Female British Gold Medalists – Heather Stanning

Labour Party

Following on from yesterdays profile on Helen Glover, today’s will be on her team mate, Heather Stanning.

For most Olympians, taking part in this summer’s Games is by far the most daunting challenge they are likely to face all year. For Heather Stanning, however, this is not necessarily true. A captain in the Royal Artillery, she was temporarily released from duties to train full-time but could potentially be sent to Afghanistan this autumn.

Stanning, 27, was born in Yeovil but raised in Lossiemouth in Scotland and educated at Bath University, where she graduated in sports technology. She started rowing seriously in 2006 when she joined the Team GB Start programme. Since then she has gone from strength to strength, proving her early talent by winning the women’s pair competition at the 2007 world under-23 championships and in 2008 coming first in the Remenham Challenge Cup at the Henley royal regatta. She was commissioned from Sandhurst college into the Royal Artillery in August of the same year.

But it was only once she was paired with Helen Glover that things started to take off in a big way. The duo made a name for themselves in 2010 with strong performances in the World Cup Series and a heroic silver at the world championships – and since then have never looked back.

Once the Games are done in September, Stanning has said that she will go back to her work in the Royal Artillery barracks at Larkhill. Her military experience helps her put the sport into perspective, she says. “The army training has given me determination and toughness,” she told the Sun. “A year at Sandhurst – you don’t just float through that. It has shaped me as a person and helped me to get where I am. Training for the army has given me perspective – in that what I’m doing now isn’t the be all and end all. Although rowing is important for me at the moment, I have a bigger picture to look at.”

Female British Gold Medalists – Helen Glover

Labour Party

Today and tomorrow’s profiles will be looking at the two women who won Britain’s first golds of the Olympics; the rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning.  We’ll start today with Helen Glover.

Five years ago Helen Glover had never rowed in her life. A student of sport and exercise science at Cardiff Metropolitan University, her goal in life was to qualify with a PGCE and start work as a primary school teacher – an ambition which, true to form, she achieved. The main sports for the daughter of the former Cornwall rugby captain Jimmy Glover were cross-country running, tennis, swimming and hockey (she was part of the England satellite squad).

But during her first year of teaching in Bath, the now 26-year-old discovered a new passion. She started rowing through the government- and National Lottery-funded scheme Sporting Giants and went on to get a place on the Team GB Start programme. The coach who spotted her, Paul Stannard, was the same coach who had recognised her fellow rower Heather Stanning’s potential three years earlier.

The Truro-born, Penzance-raised Glover already has a cluster of medals in her back pocket, having – along with Stanning – struck gold at this year’s World Cup Series, taken silver at last year’s world rowing championships in Bled, Slovenia, and won the overall World Rowing Cup Series. The pair made their breakthrough on the world stage in 2010, when at the world rowing championships on New Zealand’s Lake Karapiro, they clung on to the coat-tails of the host nation, then the world champions, to clinch silver.

In an interview with her local paper, the Cornishman, before she left for the 2012 Games, Glover said meeting Sir Steve Redgrave had been a key inspiration in her transformation from late starter to champion. “It makes you realise what’s possible. A couple of years ago people thought: ‘What can she really do when it’s only two years to the Olympics?’ Then you think how he broke through those barriers and his health problems and his age, and you think: ‘If that’s possible, then it’s possible for me to break through and be part of the team.'”

Not only did Helen make the team, but she went on to take the gold with her team mate.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Kate Walsh

Labour Party

Kate Walsh was made captain of Britain’s hockey team in 2003.  She was born in 1980 in Withington, Manchester.

Kate’s initital sport of choice was swimming and practised regularly well in to her teenage years.  Her mother was a hockey player and Kate vowed to never play the sport as she hated standing on the sidelines shivering whilst watching her.  One day though she tried the sport and loved it.  Kate decided then to ditch swimming in favour of hockey as she it meant she could avoid the getting up so early for training.

