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Weightlifting Wonders

“When you think of weightlifting, you think of men.” 






At 15 and 16 years old, Betsan, Cari, Nyarai and Ela are four of Llanelli Weightlifting Academy’s brightest young athletes, having been training there for over two years. But their promise in weightlifting doesn't come without an all-too familiar awareness and experience of some of sports’ most harmful gender stereotypes and deep-rooted culture of harassment. 


The girls speak of feeling “belittled”, “intimidated” and “rubbish about themselves”, due to comments and harassment from boys and young men, both online and in-person, upon hearing that the girls are weightlifters. Like many of us women in sports, they've felt forced to prove themselves, facing questions about how heavy they can actually lift, comments on their bodies, and suggestions that weightlifting will “take away their femininity”


And the barriers neither start nor stop there. A large part of our time together was spent talking about sports and PE lessons in school. At Our Streets Now, we know all too well that schools function as a hot pot for some of the wider issues in society, with harassment, misogyny, homophobia and racism reported to be rife in most secondary schools and colleges across the UK. When asked what they think needs to change in order to allow more girls to take up and stay in sport, the feeling was strong that sports provision in schools has a lot to answer for. “The boys will always be sent to do football or rugby, but the PE teachers don’t know what to do with us girls, so they just send us to the gym. Lots of the girls don’t do any sports, so they just walk on the treadmill for a bit.” 

“The girls will sometimes be told to do “Just Dance”, but the boys aren't allowed to join in and we aren’t allowed to do anything else. We should all just be able to choose what we want to do, and be allowed to do it.” 


They commented on the gender divide being apparent from when they were incredibly young, with sports and physical activities being split by gender even in primary school, which they said immediately creates this mindset that girls can’t do what boys can do, and therefore need to be split. 


And whilst the external noise tries to tell them that sports isn’t for them, all four tell me that weightlifting makes them feel empowered, strong, gives them a sense of community, and that they enjoy finally having “bragging rights” over the boys who so often try to bring them down. And luckily for these girls, Llanelli Weightlifting Academy provides them with exactly that. 


Head Coach, Matthew de Filippo, says the culture of inclusion and acceptance is really important to them.


The club provides the girls with free weightlifting shoes, hair bobbles (we all know that feeling of turning up to workout and forgetting our trusty bobble), and period products. Taking it one step further, they work the girls’ training programmes around their menstrual cycle. Refreshingly, the male coaches at the academy are aware of their responsibilities to be active allies and the potential that men have in the fight for gender equality. Whilst de Filippo also talks about relevant policies and procedures being in place and all the club’s volunteers receiving safeguarding training from a national governing body level, he’s aware of the importance of this, but that it is more than just policy documents that drive a culture within a youth-sport setting. 

“As a male role model, we have an important part to play in breaking the stigma and stereotypes around women in sports. We have to educate all the males that come to our gym about the appropriate standards of behaviour towards women and girls.” 


Children attend the academy in South Wales from as young as 10 years old. For the boys in particular, they are surrounded by girls and women, training in the gym environment and not being viewed or treated as inferior or weaker, with some of the girls even lifting heavier than the boys, and on the whole, being fully supported in doing so. 


The girls also spoke about the importance of female representation in sports, especially having more female coaches that look like them, and seeing more female athletes weightlifting online. They hope that boys will understand that girls can do what they can do, and as mentioned, sometimes, even better. 

Towards the end of our conversation, the girls asked if they could take a moment to thank the coaches at the academy for their support and encouragement, and said that if it wasn’t for them, they would have likely quit the sport and training a long time ago. 


Whilst it is clear that we still have a long way to go in deconstructing the culture of harassment and harmful stereotypes in sports, my time with these girls has given me faith that the future of women’s sport is in good hands. The need for more education and awareness around these issues is obvious but the girls here, like so many others that we work with, were grateful for the space to have these conversations and talk about some of their experiences, which they made very clear, all happen outside of the gym where they train. 


Our Streets Now is on a mission to break down the barriers and dismantle the systems where women, girls and marginalised genders have to fight for their place in sports, and face discrimination and harassment almost every step of the way. 


2 Comments


Colby Adkins
Colby Adkins
5 days ago

Whilst it is clear that we still have a long way to go in deconstructing the culture of harassment stickman hook

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han gu
Jul 15

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