19 November 2020

Loughborough Lightning’s Rhona Lloyd on why it’s important to give female athletes a voice and more coverage on TV

Loughborough Lightning star Rhona Lloyd has shone a light on the importance of giving female athletes a voice.

Lloyd hosts a podcast with Scotland team-mate Sarah Bonar called Women Who Sport, in which they interview sportswomen about their experiences and obstacles they’ve had to overcome.

Speaking exclusively to NewsChain, the Scotland international said she wants ‘to use the small platform I have to do some good, but when I reflect on myself growing up I had a lack of female role models’. 

"I watched a lot of sport growing up but it was always Edinburgh men, Scotland men. I did not go to women's games, did not see women's athletes on TV.

“Actually, girls that are growing up now, it doesn’t have to be like that for them with social media so, yeah, I want to kind of increase women's role models in the media and diverse role models through our podcast. It's a fun little way that we can do that. I come away feeling so inspired or I've learnt something so yeah it's really exciting and I really love it.”

Lloyd tells the story of a young girl who told her she was inspired by the podcast.

"It's so rewarding and even a couple of weeks ago, before lockdown, I had a community touch rugby event for under 18s girls and one of the girls there mentioned she listened to the podcast and [it meant so much to her].

“That's such a powerful moment to realise what we're doing is making a small difference. It's one of those things that if we can get at least ten girls or one girl to stay in sport a bit longer or to give rugby a go, then that is success so, yeah, it's awesome.”

The podcast has featured guests such as Team GB’s slalom canoeist Eilidh Gibson and skateboarder Lucy Adams. So, has there been a favourite so far?

“That's really tough! We had Stacey Copeland two weeks ago and she was absolutely hilarious and so honest. What she has been through is absolutely mental and she is somebody that I would like to be like when I'm a bit older. 

"She's got this small platform from boxing and she's absolutely used it to make significant changes in her sport. When she won her first Commonwealth title she didn't get given a belt because she was a woman and even though that was her moment over, she went back and fought the board so that will never happen again. 

"She's somebody who has experienced inequality massively and fights to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That's so important because there's so much change that has to happen and I don't know if it's going to happen in my time so to influence the future [is great].

“So either Stacey or we had [discus throwers] Kirsty Law and Jade Lally and the two of them were just brilliant. They are completely unfunded athletes trying to go to the Olympic games, like Kirsty works ridiculous shifts at the NHS."

Lloyd is also doing her bit to make her own impression as a female athlete. The 24 year-old’s side are currently third in the Premier 15s.

She was excited to get back on the pitch when the league returned in October but suffered an ankle injury the week before their first match.

"It was so gutting, like it wasn't even a bad injury. I rolled my ankle so I knew I'd be out for a couple weeks, but it's just that I had waited eight months to play and as soon as there was an opportunity that had happened, it seemed so unlucky!

“But probably to be fair it made me even hungrier for it and as well when I first went over on my ankle I was like 'I'll be playing Saturday, I'll be playing Saturday' and kept that up until the Friday before. I wasn't walking and I accepted that I was going to have to be a bit more patient.”

She added it was a definite ‘pinch me moment’ when she returned for Lightning in the fourth round of the league on November 7 against Harlequins.

“It was so pleasing. It was against Harlequins, obviously an extremely tough one so I guess it was nerve-wracking in that sense.

"But to be honest on game day I almost didn't... I had so many cancelled games lately that I almost didn't believe the game was actually happening until I was on the pitch and the ball was in the air. I was like 'oh this one is really going ahead' so yeah that made it a bit easier, I was just excited.”

The competition in the league is strong this season with third to seventh place separated by just eight points.

"[The competition] is what makes it so exciting. I think this is the fourth year of the Prem and you can see how much it's come on in that time, there's no longer a dominant force. There's five or six teams you can expect an extremely close game from which is an exciting place to be in and it's what we need for women's rugby to develop in this country and in terms of women's rugby globally. 

"The league is such a good place to be playing in and I'm so thankful that I'm part of it and I'm getting game time at the moment with lockdown going on. I definitely feel like I'm very lucky to be in this position.

"Our first worry when they said we were going back into lockdown [was not being able to play]. The fact that our training hasn't been affected shows how much the Rugby Football Union are valuing the league, which is awesome.

“I think the next stage is there's obviously a massive audience for live rugby at the moment and yet not all the games are being shown every week, so I think that's the next step but we're definitely moving in the right direction.

"We've got one game a week streamed that is getting 20,000 views and that's on a Facebook page that's not extremely accessible. The stream is at the same time as other games in the league and sometimes at the same time as internationals.

“So yeah the step has got to be to get it on TV and then reflect on what figures are and what that can do for the sport across the country.”

A huge step forward has been the BBC’s coverage of England’s two tests against France and Lloyd is keen this isn’t just a one-off.

"It's so, so positive, even when women's rugby first got on TV we were like 'that's brilliant’ but to actually find it, the highlights were on at midnight on Sunday, to find the game you'd have to find a specific channel or on the red button or it just wasn't accessible.

“Whereas if you've got it on prime time TV where you can find it so easily, the viewing figures would sky rocket and it will be so interesting to know what they were compared to previous [matches] because I think if you can't see it, you can't be it.”

“Scotland matches have been on BBC Alba for a while and it's been amazing and it can only go up. We just need to make sure we keep pushing on.”

Lightning will next be in action on November 28 against DMP Durham Sharks.

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