Walsh made both her England and Great Britain debuts in 1999 and has since gone on to play at the full range of international tournaments – the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, two World Cups, three European Cups, two Champions Trophy, two Commonwealth Games and three Champions Challenge. As a defender she has twice won medals at international tournaments at her hometown of Manchester— silver at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and bronze at the 2007 EuroHockey Nations Championships.

In a recent interview about her captaincy and the prospects of the British team this year, Kate said:

“…the Olympic gold is the dream. When I watched it [the Olympics] when I was young I sat there thinking ‘I want a gold medal’. To stand on that podium and hear the national anthem. When I see people in that position you want it to be you and your team.”

It is clear that in Kate we have a great captain, someone who could inspire us all the way this summer.  I, along with the rest of Britain hope that Kate’s dream comes true.

Britain’s Olympic Hopefuls – Laura Robson

Labour Party

Laura was born on 21 January 1994 in Melbourne, Australia and moved to the UK when she was six. According to her parents, she began playing tennis “as soon as she could hold a tennis racquet”, and after being encouraged by them, she entered a junior tennis academy at age 7. She signed with an agent when she was only 10 years old.

Laura competed in her first junior grand slam as an unseeded player at the Wimbledon girls’ event. As the youngest player in the tournament, she beat first seed Melanie Oudin on her way to the finals, where she defeated third seed Noppawan Lertcheewakarn. Her victory made her the first British player to win the girls’ event since Annabel Croft in 1984, and the British media described her as the “new darling” of British tennis, and the “Queen of Wimbledon”.

In the Australian Open this year Laura sported a rainbow headband after tennis legend and evangelical pastor Margaret Court had made inflammatory comments about gay marriage. She was playing on the very court that was named after the grand doyenne of tennis  had made the comments against equal marriage rights . When Laura was questioned about the head band afterwards she said that she didn’t see it as a protest, but she wanted to show that she believed in equal rights for everyone.

This young star has shown time and again that she has real promise and is certainly one of Team GB’s most exciting prospects for this summer.

Britain’s Olympic Greats – Nicola Fairbrother MBE

Labour Party

Nicola Fairbrother took home a silver medal in Judo (56kg weight) from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. This was the first year that women were officially able to compete for medals in the sport, 18 years after its first appearance during the Tokyo Games of 1964.

Nicola was one of the first female athletes to compete in judo at Olympic level. Parity between men and women in the range of Olympic events has been a long time coming. At the Barcelona Games of 1992, 159 sports were open for men to compete in whilst there were only 89 in which women could take part. Following the inclusion of women’s boxing in the programme of London 2012, this year will be the first ever Olympics in which women and men can compete in the same range of sports.

Nicola’s silver medal at the Olympics was no mean feat but she just narrowly missed out on the gold. The following year, however, she became world number one when she won the World Title in Hamilton,Canada. Over the course of her 23 year career she also won gold at the European level.

Her performance was also recognised out of the dojo. In 1994 she was awarded an MBE for her contribution to British sport.  She was also named European Judoka of the year in 1993 and was runner up in the Sunday Times Sports Award several times.

Nicola has commented on the benefits of judo in all areas of life from promoting self confidence to developing respect for others. Nicola has praised the accessibility of the sport in that it for anyone of any size or shape; however, she has also raised the issue of the significant costs involved in taking part.

Like many professional sports, judo can be expensive to take part in, especially when youngsters are first starting out. The price of classes and equipment can act as a barrier to potentially successful competitors even trying the sport.

When it came to power in 1997 the Labour government recognised the benefits of access to sport at every level. From the beginning of its tenure it sought to improve the strategic direction of organisations such as Sport England to ensure accessibility for all. 

In 2009, the then Labour government set aside £10.2 million for the development of Judo at the grass-roots level to be channelled into the sport through Sport England over the following four years.

Nicola is a strong supporter of judo at grass-roots level, and is helping to inspire a whole new generation of judokas in her role of owner and editor of Koka Kids magazine, as well as through her work with schools, judo clubs and national governing bodies.

Nicola also now works as a judo commentator for the BBC and reports on the sport for the World of Judo magazine.

