On Friday 28 June, the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) was host to the first Inclusive Leadership event at Wimbledon. Just three days before the Wimbledon Championships began, 17 students from Year 8 and Year 9 at Ricards Lodge High School and their Assistant Headteacher Mrs Sarah Sawyerr started the day with a tour through the practice courts where students were able to view Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and others, practicing for the Championships whilst also receiving a smile and a hello from Andy Murray.
The students were also provided with a behind the scenes tour of the press room and centre court. This was the build up to a very exciting afternoon with the legendary, Billie Jean King, the winner of 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women's doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles. King is an advocate for gender equality and has long been a pioneer for equality and social justice. In 1973, at age 29, she won the "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match against the 55-year-old Bobby Riggs. She was the founder of the Women's Tennis Association and the Women's Sports Foundation, whilst she is also the founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative, which is part of an effort to challenge the way differences are seen, and encourage companies, corporations and individuals to embrace those with diverse personalities and lifestyles for the positive and unique contributions they bring to the workforce.
Upon arriving, Billie Jean introduced herself to every student and then spoke about her life in tennis. She reflected upon how sport provided her with a platform to promote and advocate for gender equality in sport and how she fought for equal pay for tennis players in the 70's and how she supported Venus Williams in the equal pay of tennis players at Wimbledon in 2007. She shared how her life changed overnight when she announced her affair. She felt alone as sponsors, family and friends turned her away and did not show support. But with all the challenges she has faced, she spoke with ease about how the truth set her free and how being part of the LGBTQ+ community has allowed her to advocate for inclusive sport and equality.
The event at the AELTC was organised by reporter, Nick McCarvel and supported by Pride Sports, Youth Sport Trust, Educate and Celebrate, Sport and Recreation Alliance and the BJK Leadership Initiative and was aimed at encouraging young people to live their authentic self and to take opportunities as young leaders.
Ricards Lodge students reflected on their experience, saying:
“She inspired me to always aim for my dreams no matter what.”
Tiffany - Year 8 pupil
“She was very friendly and down to earth. It was really nice that she tried to actively have conversations with everyone there. She was very genuine in the interview and answered all the questions in a clear way. I didn’t feel nervous around her because she didn’t give me any reason to, however I was very in awe of her and her personal story.”
Yasmien - Year 9 pupil
“The experience was fun and inspirational. She helped me by encouraging me to carry on tennis and become a better well rounded person. I told my friends and family and they were all impressed.”
Ella - Year 8 pupil
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Images provided by Florian Eisele and AELTC.