From Volunteering at the Track to the Palace: An Interview with a Newly Crowned MBE

The linguistic origins of the word ‘volunteering’ come from the French and Latin terms for free will.

Zoom forward to 2018 and through your own ‘free will’ – giving up time and effort to contribute to sport and physical activity is a long standing pillar of English society. According to Sport England (2017, p.5) “5.6 million people volunteer every month in sport and physical activity in England.” That is a big number, but actually equates to just over 10% of the total population of England. Considering the media coverage and glorifying of high level athletes, coaches and leaders in sport, is it high time volunteers get as much profile or recognition?

I sat down for a quick chat with someone who I would regard as an ‘elite’ volunteer and someone who recently received a significant accolade and recognition for her efforts. Rebecca Foster, as detailed in these press releases (Hertfordshire Mercury and University of Worcester), received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.

Becs Blog
Becs in action! 

Rather than describing the reasons why Becs received the award (as you can read them in the linked press releases above); I sat down and spoke with Becs more generally, probing her about how she felt as an MBE recipient and how she was going to ‘use’ it.

Verity – you have participated in sport from a young age, so how does this award compare to say winning an athletics race?

RF – I still probably haven’t realised quite what this means… yes, I was a good athlete but not a great competitor. My personality was vocationally a teacher and probably a bit of carer, so I had always recognised that people had volunteered their time and enabled me to compete in athletics and I am always very grateful to those people… I love sport and I love what it has done for me, therefore, I would like to put something back, it is only right and that is basically what I did.

Verity – so volunteering in sport gives you a different sense of success than participating in sport?

RF- I think it is a very different feeling, I get great joy from helping athletes be better. For example, when a kid that came as a deaf athlete but with no signing skills and was immersed within the deaf community – won a gold and silver medal that year – but came back four years later a proficient signer and embraced her deaf identity through sport. I feel in some way that I was a helper along the way for her to get that self-actualisation that ‘I am deaf and it is okay to be deaf, I am talented and it is okay to be talented.’ So I liked the support I was able to give athletes, that is how I measure success.

Verity – is receiving an MBE the pinnacle for you?

RF- I see it as a platform for me now, one of my friends asked me what I was going to do with it. I think it means I have a stronger voice and perhaps I can instigate more change. I need to decide where the best place for me to do that is because, ironically, now I have taken a side step away from deaf sport as I have done it for twelve years and with my current job I have limited time. It [MBE] has motivated me more, as it has been a huge pat on the back. You know those long evenings over the years, those 2am nights where you are moaning, but this is a nice reflection of what I have done over the years at work, within deaf sport and away in my different volunteer activities.

Now I need to reflect and have time to think what I am going to ‘do’ with it…

A few brief thoughts from Becs is great and honest insight about what volunteering in sport, physical activity or recreation can feel like. For me, importantly, it is a snapshot of volunteering being cyclical in terms of giving back, recognition, motivation or success. The cyclical nature of volunteering is also, perhaps, a reason why it is tricky to recognise volunteers, as often their ‘success’ is measured by the achievements of athletes or clubs or communities – rather than seeing themselves as the success. Something to ponder more…

In a wider policy context a lot is being done within the sport, physical activity and recreation sector to recognise, plus sustain the hard work of individuals that volunteer. As the Sport England figure suggested there is a healthy level of volunteering, but this needs to be fostered further.

Key examples of what is being done currently:

Sport England Strategy

Sport England – Volunteering in Active Nation Strategy 2017- 2021 – snapshot of the strategy here.

Join In – the national brand for local sports volunteering and their GIVERS Research

Academic Research – for example – Post-Event Volunteering Legacy: Did the London 2012 Games Induce a Sustainable Volunteer Engagement? 2016, University of Kent

English Federation of Disability Sport – Encouraging more disabled people to volunteer in sport

House of Commons – Inquiry into the social impact of participation in culture and sport 

I look forward to what Becs will ‘do’ with her MBE and I am certainly inspired by what she has done over the years. Plus, the variety of activity that is being done in the sector, highlights, that policy wise people recognise that ‘free will’ cannot be taken for granted.


