Lost in The Cloud

Over the last few days I have been feeling quite down, low energy, and very confused and negative about a lot of things. Perhaps for two very good reasons as I have been blessed with the double whammy of being ill and having my period (why do I still feel embarrassed to write the word period in the 21st century?).   

Anyway, I can partly put my low energy and dark mental state down to one, if not both of these.

But this period (of time) has also opened my eyes up to how I try to deal with these feelings, and in particular the role of my mobile phone. While feeling this sadness/darkness/not-right-ness – I noticed I kept looking over at my phone. I was looking at it like I would look to a friend. I wanted my phone to give me some answers. I wanted my phone to fix me.

Instead of sitting with my uncomfortable feelings for a bit, I kept grabbing at the black box to randomly tap on different apps to only come away with the feeling that my phone had let me down. There was nothing there that was making me feel any better. This only exasperated my feelings of loneliness and frustration. I mean I could have created my own entertainment – started conversations with friends on whats ap and received the stimulus from their reply – but I didn’t want to give my phone any energy. I just wanted it to make me feel better. To do something.

When I initially considered this, it seemed ridiculous… But it isn’t ridiculous, is it? Isn’t it actually perfectly sane to turn to my only permanent companion to try to stop the dark cloud of feelings that were looming over me?

It is sane because I turn to my phone all the time. To provide entertainment. To connect with people. And I am definitely not the only one. On the tube, most people are tapping away on something or other, and its part of the way we function these days. Phones let us keep up to date with things we enjoy, they keep us informed when we are curious – but they also keep us distracted. Constantly distracted.

And this worries me because I don’t know if humans have developed the mechanism to know when we are using our phones out of necessity, out of boredom or as a distraction.

I think the problem with modern technology is that it fucks with us on multiple-fronts. It fills us with so much information, a lot of this negative, and quite horrifying, that this can trigger anxiety in itself.

I also believe that when we see a horrific picture or read a tragic story that the information goes into us, but it doesn’t come out again. I think we carry what we consume. These days, though, instead of giving these events the respect and space they deserve, we just move on to the next story and the next distraction – whether it is a stabbing or a picture of a friend’s wedding.

But I feel there is also something else happening too. That as we increasingly focus on external stimulus, we become less able to process our own emotions.

And this is probably why I turned to look at my phone when I was feeling low. My phone does everything else – surely it can just flick me back into positivity setting…

The hi-tech and media industry know all this of course – they feed on it. They provide us with the technology and information - but they have absolutely no regard or responsibility for how we then process it.

And so the pile of information mounts up – day after day, layer upon layer, one huge hit after another. And somewhere deep underneath this massive pile of Trump, Brexit, terrorism fears – lies a much more troubling source of pain – our own.

The personal problems and worries of our real 3-dimensional lives. But is there any time to register these issues, and our feelings about them, when we float daily in a world-wide web of information?

Well, I don't think there is, until you get sick – and suddenly see your phone for what it really is - a piece of electronics.

So what I ended up doing was lying on my bed and thinking, or more accurately feeling. (Not in a sexy way.) I didn’t think about Westminster, I thought about visions in my own life that have stuck with me, the child-like fear on my parent's faces when realising after 30 years of marriage they have to build their lives up again and move on – of my frail Nana who smiled at me with love, as a carer took off the shit-covered knickers she had around her ankles.

And in amongst these vivid and painful scenes I would think about other things – career frustrations, my non-existent love life – family and friendship issues – why everything just seems so damn complicated. How not enough people buy the Big Issue. The fact that with all these thoughts maybe I would go mad. Or that perhaps I should see a counsellor. I’ve seen one before and it helped.

But the reason seeing a counsellor helped me was very simple – by listening to myself go on and on (and on) I started to realise how many feelings I’d stored up from my past. How almost every interaction with someone, every good feeling, bad feeling, frustrating feeling, guilty feeling, regretful feeling, was stored inside me – like a computer…

And this is why I think we’ve got a problem brewing with the way we use technology. Because at a time when it’s already tough out there and there’s so many pressures on us to compete and achieve, we seem to be actively choosing to put more sources of anxiety into our minds. And on top of this, we have even less time to mull any of it over.

I know from talking to friends I am not alone – many of us feel like we are battling to keep our sanity. We may have a roof over our head, food in our cupboard, and friends – but man, don’t you just feel totally helpless and alone sometimes?

