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Stacey Copeland. "Beyond Achievements: The Power of Inspiring Others in Sports"

Stacey Copeland is a former Commonwealth Boxing Champion and England international footballer. After a glittering career inspiring others in sports, Stacey founded the 'Pave The Way' charity which aims to create a world where gender is never a barrier to human potential The thing that I’m always most proud of in sport is if I’ve been able to inspire and make a difference to somebody else and that’s beyond anything that you achieve. Whether on the football pitch or in the boxing ring in my case, although I’m really proud of those achievements, there’s nothing that comes close to when I’ve been able to impact someone else in a positive way.

I think it took me quite a long time to realise that gender was the biggest barrier for me. It was a barrier early on in my very first competitive football game, I was made to leave the pitch and then told at age 11 that I couldn’t box. So in both of the sports I loved and had chosen, they were very much closed doors at that point. I was aware early on that being a girl would be an issue but it took me many, many years to realise why that was and that it wasn’t just a simple case of me being weird, or that there’s something wrong with me being a girl and loving those sports. It was that it was actually a much, much bigger societal issue.

I think any type of equality in sport is important and that’s because I think sport is one of the most power- ful things on the planet for bringing about positive change and social change. So things that we consider advancements and progress for human beings in sport then manifest in all the areas of our life.

Blonde haired female boxer with piercing blue eyes holds boxing gloves in front of her face on a deep black background
Eyes of the tigress

I think the thing that drives me, and it doesn’t really matter what job I’ve been in, it’s just always been about wanting to make a positive difference. I want to have left a positive human footprint and that’s the best way that I can put it. Specifically when it comes to women and girls in sport though, I think it’s a massively personal journey for me because I’ve been that little girl who was made to feel like there’s something wrong with me, the reaction from some people was so strong, even to the point of being spat at school and all through my life I’ve kept encountering these barriers and prejudices.

I think that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my story and getting others to share their stories, championing people and supporting them because I believe in the power of storytelling. And I think it can change hearts and minds. If I had access or awareness of another narrative I know it would have made a big difference to me. I just grew up thinking women never wanted to do sport before me and that women weren’t capable so therefore that made me weird. We didn’t quite belong there. We were a bit of a freak if we did.

I didn’t know about all these stories of the women who came before me that were banned and weren’t allowed to do the sport they wanted to do. All of that would have given me a narrative with which to challenge those comments and thoughts. But I didn’t have it, so I want young people now, the next generation of boys and girls, to have that information as soon as possible so that they don’t leave an interaction where somebody might have those narrow views, which they will do, and they can leave and still feel proud of who they are and what they do. That was a commitment that I made a long time ago.

Stacey copeland, female boxer, looks straight at the camera with her Commonwealth title belt over her shoulder
History maker, the first ever British female to win the Commonwealth title

Now, as time has gone on, it’s become quite apparent that it’s about more than sport because the amount of women I’ve met who said they relate to you as a woman in tech, a woman in law, a woman in medicine. Another thing that’s happened is lots of parents contacted me about their boys who face a stigma because of what they’ve chosen to do, dance or artistic swimming in one case and how difficult things have been for them and the names that they’ve been called and they’ve been made to feel that there’s something wrong with them.

That’s where ‘Pave the Way’ came from, it just came from that desire to make things better. The ultimate goal for ‘Pave the Way’ is that it would not be needed, that eventually masculinity and femininity don’t determine what people do and don’t do, that we’re just free to be whoever we are, regardless of whether we’re male or female. And just be who we are as as individuals.

Blonde woman in tracksuit juggles football with her feet whilst leaning against a goal
Keepy uppies!!!

If we can get a solid understanding of what the ‘Pave the Way’ ethos is and what it means, people can come up with their own things within their workplace. So we’d love people to get on board by doing Pave the Way projects of their own relevance to them in terms of creating change. Because that’s ultimately what Pave the Way is about, it’s about progress in removing the barriers to human potential.

In women’s sport, it’s pretty incredible what’s happening. I don’t feel like these are moments any longer because we have had moments before. Big moments, significant moments, incredible moments. But they were moments and then they sort of dissolved and it seemed to just evaporate almost. This doesn’t feel like that. This particular time feels like it’s momentum and and it goes beyond a movement even. It’s a change in in the psyche. It’s a change in society. That’s is what we’re seeing now is societal change. And it’s hard really to quantify just how big that change is.

I think for people like me who’ve come from the generation that I have and have had contact and conversations with the generation before as well, to see where we’re at now is pretty phenomenal. The main thing that I think is it’s just very, very exciting because there’s no stopping it now.

When you think about the money that we can still invest, the resources that we can still commit to women’s sport, all of the different ways that we can boost women’s sport, help athletes reach their potential, bring new talent through, encourage girls and women into sport. When you look at it that way, there’s limitless potential.

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