Out & Active Champions: Joanie

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Joanie : Hackney Women’s Football Team and Federation of Gay Games

Volunteering works on your mind as well as your soul.

Football career
I’ve always been involved in sport, but never thought as an adult that I’d be able to compete. I enjoyed playing football at school and with my brothers. After primary school, there was no provision for girls to play football at all.

When I came out, I did a Recreation & Leisure course at Westminster College and one of the courses was Football Training. The guy that ran the course said, ‘Did you know that there’s women who play football?’ So, I had to find out about that. I went away for Christmas with friends and one of the women played for Hackney Women’s Football Club. So, we had a kick-around and then she invited me to train. I went to one training session and the next thing I was playing a game. After six sessions, I became the coach. From that, it’s just grown and grown.

I grew up in Birmingham, which wasn’t as advanced as London, so for me being in a predominantly lesbian club was very important. The club became my family when I was coming out. We all hung out and did everything together. It also made me feel comfortable and gave me a lot of support.

My best moment in football was when I played for a team of women from London, Italy and New Zealand in the Sydney Gay Games of 2002. We actually won every game and got a gold medal. We had good camaraderie between us, to come away with a gold medal was a really great achievement. I wanted that team to return, but within four years, everyone was busy. So I used to just put my name forward at the Gay Games and then be picked by anybody to play. At the Chicago Games in 2006 I got picked by a team from Dallas. That was really great and we almost got to Bronze medal position but lost by one goal. For Cologne, I put my name in the hat again and got chosen by a team from South London. You can just play football anywhere and with anyone.

The Women’s football is not as big as the men’s so, I’m trying to get more women involved. At the moment you get less than 30% women’s attendance at Gay Games and I’m trying to change that. Women don’t know it’s for everyone and that they can attend.

Gay Games career
I went to my first Gay Games Board Meeting, in Berlin after the Amsterdam games of 98. I went as an observer – so I couldn’t speak officially, just be there, but I was saying things behind the scenes. I later met Ivan (Out to Swim swimmer and founder of Out for Sport) in Chicago in 2006, and he inspired me to get more involved. Ivan was supposed to go to the Lyon Board meeting, but he was in hospital so I went instead of him. There was a position of Female Vice President for diversity and no one was going for it. The guys were saying that I should go for it and I was saying ‘No, I’ve only just got here and I don’t know what I’m doing.’ They were really encouraging, so I phoned Ivan and he said ‘Go for it.’ He was really excited and when someone like that gives you that inspiration, you’ve got to keep going. That’s what we need, inspirational people to keep it going. I hope I am as inspirational to people as he was. I know there are inspirational women out there, come, we need you.

I was Diversity Vice President for a year. I’ve always been involved in one way or another but never thought that anyone took any notice of me. When we did the bid for London 2018 I knew I had to be involved.  Then when we didn’t get the bid, in the midst of all the upset, the male co-president approached me to apply for the vacant post of Female co-president and I am now doing this. I very much enjoy what I do on the board. We need younger people, we need more people of colour and more women coming in. We’re getting there, but it’s been a big challenge. It’s really pushed my confidence – I can’t be shy. If I can be a good role model then that’s half of what I’ve intended to do. You need to have a strong woman at the head of it because the board is mainly North American males. In the role I’ve never been so much under attack in my life, it’s like everything to do with LGBT sport that goes wrong, is my fault so it’s also being able to speak up about these things and take responsibility.

I don’t like sitting around and moaning. I’m more about talking about things, getting them sorted and if there’s a negative, let’s make a positive. We all get on, and enjoy spending time with each other. We have to remind ourselves that the reason we are here, it’s what the participants get out of it that brings the most joy.

The Gay Games is about inclusion, participation and personal best. My message is to let women and older people know that they can do all the sports and are welcome. There’s loads of exciting things in the Games, like women’s parties and there is always a women’s area.

 There’s no qualifying for any of the Gay Games sports, it’s done in age groups, so if you’re a 50-year-old you’re not competing against a 20-year-old. We need to let the older generation know that it’s not all for young people, us older lot are running the show.

It’s also important to let people know that you don’t have to play a sport. As we get older, we do have more time and your involvement could be that you could be a treasurer, a secretary or support a team in a different way. Volunteering gets you out, gets you involved and works on your mind as well as your soul.

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To find our other Out & Active Champions, click on their names.
Sarah from Out To Swim
Tammy from London Royals Hockey
Nigel from Goslings London Badminton Club
Sarah from London Otters Rowing Club
Nash from London Royals Hockey
Peter from London Otters Rowing Club
Chris & Tina from Waltzing with Hilda and Pink Jukebox

To find out more about the Federation of Gay Games 
To enter the Gay Games in Paris
To find out more about Hackney Women’s Football Club

Champion interviews by Christopher Preston
Design for Out & Active by Laura Salisbury

Out & Active is kindly
supported by London Sport