So what do we do about it?

Well for what it is worth - my gut feeling is that we can reduce some stress and anxiety by just giving ourselves some alone time with our minds. Just some time staring at the ceiling, staring out the window, sitting alone – with our phones in a different part of the house – and just be-ing. Yes, friends and partners are cool (innit), but I don’t think it’s ever a substitute for spending a few minutes alone with your feelings – even if this is quite hard, very hard, or harder than that. Or if they are nice feelings, be with those feelings too : )

Not everyone, I do hope, but many of us seem to have an extremely deep well of sadness, loneliness and desperation inside us. But one thing that is important to cling on to – is that it is through pain, and really connecting to that pain, that we grow. We become more empathetic, more intuitive, more resilient and more beautiful.

I don’t know - but I fear that the more we interact with the world within our phones, the more we forget to tap into ourselves – to stop, to feel and to grow.

Why it's going to take a while to get over Ranieri's sacking

Hmmmm… how do I write an emotional ode to Claudio Ranieri without seeming oblivious to the really bad things that happen in the world?

I understand that Donald Trump is apparently a bad bad man, that the UK is now racist, that there are homeless people everywhere (get out from under my desk, you pest), and yet still I am genuinely sad about an Italian manager losing his job at Leicester City.

About a manager who will probably be in a lovely job in a few months from now. And in a MUCH nicer place than Leicester – never been there, never really want to now. (Yes, the Leicester City Tourist Board should be quaking in their Primark boots)

For goodness sake, go back to the sunshine Ranieri! That’s where people of your calibre belong.

It's wrong isn’t it – Leicester sacking Ranieri is so wrong for so many reasons. Firstly, the season is not over yet and they aren’t even in the relegation zone. Okay let’s count that as two reasons, thirdly the Foxes are still in the Champions League and number four – oh yeah, they won the Premier League last season. LAST SEASON. The season of last.

And didn't we all enjoy it? We liked how football had finally churned out a result nobody was predicting, that there was a full-blown fairy-tale unravelling in front of our eyes, that the ultimate underdog story was here! 

And because Leicester had been so little of a threat over the years, nobody had anything against them – we were all supporters really. Cohesion around a football team is a rare thing, and a beautiful thing – let’s face it England ain't giving it to us any time soon. We were all Leicester for a little bit… and it felt refreshing.

And I guess that’s why I, along with many, many other football fans, are hurting right now. Because in Leicester’s triumph and Ranieri’s triumph, we were all transported to a much more interesting place for a little while.

However, I think the public outcry is down to something meatier that that though – justice. There is no justice anywhere here. 

We all work hard (sort of) and most of us value others who work hard, who work with passion and who achieve the unthinkable. It gives us the belief that perhaps one day we will too – that we will be appreciated for our talents, praised by friends and family, earn a shit-tonne and be really nice and happy.

But when we see someone who has done all that - and then a few months later is spewed out into the regular old bollocksy world, it feels very unjust. If people can tarnish everything you’ve worked so hard for just because they are absolutely frickin' mental, then that’s... (well. you fill in the gap)

Of course – with his dilly ding dilly dong and lovely nature, and smile, perhaps it’s even harder to take that it’s Ranieri who is the latest casualty of an increasingly cruel Premier League. 

I have always been a fan of Ran the Man (which nobody has ever called him ever) – because sometimes all you need to do is see someone and you think yeah I’m on board with this dude. I was really disappointed when Chelsea got rid of him, and at that time felt it was a real injustice. But this is something else entirely. However, even if it was a manager who I didn’t like so much – like, well pretty much every English one to be fair, then I still think I’d have a feeling of outrage in my soul. 

Maybe Leicester City would have gone down with Ranieri in charge, but I think that he had done more than enough for that risk to be taken. It’s history he created, something City fans will think about on their death bed, it’s a bit of magic – you don’t just sack a magician. Well unless he did that trick when he was meant to cut someone in half, but he really did cut someone in half...

I so often try to look on the bright side of things, or at least try to find a semblance of positivity from a story. (okay not a child murder - cos that's just 98% awful) But when it comes to this – I, like Ranieri, have no happy ending.

The owners of Leicester City have treated him without respect, trust or hope – but my mummy put it best when she said the decision was ‘disgusting.’

Personally, I am in a state of mourning. And saying this doesn't feel trite at all.

