How the next generation of UK athletes are powering positive change

Powered by Purpose: How the next generation of British athletes are driving positive change

Georgia Holt (left) and Sophie Unwin (right) win Silver in the Women’s Tandem B – 1000m Time Trial at the 2022 Commonwealth Games at the Velodrome, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London | Credit: Alamy

Being a top athlete means realizing dreams and ambitions in the sports arena. But for many of Britain’s elite athletes in 2023, it’s also about driving and creating lasting positive change in society.

Both athletes and legislators know that elite athletes are important role models for our communities. And on issues like period poverty, water quality, disability inclusion and mental wellbeing, UK Sport’s Powered by Purpose program gives UK athletes the opportunities and skills they need to drive positive change in our communities.

The past 12 months have shown how sporting achievements can capture the nation’s imagination and inspire future generations. This inspiration goes beyond the extraordinary achievements of British athletes on the pitch. It’s also about our sporting heroes showing how their personal and sporting values ​​can shape a positive and inclusive future for all.

Now a new program launched by UK Sport, Powered by Purpose, in partnership with The True Athlete Project, is working with 20 UK athletes to empower them to make a difference, be it locally in their communities or national, for a good cause authentic and sincere for them.

Multiple Olympic medalist and Chair of British Sport Dame Katherine Grainger believes the new partnership represents a valuable resource for athletes looking to make a bigger difference.

“As an athlete, I’ve seen the wonderful impact and influence that sport can have, but the world is changing and the world of sport is being affected by those changes as well. The power and platform of high-performance sport offer a unique opportunity to contribute to sustainable, positive change for people and the environment.”

Kim Leadbeater MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sport, agrees with Grainger on the crucial role that elite athletes play in providing positive role models and encouraging participation, particularly by women and girls.

“We have such talent at all levels in this country, but our elite athletes are national heroes and ambassadors of our important sport and leisure sector,” says Leadbeater. “Women athletes may face additional challenges, including poverty in old age and a lack of equity in pay, opportunities and even changing facilities. I am pleased that the recent achievements of our elite athletes have inspired a growing number of people to get more active and dream of reaching the top.”

In a 2020 Athlete Consultation, UK Sport found that 86% of athletes in the world-class program want to use their platform to make a difference in society while still competing. One athlete already benefiting from the Powered by Purpose program is British track cyclist Georgia Holt.

Holt is no stranger to sporting success. She secured a silver medal at last year’s Commonwealth Games piloting Sophie Unwin in the women’s tandem B 1000m TT and a gold medal at the UCI Para-Track Cycling World Championships in the team tandem sprint.

She knows from her own experience how powerful athletes can be as role models for others. Her childhood heroes were British horsemen and what resonated with her was not only their athletic prowess but also the qualities of resilience they demonstrated.

“I loved Mary King and Oliver Townend,” she recalls. “Both suffered serious injuries but they recovered. I found her tenacity really inspiring when I was younger. That you can come back from anything. I remember thinking, ‘If they can do it, then of course I can do it.’”

Holt also cites Victoria Pendleton as another inspiration, not only because of her excellence in athletics, but also because of the very human qualities that resonated with Holt as a young athlete.

“She was the kind of athlete who wore her heart on her sleeve,” says Holt of Pendleton. “I found it incredibly empowering. That you are never “too loud” or “too emotional”. That there is no such thing.”

In part, it was inspiration from athletes like Pendleton that motivated Holt to join the Powered by Purpose program. Like her own childhood athletic heroes, Holt wanted to share the core values ​​that drive her as an athlete with audiences beyond the velodrome.

Social media is making people realize that there is more to athletes than training or a gold medal

“Social media is making people realize that there’s more to athletes than training or a gold medal,” she says PoliticsHome. “That doesn’t take away from what a gold medal means to me, but maybe you relate more to what I say about active travel, period poverty or para-inclusion. I want people to follow me on this and my sporting journey.”

Holt is very positive about the program and the tools it gives her to combine her athletic progress with the confidence and ability to speak openly and passionately about the changes she wants to see.

In particular, she believes that being open and honest about how periods affect female athletes can help girls and young women begin their own athletic journeys.

“I’d like to continue researching menstruation in sports,” she tells us. “It can be something that discourages participation, especially among younger athletes. Speaking openly about this is such an important step forward and something we must continue to do.”

Holt is also passionate about using her sports platform to promote greater inclusion of people with disabilities both in sports and in the workplace. As an able-bodied athlete who is part of the Para Athlete roster, she has seen firsthand the barriers faced by her visually impaired sporting partner.

“Although I’m not visually impaired, I can see the challenges my para-cycling partner faces with everyday problems,” she tells us. “It just can’t be allowed to happen. It’s 2023.”

Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equality Committee, believes the Powered by Purpose program can make a real difference, particularly on equality issues.

“Elite athletes working to make a difference in their local communities should be celebrated,” says Nokes PoliticsHome. “We know from the Committee’s evidence sessions on sexism and inequality in football that there is still work to be done to eradicate harmful cultures in sport and make it an inclusive place for all. I am pleased that many important gender equality issues are being given another platform through this initiative.”

As a nation, the UK has a deep connection to elite sport. Athletes like Georgia Holt show that connection can go far beyond gold medals and mileage. It can also help shape a healthier and fairer nation for all of us.

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