Sport and Media: the many Platforms

2018 has flown into February and the day of the Super Bowl. January has already thrown a lot of ‘curve balls’ and one that I did not anticipate was how busy this year would be in terms of sport mega events. The Winter Olympics, Commonwealth Games and World Cup all feature this year and that creates a lot of attention and chatter about sport for many reasons. But, in what forms, what voices and what ends does this chatter frame the ‘value’ of sport. The very question is being posed at an event I am heading to on Wednesday hosted by SOAS radio for World Radio Day the theme is sport and the panel discussion question is:

Has media forgotten the social values of sport?

I do not think this is a simple – yes, no or maybe – answer. I think it depends what view you have of sport and media, but most importantly values. For example, I spent last night watching the TPC Scottsdale PGA golf, and in complete contrast to the traditional notion that golf is polite, sedate and values a strict etiquette, the 16th hole was filled with over 16,000 people. It is a stadium like atmosphere where the golfers are momentary gladiators duelling with the crowed and a tiny white ball. A record 216,818 people attended the PGA tournament yesterday with the sponsors, governing body and community of Scottsdale embracing the raucous take on golf.

ESPN ‘Golfers feel 16th hole…’

From this platform of ‘modern raucous golf’ the argument can and has been made that the social values of sport have been overshadowed somewhat by the economic value of sport. As the 16th hole at Scottsdale is a strategy to build the brand, consumer base and marketability of golf. Beyond golf this weekend, the Super Bowl (the final of the American National Football League) commands astronomical sponsorship deals and creates gigantic figures of consumption around the game. Adweek have produced a lovely infographic showing how the primary sponsor (US Bank) justified a 20 year, $220 million dollar stadium endorsement deal.  When you consider the money, attention and economic value of sporting events you can see why the social values appear forgotten.

However, as Jose Gigante and Simon Rofe comment in this SOAS radio interview ‘Sports as more than a game’ on Friday there are other platforms that sport are used for. Pertinently for this blog post, there are varying levels where sport has not forgotten its social value. A couple of examples I have witnessed on both a large and small scale this week are to do with Manchester City, my uncle and social media.

On social media Manchester City launched – Same City | Same Passion – a video showcasing that beyond their Premier League team the ladies, youth and community are the same. Using their own brand and media platform the organisation are making a very explicit social statement. If you believe it or not is a different debate, but it is an example of the social value of sport being leveraged above any other. Secondly, in a grassroots context my own uncle is using social media to promote and raise money for a charitable cause; I am sure a number of you have friends or relatives that have done such. Through twitter and Facebook Mark is showing progress of his training for a half marathon to encourage people to sponsor him. Getting fit, completing the race – the sporting value of his endeavour – is secondary to the media based campaign he is cultivating to raise money for a (socially driven) charitable cause.

If you compare the TPC Scottsdale 16th hole, Super Bowl venue, Manchester City Same campaign and my uncle’s half marathon they are all different uses of media and sport. They are all communicating varying sporting, economic, social, political… values. Sport has many platforms. Sport has many values. It depends on the mode, voice and ends to how you perceive it.

An illustration of value in an art context.

When I attend the event at SOAS on Wednesday I don’t want to be persuaded that yes, no or maybe to whether media has forgotten the social values of sport.

I want to hear more examples and experiences the speakers have around media and sport. To then discuss… how can we evaluate the value? What values should it promote?

For me sport throws curve balls. It is not homogeneous, as the raucous golf to half marathon charity runs show, the variety of platforms is one of sports main values for me!


p.s. If you enjoyed this blog today, please click the link below and donate to Mark’s Just Giving page, let’s get him to £1000

Sport in 2018: Human, Canine and Virtual

2018 is going to be another year of outrageous, expensive and laudable sporting endeavours. In the early part of the year the Winter Olympics will be hosted by South Korea and then in the summer the FIFA World Cup is heading to Russia. Yet, for me the two stand out events will be canine and virtually based.