Olympic Organisers should not take Dow Chemical money

Labour Party

Congratulations to Meredith Alexander for resigning as a member of the 13 strong Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 over the £7 million sponsorship from Dow Chemicals to install a wrap around the Olympic stadium. Head of Trade and Corporates at Action Aid, Meredith opposes taking money from a company which is not discharging its responsibilities relating to the Bhopal disaster.

While I understand the motives for LOGOC – the London Olympic Games Organising Committee – taking Dow Chemical money, those accepting commercial sponsorship should always be aware of where the money comes from. However strapped for cash an organisation may be, this never justifies taking funding from tainted undertakings.

This is a non-negotiable principle, and a principle that must be rigorously upheld when it comes to major national projects. However much in need of cash the London Olympic Games may be, those in charge should never have had anything to do with Dow Chemicals.

And Dow has a lot to answer for – somewhere in the region of 20,000 deaths and thousands more serious injuries resulting from the disaster at Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in 1984. True it was Union Carbide not Dow who owned the plant at the time, but once Dow took over Union Carbide in 1999 it also took over this responsibility.

Despite Dow’s claims that the Indian Government accepted a £300 million payment in final settlement of any obligations, there is ample evidence that the tragedy has not come to an end.

In December last year Lorraine Chase, a 29 year old nurse, who has worked at Bhopal, told the Guardian “The mistake people make by continuing to say that this is about an explosion in December 1984. It’s about contamination that’s happening today.”

Toxic sludge was dumped in pits, on top of plastic sheets, in an attempt to cleanse it through evaporation. Instead the chemical leached into the ground water. The pits and the sludge are still there and the water is still used for drinking and washing by people for whom government supplies of water are unreliable. Chase says, “People know the water tastes funny, they know it isn’t doing them any good, but they don’t have a choice. And absolutely nothing is being done.”

Dow Chemicals apparently continually maintain that this appalling state of affairs is nothing to do with them.

I really do not understand how LOGOC can take money from a company which has so little regard for human life.

Strong supporter of the London Olympics that I am, I ask LOGOC to think again. Other sponsors will come forward once the word gets out. A wrap around a sporting stadium is not worth even the smallest amount of human suffering let alone bringing continuing tragedy to thousands of very poor people who have already been through more than most of us could even imagine.

Great British Women Olympians – Denise Lewis

Labour Party

It is now only 23 weeks until the opening of the London Olympics and the consequent Paralympics.

In the run up to the games I have decided to take a look at some of the British women who have achieved past successes and who are tipped for success in the summer. It is clear when the BBC think that “lads mags” such as Zoo and Nuts have serious coverage of sport that British sports reporting still fails to cover sport properly. One way for women to challenge this is to write more about sport.

Each weekend I will present a duo of sportswomen from the same sporting event. One from the past and one who has been chosen to represent Great Britain in London 2012.

Denise Lewis OBE – Heptathlon

In 2000 Denise Lewis brought home a gold medal for Great  Britain from the Sydney Games competing in the heptathlon. This success was achieved despite suffering from an injury to her Achilles tendon.

Denise began competing in the heptathlon in 1989. Eleven years later, at a meet in Talence, France, she broke the British heptathlon record with a score of 6831. This record has not yet been broken.

Denise’s athletic achievements were recognised in 2001 when she was presented with an OBE. In 2011 Denise was inducted into the UK athletics hall of fame.

The heptathlon is a series of events in which competitors compete against each other in 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin throw and 800m.

As well as her gold medal in Sydney, Denise also won a bronze medal at the Atlanta Games and gold medals at two consecutive Commonwealth Games in 1994 and 1998. She has also won numerous medals at international and European athletics meets.

Shortly after the birth of her first child in 2002, Denise entered a particularly turbulent period of her career.  Her links with controversial technical coach Dr Ekkart Arbeit, accused of doping atheletes in the 1970s, led to her receiving a barrage of hostile media coverage.

She retired from athletics in June 2005. Since then, Denise has gone on to have a second successful career as a BBC sports pundit and appeared on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing in 2004.

Since 2009 Denise has been an International Inspiration Ambassador. Denise uses her great sporting legacy to inspire youngsters to take part in sport and physical activity around the world.

