Blue Plaques celebrate notable and distinguished figures of the past and the buildings in which they lived and worked. The original Blue Plaque scheme was founded in 1866 and is run today by English Heritage. It inspired many similar schemes, and a multitude of sporting arenas around the country are now adorned with plaques and statues of sporting heroes, serving to celebrate their achievements and iconic sporting moments.
Where are the women?
There are around 200 statues of sports stars in the UK and – quite shockingly – only two of them are of sportswomen. The official Blue Plaque scheme is particularly visible in London, and yet only two of the Blue Plaques in the capital are dedicated to sportswomen.
In a time when women’s sport is finally on the road to achieving some sort of long overdue equality with men’s sport, this invisibility is particularly jarring. Moreover, it continues to propagate the myth that women and sport are not natural bedfellows.
Sports journalist, campaigner and author, Anna Kessel stumbled across the dispiriting revelation while researching for her book, Eat Sweat Play: How Sport Can Change Our Lives – itself a kind of manifesto for sporting equality. Shocked by the invisibility of these incredible sportswomen’s stories, Anna contacted Jo Bostock and Tammy Parlour – co-founders of the Women’s Sport Trust – and set about plotting how to make a difference.
Redressing the balance
The result – the Blue Plaque Rebellion – aims to redress the balance, as it unearths and shares stories of amazing sportswomen throughout history, and dispels the myth that the combination of women and sport is unnatural. Anna Kessel, who launched the campaign, said:
So many people will have never have heard of women like Lottie Dod, who is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the most versatile sportswoman ever. She won Wimbledon five times, she played for the England hockey team and cricket and no one has ever heard of her! We want stories like this out there to help people understand that women and sport is a natural connection. – Anna Kessel, Blue Plaque Rebellion founder
Despite the huge leaps forward women’s sport has taken, it still suffers from a relative lack of exposure and inequality – but this only serves to underline the struggles sportswomen from yesteryear will have encountered. Even recently, heroes like Rachael Heyhoe-Flint had to overcome barely believable attitudes and bigotry. And so the Blue Plaque Rebellion is shining a light on the stories of extraordinary sportswomen, and campaigning for a public platform to secure and trumpet their legacies.
You can help
Maybe you can help? Perhaps, for example, you have a grandmother who was involved in the women’s football boom of the 1920s? Whatever the sport, if you have a story then Blue Plaque Rebellion want you to share it. Working with English Heritage, local councils and sports governing bodies, Blue Plaque Rebellion will put forward proposals for as many verifiable sportswomen’s stories as possible, with the ultimate aim of securing blue plaques or statues and changing the visual landscape of women in sport for the future.
Tweet your stories, or a message of support, using @BluePlaqueRebel and the hashtag #RecogniseHer – and, as well as righting wrongs from the past, you can play your part in making a difference to the future of women’s sport.
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