1998 Supreme Champion 

Firstly, Crufts ‘the world’s greatest dog show.’ I had to defend myself during a second year undergraduate seminar earlier in December when I, proudly, declared that one of my most influential early sporting moments was attending Crufts. In the seminar there was absolute uproar “Crufts is not a sport, it is a hobby” and “it is not a sport because it is about dogs, not people.” Does sport have to be about human endeavour? I argued no, the rich history of using animals (horses, dogs, birds amongst other animals) goes back for centuries, if not millennia if you include the Ancient worlds. Crufts, last year, celebrated its 125 year anniversary having started out in 1891. The presence of events, such as, Crufts who function differently to other popular human sports have a historic connection to culture and lifestyle in the United Kingdom. The spectacle takes place in Birmingham at the NEC in March and televised (mostly likely on Channel Four) or on a YouTube livestream. The recent expansion to using the digital platform of YouTube links to the second stand out event of the year, the Asian Games.

The Asian Games are not particularly well documented or reported in the UK media as it is a non-western regional sporting event, yet this year it has garnered increasing attention due to the inclusion of eSports (a form of competition using video games). In April 2017 the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) partnered with Alisports (the sports arm of Chinese online retail giant Alibaba) to have eSports as a demonstration sport in 2018 and an official medal sport in the 2022 iterations of the Asian Games. The long term goal will be to push the argument that eSports could feature in the Olympic Games, part of the wider ambition of engaging with younger global populations. Reported in the Guardian, the OCA said the decision to include eSports in the 2018 Asian Games reflects “the rapid development and popularity of this new form of sports participation among the youth.” In contrast to Crufts a bastion of the traditional and historic connections to sport and canines, eSports is an evolution of connection between sport and the virtual world. Is it the future of international sporting opportunities?

The International, a Dota 2 tournament that is played annually at the KeyArena in Seattle

2018 will be an interesting year to how traditional and contemporary sporting events will be represented in the media, viewed by audiences and supported by sponsors, organisations and governments. The decision on the 19th December to award Birmingham the Commonwealth Games in 2022 – which has a preliminary public budget of one billion pounds – sparks the question of what sports will feature in 2022? Old or new. Virtual, human or animal based. At the turn of a new calendar year who knows what the next 12 months will hold!

Happy New Year all,


Lanterns on Planes: Halloween or Winter Olympics?


Today, 31st October, is Halloween. It also, marks the day that the Olympic Flame travels to Pyeongchang, South Korea and the 100 day countdown to the next edition of the Winter Olympic Games. The Games are scheduled to take place from 9th to 25th February, 2018. They will be followed by the Paralympics, which are due to be held from 8th to 18th March, 2018. But, for me the next 100 days could entail some ‘tricks and treats’ for the hosts and Olympic organisations.


Currently, ticket sales for the events are not going too well, with reports this week that the Paralympics have sold less than 5% and the Olympics have sold just over 30%. According to Inside the Games, “low ticket sales are being blamed on the poor promotion of Pyeongchang 2018, the first edition of the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games ever be held in South Korea.” But, I think that is shying away from a couple of other larger issues in and around the Olympics and South Korea currently.

Firstly, geopolitically, South Korea does not appear to be the most sensible destination to travel to. The history between North and South Korea is complicated and the current unrest between North Korea and the USA suggests the Games could be vulnerable. The Olympic Games is not a stranger to wider political issues, for example, the 1980 boycott by the USA around the Cold War or the pressures of Apartheid and South African international sport participation. Consequently, to ignore the geopolitical events of Brexit negotiations, Trump or nuclear advancements since the Summer Olympics in Rio 2016, would be remiss.

Secondly, the simmering and recurring issue for the International Olympic Committee and wider elite sporting community is – doping and should Russia compete? The International Paralympic Committee have continued to take a hard line against Russia due to the state-sponsored doping scandal through sanctions. However, we will find out in December whether or not Russia will be allowed to compete in the Games. The continuing cloud of doping vs. banning the country that hosted the last Winter Olympics (Sochi 2014) and came top of both the Olympic and Paralympic medal tables (33 medals and 80 medals) is a precarious decision for the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee.