A genuine Fantasy Football tip, from me to you

What a long couple of weeks eh?
No real footie, pretending to care about England (again), big juicy super-moons we can’t see, and Donald Trump, who unfortunately we can see. Sigh – it has all been rather dreary.
Obviously, there’s only one proven anti-dote to all this; sit in a darkened room and count down the minutes until the Premier League returns.
And guys ‘n girls, it’s almost here. Crack open that door a little and lick it. It tastes sweet, like Eden Hazard’s sweaty ankles. Soon all woes will be behind us.
However, on a personal note, I must admit I have actually quite enjoyed the Premier League break. It has given me time to reflect on my new status: a leader amongst men.
Yes – you got it baby, a Fantasy Football leader (the title never lies). And as other FF leaders out there will know, during the International break nobody can catch you. Insert evil laugh here.
I lead all my leagues, I’m top of the pile, I’m cream of the crop, I’m a winner (except for the thousands of people with more points than me). 
Joining Trump as a leader amongst men, I feel it is my responsibility to give you a piece of Fantasy Football advice. And ahead of a weekend where Man United host Arsenal and West Ham travel to Spurs, mine is simple, become a girl.
Because I am one, and I tell you something, it’s definitely working. I’m not even trying and I’m smashing it out the ballpark.
After working in sports journalism for many years, I know a fair few things about soccer-ball, but when I listen to men reel-off stats for every player and fixture – I simultaneously think two things (first thing: boring bugger-face, second thing: god, I know nothing!) Well in Fantasy Fantasy Fantasy land it seems your stats can kiss my ‘uniformed’ uh-hum.
In all honesty though, it’s tough being a leader amongst men. Firstly, there’s nothing particularly feminine or sexy about winning (lucky escape, Clinton). Secondly, as a female, we are often expected to accept our victories modestly. I can’t really write this article (whoops), or wind guys up that I am above them ‘cos they tend to get a little PMS-y. If you know what I mean.
It’s Catch Frickin’ 22 – what do I get from being a leader? Just a reminder that my passion for football has once again driven me down a lonely alley with few allies.  
But I’m not bitter, oh no, so I’m going to give you some more advice. 
Only choose players if you ♡ heart ♡ them. Or if they have a cool name like Shaqiri or Fuchs. For example, with me, Chelsea players struggle to get anywhere near my team, and I have never ever, ever, ever chosen that Diego Costa. Ghastly man. Zlatan Ibramhimovic better not hold his breath either.
Thankfully, this tactic often works out. For example, this weekend Zlatan is suspended and Diego Costa is all painy groiny. Tough luck boys! Even Hazard, who has a stunning 49 points from four games, isn’t sure to play.
Despite all this good fortune I’m having, I believe soon my luck will turn and my time as a leader of men will be over.
More than likely, I am the Ed Balls of Fantasy Football – I am not going to win. Some dishy young thing is going to salsa past me with Diego Costa on his arm, they’ll do a lift nobody’s ever seen before, get a whole bunch of 10s, and I won’t see them for dust.
It happens to the best of us. So please let me cherish my leadership status for now.
And may the best man win. 

Courting the Technological Edge

This article featured on Al Jazeera English.

Tennis can often look like a simple battle. Two people stand on opposing sides armed with rackets, the winner decided by who has the physical strength, technique and mental calm to claim victory.

But if you scratch beneath the surface, there are a myriad of factors that come into play. And while there may be no substitution for talent or training, another T is playing an increasingly important part in giving players the crucial advantage – Technology.

Behind the scenes technological innovations are helping to drive athletes towards their limits and push opponents to theirs.

When people think of technology and tennis their mind might fly to Hawk-Eye, which revolutionised the game when it was formally introduced in 2005.

Unlike in cricket and football, where there have been hiccups and delays, Hawk-Eye proved a natural fit and added an extra dimension, and some synchronised clapping, to the game.

With a limited number of challenges allowed during a match, a wrong decision can prove costly in tight matches.

But while the Hawk-Eye adjudication system can effect a few points, it is the Hawk-Eye camera's ability to track balls which is creating a wealth of knowledge for the world’s top racket wielders.

Hidden away in a bunker in Wimbledon the IBM team are busy recording every point, serve, return, move made at the Grand Slams.

While county tennis players are hired by IBM to record information manually court-side, Hawk-Eye's player tracking devices provide additional information.

