Creating 20X20

The 20X20 Campaign around Women’s Sport has created massive noise and support since its launch on Monday. We sat down with the two principal architects who brought it to life and touched on how they will be looking to maintain momentum over the best part of two years through to 2020.

Sarah Colgan of Along Came a Spider first started talking to us at Sport for Business at the beginning of 2018 when she came to our Sporting Year Ahead event in the Marker Hotel.  Mary O’Connor was only beginning her tenure as the new CEO of the Federation of Irish Sport but when the two came together they knew that there was something special that could be created so long as all the pieces fell together…

Sport for Business: Brilliant launch this morning, great enthusiasm in the room, tell us a little about the spark that first created what has now come to life.

Sarah Colgan: The first spark was when I realised that I was treating the need to go and do sport differently for my young son and daughter, and I thought that’s not right.  The second was sitting down to discuss it with my partner in Along Came a Spider Heather Thornton.  There were daily discussions about ‘what if’ and we realised that what I had felt was not unusual and that a lot of people in sport had a lot to say about what could and should be done to make Women’s sport more visible and more recognised.

We took it to the Federation of Irish Sport, to Mary O’Connor and Roddy Guiney and they were hugely positive. We started talking to National Governing Bodies first and there was a real enthusiasm. We never expected it would get off the ground so quickly with sponsors and media partners.

I think if we had created this five years ago it would have been too soon and in a couple of years too late.  We are capturing the moment now when there is a real enthusiasm for the whole area of equality.

In terms of harnessing support from sport how much freshness is there in order to keep momentum in a sporting infrastructure that is often hard pressed for resource and is focused on general participation and performance.  It’s easy to stir the blood at a big launch but will they have time and energy to keep that up?

Mary O’Connor: The National Bodies and the Local Sports partnerships have been leading in this area for a few years now, to often good effect at local level.  What this campaign now offers is to create a unified approach.  It creates a wider sense of being in this together and working closely together.  The three pillars of coverage, participation and attendance all appeal at different levels to the different bodies but all have a particular sense of what they’d like to do in at least one.

Coming from an NGB background in Camogie I was acutely aware of not wanting to create additional work.  We wanted to sit alongside their current systems and programmes.  It is an asset for them to use, not a burden of additional work.

Our job is to ensure that niche and emerging sports are given a platform to tell their story, to excel in their own right as part of a bigger movement than they might generate under their own steam.

You are both light on resource yourselves in terms of organisational structure.  How hard or easy has it been to strike the right balance between your obvious passion for this and the sometimes more prosaic elements of running your business or the Federation?

Sarah Colgan: In truth, I’m not sure I got the balance right.  I probably let the excitement get a little too much and I think my husband and kids will be happy to see a little more of me.  When you are passionate about something it doesn’t feel like work.  We want and believe in this so much.

All those involved have been so supportive and signed up to the 20X20 charter with such enthusiasm that you have to match that.  Having so many working together, from different sizes of organisation, is special.

We are set up as a not for profit organisation, and there are limited funds for advertising but there is a real opportunity to make a real difference.

Mary O’Connor: I had just started in December and Sarah and Heather came to see me in January and I could see the passion.  I thought that now I was in a position in my career where I could help to bring about behavioural change.  That’s special.  We had a lot of conversations to see what was possible and today is the fruit of all that labour.

Everyone weighed in and we have plans to keep the momentum going not just over six days or six weeks but over the whole of the campaign.

Just on the structure, as a not for profit is there a way that individuals or others can contribute beyond the existing sponsors or do you need that?

Sarah Colgan: It’s not on the agenda at the moment but we will be looking at it.  If there was more resource we would use that to have more shoulders to the wheel, to get more done.

Could it form the basis of the Women in Sport Foundation that Sarah Keane has spoken of before?

Sarah Colgan: The idea of a Foundation is amazing and there are some other great ideas out there as well.  We’ve been very fortunate to have the support of AIG, Lidl, Three, KPMG and Investec to get this off the ground.  They have really stepped up to the plate.

Mary O’Connor: What we are trying to do is create greater visibility for our members in sport.  This is a social movement that people can really buy into emotionally.  making their own pledge gets then invested in the idea of Women in sport and Sport for all.  That’s really important.

So you light the spark but the flame has to come from the wider community?

Sarah Colgan: Absolutely.  We will do our best to empower that through the assets that Along Came a Spider have and will create, through digital channels and through our media partners.  The exposure will be critical.

What’s the timetable for those assets?

Sarah Colgan: The first video is out and live from the launch.  It’s a film interviewing young girls across the country about their views.  There will be nine more films over the two years.  The campaign will be divided across five themes so that it’s not the same message all the time.

The first theme is our cultural perception of girls and women in sport and looking to have this as something which can be culturally embraced.

The second will be looking at role models specifically.  The third is an adaptation of a  quote from Nike that it’s not a boy thing or a girl thing, its a skills thing. The fourth is the benefits of participation and the fifth which will be around the time of the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio will be about looking to the future.

We’ll also have a film with each of the ambassadors which will make up to the ten.

The commitment from the sponsors is through to 2020 so you are fully funded for the campaign?

Sarah Colgan: Absolutely.  We have the five official sponsors and over the coming months we will be introducing official supporters as well.


Sport for Business’ commitment outside of the level of coverage we already give to Women in Sport, the publication of our 50 Women of Influence List with Liberty Insurance, our Women in Sport Conference in December and our Game Changer mentoring network with AIG which will launch a second wave in the coming days, is to produce a 20X20 Weekly column looking at issues surrounding Women in Sport.  We published the first of those yesterday and you can read it here.




Similar Articles