Now, I am not suggesting that the lack of ticket sales are directly attributable to geopolitical or doping based issues. But, what I do think is evident is the Winter Olympics are not receiving as much  coverage, attention or build up due to wider issues that fill up the media or strategy of organisations and nations. Although the Olympic Flame is on its way to South Korea, I think it is no coincidence it travels on Halloween. Next February and March may well have some ‘tricks and treats’ for the hosts and the International Olympic committee!




Transatlantic Pigskin: NFL, London and Considering my Knee

The closest I get to a UK national sporting anthem is Oasis ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger,’ consequently, from a personal perspective I am not too sure what to make of the current NFL fall out over kneeling, unity, Trump and the 32 NFL franchises (this link is a great take on the situation though). Beyond the national anthem debacle, however, the fall out has made the idea of a NFL franchise based in London much more significant – especially – as Spurs continue to accommodate an NFL pitch into their new ground.


I am going to one of the International Series this weekend at Wembley between the Saints and Dolphins. Firstly, should I take a knee; and secondly and less personally, can and should the UK embrace an American sporting institution here in Britain?

Spurs New Pitch

Briefly, here are a couple of perspectives I have considered:

Economic – depends on who you ask, the government (in 2014) thinks so, Daniel Levy at Spurs thinks so. In the current climate of Brexit, it would also appear to make a lot of sense. Yes, to the franchise.

Tourism – does London need to be more global? Arguably a new franchise would add another global sports team and brand, but with multiple teams already vying in that market the NFL may further muddy the waters. Also, from a domestic perspective and as a Rugby League fan would a new sport using an oval ball further impede on an already saturated oval ball market? No, to the franchise.

Environmental – that is a lot of fuel. I am not too clued up on my environmental knowledge, but for me this must be a factor and ethically make sense. So, if the franchise could be carbon neutral and not a pure environmentally disregarding endeavour then yes. But until I know more, not sure, to the franchise.

Socio-cultural – the #TakeAKnee showcases for me how the UK and America share a number of socio-cultural commonalities, such as, the English language; but there are huge gulfs in our social and cultural practices, such as, differences over when the national anthem is played or flag is honoured (or putting ‘u’ in words). Would an international sports franchise balance these? Not sure, to the franchise (plus, a research project in there somewhere as well).

Political – do I need to say anything else, other than, 140 characters here? As in the current war of words over Twitter, between the NFL and President Trump, shows it is a tricky time for American Football right now. Moreover, the special relationship is on new ground with the current international strategies of both the UK and America. It is politically both an opportunity and threat for me, therefore, not sure, to the franchise.

Sporting – a large scale franchise that could balance the soccer heavy London market and carve up new opportunities, which could be beneficial. But, as I stated in the tourism point this could, also, hoover up prospective supporters, volunteers and sponsorship etc. for UK based sports. Finally, would we start teaching American Football in schools? Potentially through my Rugby League bias, I would say no, to the franchise.

As ever, and as ever historically, sport is playing a role in both an active and passive way during this unprecedented situation – unprecedented in the potential permanent international franchise, but also unprecedented within the current UK and American economic, social and political climates. Considering, briefly, multiple perspectives I am a mixture of no, yes and not sure, so rather uselessly no closer to a definitive view!

Alas, my more immediate concern is for Sunday, do I take a knee? Based on my views and perspectives I may abstain and hum an Oasis song instead…


Writer’s Block: I’m Selfish, Impatient and a Little Insecure!

For the first time in my short blogging career I am not sure what to write about and do not really have the inspiration to write. Quite surprising since it is the ‘summer’ so my student status must mean I have oodles of time; plus, there is plenty to be chatting about (cough women’s football cough), alas, nothing.

Is it okay?

I think an underappreciated skill of writing, in my view, is knowing when to take a break, take a few steps back and be okay about having writer’s block.


