What better way to round off our year-long journey than with the team that ignited my passion to try and bring about gender equal sports media coverage?
I was one of around 10 million people watching Great Britain’s women win a stunning gold medal on 19 August 2016, overcoming heavy favourites The Netherlands in a dramatic shootout after a pulsating game had finished 3-3.
Having never shown an interest in hockey before Rio, suddenly I was gripped. And I wasn’t the only one.
One of the key values surrounding the women’s team is around inspiring the next generation and that is exactly what they did that evening with that sensational victory.
Of course one of the best things about the Olympics is that it brings a nation together to support athletes we may have never heard of before, but for 14% of the population to be watching this final was something extra special.
Putting it into context, the series finale of Bodyguard attracted an average of 10.4 million viewers, making it the most watched BBC drama since 2008.
The subsequent media frenzy that surrounded the players wasn’t just a recognition of their superb achievement either.
It was also a celebration of women’s team sport the likes of which this country hadn’t seen before.
Not only did they move the BBC’s 10pm news that evening, they also dominated the front and back pages the next morning and were invited to make a host of high profile media appearances over the next few months, including Hollie Pearne-Webb appearing on Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas special and Sam Quek on I’m A Celeb.
While successes for England at the 2014 Rugby World Cup and the 2015 FIFA World Cup had also received plenty of adulation, this was different.
It felt as though GB’s female hockey stars were receiving exactly the same media attention that a men’s team would if they’d won a major event.
However, as is seemingly always the case with these things, the coverage soon died down and before long women’s team sports were once again relegated to often nothing more than a couple of sentences, if they were lucky.
As someone who was just beginning my journalism career, this is where I decided I wanted to make a difference.
I wanted to be someone who gave our female athletes the recognition and coverage they deserved all year round, not just once every Olympic cycle.
The skill on show this week was exceptionally high but, claiming a staggering 59% of the vote, your #FIHProLeague #MomentOfTheWeek is this sublime individual effort from @LilyOwsley 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/cPw7LbtgUn
— Great Britain Hockey (@GBHockey) May 22, 2019
Perfect role models
I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this to the athletes before but they all – on both teams – continue to inspire me day in, day out.
They say never meet your heroes as they often don’t live up to expectations but I can honestly say working with each of them has only enhanced my perception.
Even though times are a bit tough at the moment, every game someone does something that makes me sit back and think ‘wow’.
That could be a goalkeeper pulling off a flying save, a forward scoring a stunning goal, a defender pulling off a last ditch tackle or someone nutmegging the goalkeeper in a shootout on their home international debut (I’ll single out Tess Howard here as that was epic!).
It’s not just on the pitch but off it too, whether they’re smashing through rehab, using their free time to run coaching classes or even setting up their own coaching academies.
They are also the consummate professionals when it comes to media appearances too or filming with our Comms team, always willing and ready to help when they can and often giving perfect answers.
Emily Defroand also deserves a mention here for the incredible attitude she showed to continue promoting last year’s Women’s World Cup despite not making the final 18.
Both sides often talk about the extended squad all being a part of a major event, even if not selected, and Emily was the epitome of that here as she continued to talk enthusiastically about the World Cup and do everything she could to promote it having been selected as a reserve.
Plenty of those stars of Rio 2016 who no longer play have also taken it upon themselves to continue promoting and growing the sport, whether it be directly or indirectly.
Kate and Helen Richardson-Walsh are both brilliant commentators and pundits as well as fantastic advocates for women in sport; Quek continues to raise her media profile with numerous TV appearances; Crista Cullen continues to be involved in fantastic animal conservation projects and Hannah MacLeod is coaching the next generation in the EDP setup.
By just putting themselves out there in the public domain, these individuals are significantly widening the pool of people who could potentially be drawn to hockey and this, alongside success of the current teams, could be crucial in growing the sport.
They all also give back to the fans in such amazing ways, taking time to sign autographs, take selfies and engage with them whenever they can whether that be in person or on social media.
I genuinely can’t think of a better bunch of people to work with.
— Great Britain Hockey (@GBHockey) June 14, 2019
Hockey blueprint the way forward for genuine equality
With the 2019 FIFA World Cup underway, it’s been interesting to note how many comparisons have been made between men’s and women’s football.
This is something we don’t get that much of in hockey for they are effectively treated as their own entities.
People respect both versions for their own different styles and this is something that should be done across all sports.
Men and women have different strengths and weaknesses and just because women may not run as fast or be as strong, it doesn’t mean they are any less skilful or less entertaining to watch.
Furthermore, one of the best things about hockey is that it is a genuinely equal sport.
Most of the world’s leading nations – especially those in Europe – each employ roughly the same number of male and female professional athletes. All major international events have a male and female version and each of these games are broadcast on BT Sport or the FIH’s own live broadcasting service.
Furthermore, in this country we have a 50/50 split between men and women participating in the sport.
And while the sport can be held back at times by certain stereotypes, unlike sports such as cricket, football and rugby it has long been seen as acceptable for both genders to take part in it.
I may be biased but if we really are going to fight for equality in all senses across sports then hockey really should be one of those that its bigger, more popular neighbours should be learning from.