As part of our focus on Oxford women’s sport, the Blue Bird caught-up with President of Atalanta’s Society, Maddie Burnell.
BB: Hey Maddie, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! Maybe you could start by telling us a bit about yourself?
No problem! I’m a third-year Art Historian at St Peter’s and Atalanta’s President this year. It’s been a really fun job so far – the committee are great! I played Blues Hockey for my first two years and have recently switched to playing for the Roos (2nd VII) Netball team.
BB: Hockey and netball – get you a girl who can do both! You must have played a fair few matches in your time at Oxford so far. What’s been the highlight?
My sporting highlight… Hmm… It was probably my first varsity match. I was so nervous and we all knew it was going to be a close game. We were such a tight-knit team but had had a bit of tough Hilary in terms of results. We were sitting in the changing room before going out onto the pitch and everyone was uncharacteristically silent… Then someone started humming the first song on our warm-up playlist (Ugly Heart – G.R.L). Everyone got up and started singing – we were all jumping around and belting out the lyrics together (which Cambridge could definitely hear in the changing room next door). It was such a bizarre but happy moment – it set the tone for the match – everyone just really wanted to win for each other. We put on a great team performance and ended up winning 2-1.
BB: That’s pretty surreal! Already being part of such tightly-knit teams, what does Atalanta’s give you that your team can’t?
Atalanta’s is a society which aims to promote and support women playing university level sport. Each year we offer a number of bursaries to sportswomen and teams which could fund anything from travelling abroad for international training programs, to new goals, to physio sessions. We also run a lot of events, such as networking events with our sponsors (Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, OC&C and Neptune), subsidized/free brunches and dinners, large-scale cocktail events and group exercise sessions. One of our aims for the year is to increase efforts towards injury prevention and recovery by partnering with physios and sports masseuses who will provide our members with discounted prices. Stay tuned!
Each week we share photos/stories of what all the women’s teams have been up to; at early morning training sessions, team socials or BUCS matches on Wednesdays. It’s great to see everyone encouraging/congratulating each other and making friends with people from different sports. I’ve really enjoyed being a member for the last two years. I’ve met some fab people and it’s such a fun and supportive community to be a part of.
BB: I’m sold! How do I become a member though? Are you really selective? Will it break the bank?
Of course not! It’s a one-off £50 to join, so will last your whole time at Oxford! Membership is open to people of all genders who have either; played in a varsity match (for any team), or are forecasted to do so, or have shown a strong commitment to supporting or coaching women’s university level sport. There are more details on the website.
BB: Sounds like a bargain to me. Atalanta’s is clearly doing a lot to support women’s sport, including pushing the This Girl Can campaign. How’s that going?
The SU has done a fantastic job with the This Girl Can campaign and it’s great to see how much support it has had across the university! With such a heavy focus on academia at Oxford, I think it’s important that people (students and tutors of both genders) recognize how beneficial doing sport and exercise can be – academically, emotionally and mentally! For so many people who play sport at Oxford, it is essential not just for their physical health, but also for their mental health. Sport shouldn’t be seen as something which interrupts time spent studying and academic progress, but rather as something which can aid it.
BB: I completely agree! Regardless of ability, everyone can get a lot out of having sport in their life, don’t you think?
Exactly! The This Girl Campaign is all about encouraging girls to get involved with sport at every level, from a casual session once a week to aspiring to play internationally. The college sport system provides the opportunity for people of all standards to have a go and play competitive sport. It would be great if the Oxford Girls Can week inspires more girls to join in and increases the crowds and support at female cuppers matches.
BB: This week is definitely a step in the right direction, but what more could we be doing as a university to support women’s sport?
It’s a tricky question…. One of the things which has been pointed out recently, especially in the run-up to the Varsity Rugby matches, is the number of people who refer to the men’s match as ‘The Varsity Match’, and either don’t mention the women’s one at all or refer to it as the women’s version. I remember noticing the same thing with some of the coverage of the Rowing Varsity races. ‘The Boat Race’ usually refers to the men’s race. It’s a linguistic habit which really needs to be broken so that then men’s and women’s matches are referred to on equal terms. However, this shouldn’t take away from the fact that massive steps have been made in recent years and it’s great to see the women playing at Twickenham and an increasing number of people attending all of the female varsity matches. There is currently a big focus on improving the sporting opportunities for women in Oxford, so it is looking very promising for the years to come!
BB: A great note to end on. Thanks, Maddie!
Inspired by Maddie’s experiences and looking to get involved? Check out the Oxbridge Girls Can week and come along to an event!