So, this month instead of blogging about anything in particular. I am going to comb through the internet for useful guides, posts and shared thoughts on the old writer’s block. Here are my top 5:

  • Time tracking – is the best website that is free and easy to create an account. It times, tracks and logs 25 minutes of work and 5 minute breaks.
  • Helpful articles with hints and tips – The Guardian­ ­here describes some real gems, such as, social writing or setting realistic goals. Although obvious, I like reading about writer’s block every so often.
  • Grammar websites – grammar is by far one of my biggest weaknesses and often messes up my flow and confidence of writing. Grammatology, amongst other, websites and tools give kind reminders of, for example, where the bloody hell to use a comma.
  • Pintrest – I think often sharing with friends and family about writer’s block can be futile as they cannot relate or attempt to solve rather than listen; so pintrest acts as virtual and never ending community of sharing thoughts.
  • British Library EThOS – the BL is great. The function here allows you to search all public PhD thesis’ and read for free. I like reading these as this kindly reminds me that everyone starts somewhere…

Finally, an extra sneaky one, that is the killer idea of, exercise. Incredibly appropriate for this blog, but, I do think that exercise and, in particular, exercise where you can ‘switch off’ helps a lot.

Alas, even with: timing tools, shared articles, virtual communities, grammar tips, reading other thesis’ and going for the occasional run… this month of August has not been the one. I still need to work on when to take a break, steps back or realising that other things can impact on my writing and it is okay to be blocked. Maybe this will come with age and maturity, but to be honest, I think my writing alter ego is illustrated quite wonderfully by this fantastic Marilyn Monroe quote…


Back to it for September, obviously.


Thinking – the Process of Considering or Reasoning about Something

The past month I have been rather reflective to how I have survived the MPhil/PhD process so far. It has been triggered by a number of things:

  • Moving house and inevitably having to clear through those piles of papers and collectables that you ‘put’ for safe keeping but never file away (now in boxes or a collage);
  • My pride over a colour coded, A3 printed and formal GANTT chart for June to December 2017;
  • A Ted Talk about ‘the surprising habits of original thinkers’ by Adam Grant.

Now, I am definitely not making a statement here, that I am an original thinker or particular an efficient thinker. But, I have come across 3 moments since October 2015 (start of my PhD) where I have presented my thinking in very different ways. I am going to reflect on them one by one, then connect how it gives me confidence for the upcoming final (yes, final) fully funded year of my PhD.

Blog July _ Thinking

  1. October 2015 – Collage

A collage right at the beginning of my PhD represents a daunted me who wanted to put down thoughts and ideas about what I wanted my ‘research project’ to look like. But, with a fear of not being good enough or academic enough I grabbed magazines, a glue stick and put together an assortment of arrows.

  1. September 2016 – Conference Poster

Nearly a year in, I was getting quite cocky and put together my first academic poster to present down at the University of Chichester. This thinking involved my preliminary PhD plan and a lot of loosely connected references. It was the first time I tried to ‘fit’ thinking into something an external reader could understand.

  1. June 2017 – GANTT Chart

Role into 2017 and in April I passed my RDB2 ‘transfer’ where I had submitted a written piece and presented orally my project to date, then post an interview with an external reviewer I was deemed PhD worthy or not. The Gantt chart represents two months of formally transforming the RDB2 thinking into an actual to do list. More based on time than ideas and something I can use from now til December as a benchmark.

In my reflection this month I realise that I have travelled from abstract thinking (collage), to educated guess thinking (poster), to reality thinking (gantt chart) and demonstrate possibly the most difficult skill of a PhD – progressing from thinking to doing. The Ted Talk discusses the utility of procrastinating and giving space to think, which I certainly have done, as I am 21 months in and now using the F word (finish). I definitely needed the earlier thinking stages to progress through to doing.

Why is this useful for anyone other than me and my brain?! It is useful to any other research student that has the normal and frequent fear of… am I thinking enough; am I thinking too much; how and when to present and use such thinking. My answer would be to share and reflect. Everyone does it differently, but the better you know how you think yourself… then surely you can become ‘better’ at it?! Or maybe it is not that mechanical and by Christmas I shall be collaging using magazines again…?!



Rosie Plimmer (Researcher Development Officer, University of Worcester) of course I am also using the Vitae Researcher Development Framework to formally document this!