Denise was born in West Bromwich in 1972 and was brought up inWolverhampton. She has said that she was inspired to become an athlete whilst watching the 1980 Moscow Olympics on the TV as a child.

Women’s fertility rights to be set back 20 years if Nadine Dorries’ proposals go ahead.

Labour Party

After a lovely, if slightly grey, summer break in the UK I am now back to work. First on the agenda is a visit for the entire Culture Committee to the Olympic and Cultural Olympiad sites which will give us British MEPS the chance to show off the cultural delights of London. In addition, I myself will get the opportunity to see how work is progressing towards the Olympics for 2012 – all very exciting.

However, what would otherwise have been a very enjoyable week has been overshadowed by the incredibly worrying news that ministers are set to back Nadine Dorries’ plans to force women seeking a termination to undergo compulsary counselling provided by organisations that do not themselves provide abortion. This will mean that women will experience greater delays in accessing abortions which may lead some to have to undergo more complicated procedures. What is even more concerning however is that this is a policy expressly designed to curtail the number of abortions that happen in the UK and which has been lobbyed for by pro-life religious organisations who will no doubt be on hand to offer counselling services themselves if the policy is implemented. This can leave us in little doubt as to the nature of the counselling that women may now be forced to undergo.

I have outlined my concerns in a letter to the Guardian published today and can only hope that our government sees sense before it is too late and women in the UK lose some of the rights that they have had to fight so hard for over the years – the right to access abortions and the right to free and unbiased medical advice.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round Up

Labour Party

I was shocked to learn that pregnant women are continuing to report instances of discrimination by their bosses.

An article in the Guardian last week said that following the financial crisis, there has been a sharp rise in the number of women who have lost their jobs as a result of pregnancy, according to campaigners and lawyers.

The report quotes Rosalind Bragg, director of the advice and campaigning group Maternity Action, who says even before the downturn 30,000 women each year lost their jobs because of pregnancy discrimination.

The situation has become much worse since the economic downturn.

‘We see a lot of cases of pregnant women and women on maternity leave who are selected for redundancy because of their pregnancy,’ she said in the report. This is in spite of strict maternity and paternity legislation put in place specifically to protect women from this kind of behaviour by ruthless employers.

You can read the full article here:

Greece faced yet another challenging week when it PM won a vote of confidence in the Greek parliament by a majority of three votes. The PM, Papandreou must now attempt to force through hugely unpopular austerity measures.

I wrote about the Greek bail out and what I felt Britain’s effort should be in this earlier in the week for Public Service Europe. You can read the article in full here.

It’s the UKs biggest ticketing exercise ever carried out but it has not been entirely without controversy. Despite organisers insisting their system could cope with the latest sales there is frustration at the errors.

In the second round 10 sports sold out in two hours and in some cases you could buy tickets for sports which had already sold out.

London 2012 organisers promised their system could cope with the latest sales. But things weren’t that simple for everyone. You can read exactly what went wrong here.

Visa monopoly over Olympics is not a game

Commission, Olympics

I read with dismay this week at the Olympic Committee’s decision that only fans who use a Visa debit, credit or pre paid card will be permitted to make ticket purchases.

Visa will also have exclusivity inside the village so that any purchases made or money withdrawn from cash points will only be permitted if using the Visa system of payment, or cash.

It will come as no surprise that Visa is one of the major sponsors of the Olympics. Suffice to say I am shocked that both the Olympic Committee and Visa believe they can get away with this.

It is utterly outrageous, and there are two immediate issues which I am particularly concerned about.

First there is the obvious problem it causes for consumers; the whole experience will not be something that everyone can enjoy but it will become exclusive to just those who use the Visa method of payment or are prepared to carry enough cash around to cover all eventualities.

Second, and this is a potentially very serious issue, are the anti-competition implications which could be very embarrassing for our country.  I know that the European Commission, charged with monitoring the EU’s strict competition rules, is concerned about the Visa monopoly at the 2012 Olympics.  

I have, in fact, tabled an  Oral Question to the European Commission on this issue.  The Question will now not go forward until September and I will keep you informed of any developments between now and then.