guardians, including former world heavyweight champion boxer David Haye, to hear about the findings from a focus group session. The Duchess heard how SportsAid can offer the parents and guardians a clearer voice and enhance the support they receive. The Duchess then met Mike Westcott, Chair of SportsAid, along with trustees of the charity and several long-term supporters.
Her Royal Highness concluded her visit by listening to a panel discussion, hosted by Olympic silver medallist Leon Taylor, focusing on parents and guardians managing the relationship with their talented children. Para swimmer Ellie Challis, 15, who won SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award in 2019, and her father Paul talked about how they balance the different areas of their lives while Commonwealth Games champion Ama Agbeze revealed how much of an emphasis was put on her education.
“I remember Ellie’s first gala - it was a seven-hour day and she was in the water for about two minutes and I didn’t think I could do it,” said Paul. “It was really hot and at that point I just thought it would be something she’d have a go at and we’d be on our way doing something else. I’m a single parent so the early days of having to get childcare in for Ellie's sister was very hard. Last year at the international meet when they announced she’d broken a world record it was such a proud feeling.
“After that when she got a bronze at the Worlds - it makes every second of hardship worthwhile. From the financial side of things, the help SportsAid have provided has been great. It’s such a lovely thing to hear that your child’s been recognised and it means so much to us as a family. It’s two-fold for me - the money’s amazing because the higher they get, the more everything costs, but the recognition is also amazing. The fact that someone’s recognising she’s worth investing in makes me very proud.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
- SportsAid is the only national charity (#1111612) of its kind - helping young British sportsmen and women aspiring to be the country's next Olympic, Paralympic, Commonwealth and world champions. SportsAid was established in 1976 and celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016.
- Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge became the Patron of SportsAid in 2013 and has met many talented young athletes helped by the charity, as well as Olympians and Paralympians who were previous beneficiaries at training days, performance workshops and fundraising events.
- SportsAid originally acted as the major source of financial support for the country’s elite athletes before the arrival of National Lottery funding through UK Sport in 1997. SportsAid then began to focus purely on the next generation of young talented athletes and continues to play that role today.
- SportsAid has supported tens of thousands of athletes during the critical early stages of their careers, with Sir Mo Farah, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Baroness Grey-Thompson, Dame Sarah Storey, Sir Steve Redgrave, Dame Katherine Grainger and Daley Thompson CBE among its alumni.
- More recently, Laura Kenny CBE, Ellie Simmonds OBE, Adam Peaty MBE, Georgie Hermitage MBE, Jade Jones MBE, Hollie Arnold MBE, Pam Relph MBE, Natasha Baker MBE, Tom Daley, Lutalo Muhammad and Dina Asher-Smith have all received SportsAid awards within the last decade.
- The charity’s impressive track record was highlighted at the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games where SportsAid alumni won 150 medals. This included 46 of Team GB’s 67 medals (20 gold, 15 silver, 11 bronze) and 104 of ParalympicsGB’s 147 medals (44 gold, 28 silver and 32 bronze).
- Each year, SportsAid will support over 1,000 athletes – the vast majority aged 12 to 18 – by providing a financial award to help with training and competition costs. This is often the first recognition an athlete receives from outside their support network and acts as a motivational boost.
- These athletes are the country’s brightest sporting prospects. They are nominated to SportsAid by the national governing bodies of more than 60 sports. Most of them receive no funding, other than that from SportsAid, which means they rely heavily on their parents for support.
- The typical value of a SportsAid award is £1,000. The awards are generated through a combination of commercial partnerships, trust and charitable funds, and fundraising activities. The latter includes challenge events such as the London Marathon and RideLondon.
- SportsAid also manages the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) and Backing The Best (BTB) programme on behalf of Sport England. TASS helps athletes (16-plus) balance their sporting and academic careers, while BTB supports the most financially challenged young sports stars.