Donegal athlete Natasha Kelly tells us about her latest project promoting awareness of women in sports and inspiring the future.

Donegal athletics has recognised the need for increased promotion and supports for their female athletes throughout the county.

The 20X20 campaign has had a huge impact on the promotion of women’s sports at the elite level throughout Ireland, but it’s time to focus on regional and club level according to Donegal Athletics.

This project has been undertaken by Natasha Kelly who has been a member of Athletics Ireland “Forerunner” women in sport leadership programme and the Donegal Sports Partnership women in sport programme. She is currently a member of women in sport high performance coaching programme in association with Triathlon Ireland, Cycling Ireland and Rowing Ireland and has also been chosen as a Athletics Irealnd Fit4life ambassador.

Natasha Kelly

Natasha, an athlete herself with FinnValley AC and a FourMasters CC, has said:

“I’ve often turned up to events and races and been the only women there, so I just race the men! It can be extremely daunting and intimidating and I can see why it would and does turn women away. There is not enough promotion or emphasis on women’s categories at such events.”

Natasha who works as a schools development officer and also a very active member of FinnValley AC youth coaching team says from “observing and being in that environment, it’s shocking the drop out rate of females”.

This project has already had a huge impact and is warmly welcomed by clubs, coaches and athletes throughout the county.

Natasha said the project came about after the Donegal 5km road championships in 2020.

“I read the race report and noticed that the report covered the mens race in great detail accompanied with a picture of the top 3, but only mentioned the first lady!”

As the campaign says :

“If she can’t see it she can’t be it: so how do we expect young girls to have someone to aspire to!”

I think that in this day in age, it’s time for change. Women train, compete and work just as hard as men. Biologically at the high end of the spectrum, we may not be a strong and as powerful as our male counterparts, but we do push ourselves and we do and want to get the best out of ourselves.  

I want to show young girls, teenagers and women that physical activity and sports is not just for the “Elite” or to “Race”. Personally, sport is far more than that, its friendships, its opportunities and in a way it allows me to express myself.

Natasha coaching a young group of females at the Bawnacre Centre on behalf of DSP  

I’ve meet some of my closest friends through sports, I’ve met some of the most inspirational people through sport, I have gotten to travel and have had some of the most fun and memorable days out with my school, club and family. Sport is a release for many and I want to be able to share my passion and enthusiasm and help as many people as possible along the way.

Natasha Sharing a special moment, with her mother Camel after her cross country team won the Senior County Championship in 2019

“Women and kids’ health is something that I am hugely passionate about and I’m currently finishing up a masters in health promotion through Sligo IT. I’m focusing on kids health with a project looking at ways to retain young females in physical activity.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that children aged between 5-17 should reach a minimum of one hour of physical activity per day.

Only 13% of children meet the National Physical Activity Guidelines. While boys are more likely to meet these guidelines than girls at all ages, this too is on the decline. At post primary school 14% of boys and 7% of girls meet the Guidelines.

Research published by Okely A.D et al in the Lancet Child and Adolescent health Journal states that 71.8% of 11-17-year olds do not get enough PA. There is a gender gap of 15% which is the largest in the world behind that of the USA. 63.5% of Irish boy are said to be inactive with 80.5% of Irish girls. Ireland is now ranked as one of the third lowest in the world in terms of PA level within this age category.

The 20×20 campaign was about creating a cultural shift in the perception of girls and women in sport. There is so much to celebrate when it comes to women’s sport in Ireland, but there isn’t enough noise.
20×20 had three targets to reach by the end of 2020:

  1. 20% more media coverage of women in sport
  2. 20% more female participation at player, coach, referee & administrative level
  3. 20% more attendance at women’s games and events

With the help and support of some well-known women in Donegal Athletics, Natasha along with the support of the Donegal Athletics board have drawn up a charter in the hope of increasing awareness of women in sports and inspiring the future of Donegal sports.

Donegal Athletics’ 3 main objective from the campaign are to:  

1)Ensure PR of all women’s events and results. Giving them the same coverage as men’s.
2) Including women as valued members of our coaching team, by ensuring adequate training is available to them to progress and upskill. 
3) Supporting women participation through, “no proving, just moving” with our fit4life groups

Read the second part of this feature here: