"I gave everything to the role"
Date: 1/18/2014 12:35 PM
Published by : Manuel Røsler

On a regular basis, the "Women in Badminton" working group members select a woman and interview her. In our latest "Women in the Spotlight" interview we spoke to Christine Black, who is a former top player of her country and former President of Badminton Scotland, about her achievements, persons she admires and barriers for females in sports management.

BADMINTON EUROPE: What was the main reason that you decided to put yourself forward to be President?

Christine Black: I didn’t actually initiate the process myself. In 2007 I was approached by members of the Badminton Scotland board and asked whether I was interested in becoming further involved. Later that year I was voted in as vice-president for two years until 2009 before being elected to President in May 2009. I considered it a great honour to be approached for such a role.

BADMINTON EUROPE: What do you feel was your greatest achievement as president?

Black: As a person I always want to give one hundred percent to whatever task I undertake. I knew before I started that being President would be difficult to juggle with the full time job I had. However, I went into the role feeling that I had a lot to offer Scottish Badminton as I have been a former player, coach and manager at international level. I also hoped that the fact many players and members knew me on a personal level meant that I would be an approachable President, ‘the People’s President’ so to speak. To achieve that I really drove myself to give everything to the role: I made sure I was available 24/7 to those who needed to speak to me, sometimes I even answered emails at 3am!

I was very proud to be President during Badminton Scotland’s centenary celebrations when we welcomed our patron HRH the Earl of Wessex and the current BWF President Poul-Erik Høyer to Glasgow. But when I was finished I think the thing I am most proud of is that I felt able to say that I had committed myself fully and done everything I could to improve badminton in Scotland.

BADMINTON EUROPE: What is the achievement you are most proud of within your career?

Black: Without a doubt winning a bronze medal at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh was the greatest moment of my professional career. That moment changed my career. It was a home games and because of that there was a lot more newspaper coverage so winning that medal raised badminton’s (and my own!) beyond what I could have hoped for. Winning that medal really set me up for the opportunities I have had within badminton after my career finished and I will always be very proud of that special moment.

However, my competitive nature hasn’t disappeared since then. When I started playing the masters I decided to set myself a challenge: to win a gold medal at European and World Championships in all 3 disciplines. I am very pleased that I managed to achieve that in China Taipei in 2007.

BADMINTON EUROPE: You have had a hugely successful and varied career but if there was one thing you could change about your career, what would it be?

Black: I think the one thing that I would really like to have changed was that I didn’t have a personal coach until I was first capped for Scotland at 23 years old. Up until that time I organized all my training and fitness myself which was not an easy task. I would like to have seen how coaching input at an earlier age would have developed me as a player. Instead of a coach, to improve myself I would train with the county level men and would book out courts at the local sports centre to do shadow badminton on a court by myself. A chance encounter with my now husband Chris, a former Olympian hammer thrower, at the 1982 Commonwealth Games also made a significant difference to my training. Chris introduced me to Tessa Sanderson, the former javelin Olympic Champion, and they both helped me out with gym and core exercises that improved my overheads and power.

Having said that, training by myself made me very mentally tough. Nothing was given to me on a plate; I had to fight very, very hard for everything I achieved. Sometimes I wonder if that fighting spirit is now lacking in the players who are given everything from a very young age.

BADMINTON EUROPE: Did you always think you would continue to work in Badminton after your playing career was finished? Or were there people who encouraged you to make the transition?

Black: I always knew that sport would be involved in my career after badminton as I was already working as a physical education teacher. But I was very lucky as shortly after I finished a job was advertised for an East Lothian Badminton Development Officer very close to my home in Edinburgh. The job suited me perfectly as I got to stay in badminton and go into schools in the local area to coach young players. I saw the job as both a challenge and an opportunity to stay in sport and see what difference I could make and it is one that I continue to love until this day.

My role currently means that I take all children in the area for coaching sessions. It is very interesting right now to see the differences in coaching the boys and girls. The girls love badminton at a more fun level but as soon as the more serious coaching or training comes into play we start to lose them to other things such as dancing classes. The girls are much more likely to stay and train if their friends are also going along. I’m very lucky with my current squad as out of the under 14 age group I have several of the top girls in the country but the problem of keeping girls in sport is something I’m very conscious of in Scotland and I’m aware that there still needs to be work to keep girls in the sport from an early age. I don’t have the precise answer but I’m certain that we need to ensure that we make it fun at the start before introducing the tougher training when they already have a love for the sport.

BADMINTON EUROPE: What do you think needs to be done to get more females into high level management positions within badminton?

Black: It’s an interesting question for the wider badminton community but I don’t actually think it’s a problem that is reflected in Scotland right now. We currently have a CEO who is female, the last two presidents have been female, 50% of the board members are female and we have a female head coach. In addition, Sport Scotland is headed up by a female. By all accounts I think Scotland is doing pretty well!

However, just because it’s not a problem in Scotland doesn’t mean it isn’t a wider issue that should be addressed. It is definitely worrying to me that there are not more women working within the CCs and within BWF. I have wondered whether there should be some improved mechanisms that the CCs and the MA's could use to get women involved with badminton. For example, I think targeted advertising of the jobs available could be useful so that whenever there are job opportunities available the relevant women are encouraged to come forwards and apply. It is difficult to know how best to improve the situation but I do think that there needs to be more advertising done for the jobs and opportunities that are available for women in badminton. I support the work of the women in badminton group but unfortunately until I was approached for this interview I hadn’t seen any of the other ones as they weren’t advertised a lot.

BADMINTON EUROPE: What do you think needs to be done to have more high-level female coaches within Europe?

Black: I think that this is a very hard question to answer and an even more difficult problem to solve as there are so many different MA's who will each have reasons for the inequality. This may mean that there isn’t one single solution.

However, I think it would be very useful to conduct a survey within Europe in each country to find out which former international players are now coaching within the MA's. I believe that these are the people you want to target: they are people who players will respect and they have good skills and experience to bring to the role. These are the kind of female coaches who could raise the levels in Europe.

BADMINTON EUROPE: What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership roles within Badminton in Europe?

Black: I do think that we need to make more use of targeted advertising as I’m just not sure that women are aware of the jobs and opportunities that are available to them in badminton. However, there are inherent difficulties in working in sport as a female: family ties and travelling do not mix well. If sports organisations are serious about getting more females involved they will need to come up with more flexible contracts that are more accommodating for females and allow them to work and have families. This is what other industries outside of sport have started to do.

BADMINTON EUROPE: Which woman within badminton do you currently admire the most and why?

Black: The first person I really admired in Badminton was Gillian Gilks from England. She won the singles, doubles and mixed at the All England which was then the equivalent of the World Championships. I also really admired Lene Køppen who won the first World Championships while being a qualified dentist. Lene was the most athletic player I ever had the privilege to watch. I feel very honoured to have had the opportunity to play against both Gillian and Lene in my career although unfortunately I never beat them!

Outside of players I have always admired Anne Smillie. She has been the CEO of Badminton Scotland for over 30 years and is currently the longest serving CEO in Britain. That is a fantastic achievement for a woman. I had always admired her but when I was President I got a real insight into how much she actually does for badminton in Scotland. She is a very multitalented woman: strong when she needs to be but able to encourage volunteers and no matter how busy she is she will always make time for you if you ask for it.

BADMINTON EUROPE: If not badminton, then what would you have worked as?

Black: I think given my background in physical education I would always have ended up in sport, probably in sports management or similar. I have a life-long love of it and I feel very lucky to have been able to continue working in it this far. Not everybody gets to go to work on something they love on a daily basis.

Click here for more information of the "Women in Badminton" working group.

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