Despite a combative first encounter, Sebastian Coe finds a lot to admire about Sue Campbell
The world of sports administration has not always been fertile territory for women. Although most competitions now have gender equity on the field of play, it is unfortunately still lopsided in the governance structures of domestic and global sport. If any woman entering this world needed a role model that has inspired far more than a crack in the glass ceiling, it is Baroness Sue Campbell of Loughborough.
It was on the old cinder running track at Loughborough University, where Campbell was a lecturer in the department of physical education and sports science, that I first met this formidable woman. She was coaching on the in-field and I had snuck onto the track to train, without permission and in the middle of her lecture. While I rested between my ‘repetitions’, she coolly asked what I thought I was doing. Had I known that our own personal odysseys in sport would have become so inextricably intertwined, I probably would not have responded with: ‘What do you think I am doing?’. Her coolness was replaced by a withering look. ‘Don’t be cheeky,’ she warned.
We have often laughed about our first exchange. By the time she had arrived at Loughborough University, she had already done a stint as a PE teacher in Manchester. Her passion for school sport has shaped much of what has driven her own career. Her stewardship of the National Coaching Foundation as its chief exec helped give much-needed professional status to the role of coaching in British sport.
But it was her spell as chairman of UK Sport that heralded an unprecedented surge in the performance of our Olympic and Paralympic sports. London 2012, for all its successful delivery, would never have been viewed in the way it is now had we not had the great home town performances that we luxuriated in. She maintained this role alongside the chairmanship of the Youth Sports Trust, which created unprecedented opportunities for young people, particularly in areas hard-pressed to offer competitive sport in schools.
In 2016, she was appointed Head of Women’s Football at the FA, becoming its director in 2018. Already her focus has helped to solidify the women’s team on the world stage, as the recent World Cup demonstrated. Our Campbell sits in the House of Lords as a cross-bencher where she continues to fight the cause. It is hard to argue that any woman in British sport has had a bigger influence on its fortunes than Sue Campbell.
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