Tuesday 19 September 2017

Karl Henry: Irish women’s rugby team can inspire our children to play sport and halt the rising obesity levels

Karl Henry

Women in sport - we need more of them. We need them to be ambassadors, to guide the thousands of teenagers and school children around Ireland, helping them lead a healthier lifestyle, to encourage them to participate in sports in schools and to stay participating as the school cycle goes from primary to secondary and then into third level.

We need them to urge young people to smoke less and drink less, and to show what can be achieved with hard work, sacrifice, belief and, above all, teamwork.

This week sees the start of the Women's Rugby World Cup from August 9-26 at various stadiums in Dublin and Belfast. Here are the ambassadors that we need. Women who stand for so much that's positive, that's healthy and that represents all that is good in sport.

It happens to be a game that the Irish Women's Rugby team are bloody good at, winning the Six Nations in 2013 and 2015, and now ranked fifth in the world. This is a game that has been rapidly growing in popularity in Ireland and around the world.

This is our chance as a nation to show these women just how much we admire and support them. How their achievements have inspired us all to be better at what we do, to train harder and aim to be not just good, but the best we can be. The world will be watching these games, the spectacle that is a world cup tournament, and we need to get out there and support in numbers.

So why focus on them for today's column? It's simple really. The more work I do around the country, the more teachers and parents I meet concerned about their children. Especially about their children's weight and fitness as they go through the school and college cycle.

Obesity levels are growing and physical activity levels are decreasing. PE class attendance by girls is falling too and schools seem to do little about it.

Watching the success of female sports people and especially female team sports, I truly believe the answers lie in these athletes. They have the power to inspire and to create an image of sport for women that portrays it as cool, trendy and, above all, life-changing.

Sport can do that - it can change your life. Especially if, at a young age, that sport becomes part of your life. We know that if we can keep teenagers active and participating throughout the school cycle then they are more likely to stay active through college and later in life too.

I believe the Irish women's rugby team, as well as all female sports teams, can provide the inspiration and the catalyst for children all around Ireland to want to be like them and to play like them. Here is our chance to play our part too.

Bring your friends, your children, your pupils, your office - bring anyone you can or even on your own - to one of the World Cup games, or watch it on TV. Expose all those around you to what sport can do for them and for all.

The first Irish match is tomorrow against Australia (kick-off 7pm). The game will be broadcast on RTE2 and RTE Player. For more, see rwcwomens.com.

Irish Independent

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