Claire Bennett is a former Great British international fencer and an individual Bronze and team Gold medal winning Commonwealth Games athlete.
Why and how did you get into fencing?
I started fencing at an after school club when I was 10 years old. Fencing appealed to me because it looked exciting and different to all other sports. I liked the idea of a combat sport and I remember wanting to be like one of the three musketeers. My first coach was the one that lit that spark of passion for fencing in me all those years ago and inspired me to become an international fencer.
What’s been your greatest sporting achievement so far?
My proudest moment in my fencing career was Captaining the England team to a Gold medal at the Commonwealth fencing Games in 2010. I remember feeling a great sense of responsibility to be a leader and lead by example. It was one of those rare moments in sport when everything came together on the day and a feeling that I will cherish forever.
How have you found it being a woman in sport? Have you come across any difficulties, sexism or people having different attitudes towards you because you were female?
I have now retired from international fencing but when I was representing Great Britain and fencing for Team GB, I do remember the boys receiving more support and funding. This started to change in the lead up to the London 2012 Olympic Games but it still needs attention, and I hope it will continue to improve with the 22% boost in funding that British Fencing have received over the 2016 Rio cycle. I never personally encountered any sexism or people having different attitudes towards me when I was a full-time athlete. I remember working my socks off to be as professional as I could be, and receiving respect and support from those that were close to me and mattered the most to me. I tried not to worry about what other people thought or said unless it was well directed.
Why do you think media coverage of women’s sport is important?
Media coverage of women’s sport matters in the same way as coverage of men’s sport matters, especially in the formation and development of young people. Women have a very important role to play in sport; they can provide strong and diverse role models, just like the men do, and so it is important that there is a strong media presence in women’s sport.
Women achieved fantastic, inspiring results at the London 2012 Olympic Games and there was great media coverage of women’s events.
The more successes that are televised like Nicola Adams and Laura Trott, the more young girls will want to emulate their role models.
The Olympics galvanized a nation, sparked interest in women in sport and the government should now aim to continue that legacy and promote women in sport. This means encouraging greater engagement with women’s sport through participation, spectatorship and importantly, media coverage.
Post London 2012 did you see any changes in attitudes by and towards any female participants you mentor as part of StreetGames and the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust?
There has been a definite buzz in the air amongst female participants since the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Sport has the ability to generate a positive change for women and I’m keen to share my experiences with girls to help them achieve their potential.
I was mentoring some young homeless people the other day and their mood lifted as soon as they started doing physical activity. After just one fencing session one girl said to me: “I’ve never felt so happy or so healthy in my life.”
I am now a supporter of the Women’s Sport Trust and I support as many ‘Us Girls’ events as possible through my work with StreetGames. ‘Us Girls’ helps get young girls participating in sport in sports festivals up and down the country. It’s a fantastic opportunity for young women to try lots of different sports for free in a fun and safe environment.
Sport makes me feel more confident and good about myself. I want all young people and women to have access to that feeling.
I hope that these sort of events and projects post London 2012 will help inspire young people all around the country to take up sport and commit to it.
Why did you get involved with both StreetGames and the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust?
I believe that sport can have a positive impact on a young person’s life and that is why since stopping fencing, I have had a strong desire to give something back and what better way to do this than to share my experience of elite level sport with young people at grassroots level.
I am now an ambassador for StreetGames and an athlete mentor at the Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust. I use my experience and skills gained in elite level sport to help support young people, the majority of whom are under-privileged and come from difficult backgrounds. Most of the programmes that I run are based on physical activity and achieving personal excellence through sport, but I also do mentoring on a one-to-one basis.
I believe that athletes can be incredible role models and we have a huge responsibility to give something back, as do the government.
Sport can change a young persons life for the better and provide a talent pool for the future.
Sport teaches a young person discipline, participation and life-values while being a healthy way of living.
I was lucky enough to have had a fantastic support team throughout my fencing career who have helped me a great deal. When I think back at how much my mentors have given up their time and experience so unselfishly for my benefit – I am very grateful.
Now it is my turn to give back.
Claire is an athlete supporter of the Women’s Sport Trust. You can follow her on Twitter at @CBennettGBR
Picture from balancephysio.com – thanks!