Debbie Jevans: ‘We’ve got to allow girls to be girls and to have a go’

Debbie Jevans, former CEO of England Rugby 2015 and Director of Sport at London 2012, talks to Vision about levelling the gender playing field in sports 

Is this your first time attending a Host Cities Summit? 

Yes and it’s fantastic to be here. The diversity in the presentations has been really interesting – everything from tourism to women in sport. And of course what we spoke about in our session, which was the impact of major events on a country: on its economy, on sports participation and how we can use those major events to drive any number of things.

Representatives from cities bidding for future Olympics are in Dubai this week for Host Cities 2015. So far, the bids seem to lack a strong presence of women in senior administrative positions. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t know whether they do or don’t because I haven’t seen the make up of the big committees. Certainly, though, for us in London that was important. When we delivered the [2012 Olympic] Games, 50 per cent of my team was female. Fifty per cent of the athletes are female, so why wouldn’t females be a part of the governance or the delivery of an Olympic Games? The IOC is saying that for any new sport it has to be 50 per cent female now, so I would be surprised if the cities that are bidding didn’t involve women. Ideally I would like to see people in leadership actively encouraging females to apply, because I have found when I’ve done that it has delivered some amazingly talented women.

Fifty per cent of the athletes are female, so why wouldn’t females be a part of the governance or the delivery of an Olympic Games?

Debbie Jevans, Former CEO of England Rugby 2015

How can we inspire more girls and women to get involved in sport?

I sit as Vice Chair of Sport England and we’ve grappled with this question. We launched a campaign, ‘This Girl Can’, which wasn’t saying: “play netball, play hockey, go swimming…” but, rather, just have a go. We had slogans such as “I may not be fast but I’m lapping the person on the couch”. Or images of a couple of girls playing football saying: “I kick balls, deal with it”. It has had a fantastic impact because rather than saying you have to be the best in the world, the message is just, “have a go, be proud to have a go.” The other message is to not be obsessed with body image, which, as females, we get thrown at us. We’ve got to break through some of these myths and allow girls to be girls and to have a go.

What inspires me is to be the best that you can but to do so with humility and to always try and give something back

Debbie Jevans, Former CEO of England Rugby 2015

What inspires you?

I’ve always wanted to be the best that I can be in whatever I do, but to do so with the right values. Values are important to me. Take Jonah Lomu, who has just sadly died, and who I met a couple of times. He is an inspirational figure who behind the scenes was giving a lot back. That’s what inspires me: to be the best that you can but to do so with humility and to always try and give something back. The work that we did on the Invictus Games [was inspirational]. Prince Harry [President of the Invictus organising committee] is an inspirational figure, who gives a lot back and does a lot behind the scenes.