Analysing opponents

The data gathered is so rich it enables computers to search for patterns and extract a number of 'keys', which determine what a player has to do against their opponent to win a match.

In 2014, a new system has been tracking the aggressiveness of a player and how they play and respond to aggressive shots.

“The extra knowledge we get now is really important,” Dutch player Maikel Scheffers, a finalist in the wheelchair gentleman’s doubles, tells Al Jazeera English.

“We have a special video team who record matches for us and then give us a copy. They put a lot of work in and it’s amazing. You can ask them to find the exact point you want to look at, so all the deuces we had in a game.

“I particularly find recording myself in training helpful. As I can watch it every day and when I have a match it is fresh in my mind. I can visualise that technique.”

While knowledge is key, and in IBM speak, 'keys' are knowledge, equipment is also undergoing a technology revolution. This is particularly important in wheelchair tennis.

“There are many changes being made and more to come. Players are getting carbon fibre seats that are moulded to your body using 3D technology,” says Ronald Vink, Scheffers' doubles partner.

“The chairs are getting lighter and stronger. Some people have chairs made of magnesium. People are looking into sitting at different angles or with your knees higher up.”

With so much innovation, the ITF federation who govern wheelchair tennis have the tricky task of ensuring technological improvements for people with disabilities do not create an uneven playing field.

“There are lots of meetings at the moment, about things like the height of the chair. It is easier to serve higher up but then not everyone can do it,” says Scheffers.

“It is the same in every sport,” adds Vink. “The swimsuits in swimming, long-putters in golf. In wheelchair basketball there are lots of rules now."

“The world championships are taking place in South Korea and there is a team with lasers monitoring every chair to make sure it isn’t a mm too high. It is getting crazy like that.”

Racket IQ

In the 1960s and 1970s, changes to the material and design of tennis rackets saw companies produce rackets with more power and control. Now French equipment company Babolat has decided to give them a brain.

This racket contains sensors inside the handle that detect various information about your game; number of strokes, where the ball is hitting the racket, endurance levels, spin and power. This information is all directly transferred into an app on an iPhone.

At Wimbledon there are already a number of players using the racket including Ana Konjuh, the young Croatian who won her first ever grand slam match this year at Wimbledon.

While these players have a more refined source of data readily available to them after matches and training, it is too early to tell what difference this technology can make.

“For coaches this racket is very important – we don’t need to stand there ticking boxes,” said Tony Nadal, Rafael’s coach and uncle.

“If Rafael had this racket 10 years ago, I am sure he would have less problems in his tennis. At the US Open we plan to use this racket and hopefully we can win the tournament with this racket.”

Whether this is marketing talk or truth is unclear but the use of sensors to give players more information about their game is a step forward.

“I think the new Babolat racket technology is fantastic, it detects everything, spin-slice, power. It is also good for amateurs because they can track their progress and compare results with other amateurs and professionals," Japanese tennis player Yuichi said.

If the current technology is impressive, the future could be closer to science fiction.

'Connected' rackets provide useful information but they cannot detect whether the ball went in or out. However, if Wimbledon’s partners Babolat and Hawk-Eye join forces we could soon see an even smarter racket on the market, one that combines stats with the visuals that players find so helpful.

With sport increasingly lucrative, the Federer and Nadals of the technological world are competing in their own battle – to produce the technology that no player can live without.

The purists will argue that only the naturally gifted will triumph – but few players would want to be left out of the technological loop.

A Significant Friendly

England take to Wembley turf for the first time against tough opposition

Published in the Evening Standard

It takes Alex Scott a moment to remember when England last lost a competitive match. Under Head Coach Mark Sampson, England breezed through qualifying for the 2015 World Cup in Canada with 10 wins out of 10. Away from World Cup qualification, England recorded an impressive 4-0 victory over Sweden, a team ranked above Sampson’s side in the FIFA rankings.

“The last time we lost a competitive match must have been at the Euros last year. It’s something I haven’t really thought about,” the England and Arsenal defender told Standard Sport.

“I think we knew as players we should be beating the teams in our qualifying group but to score so many goals, and concede only one, we couldn’t do much better than that.”

While 2014 has been full of victories and goals, England’s women still have plenty to prove against Germany on Sunday after crashing out of the 2013 European Championships in the group stages. The early exit led to the departure of Hope Powell who had been in charge for 15 years.

Scott seems happy under the reign of Sampson, who has brought a fresh look to a team that often featured a familiar group of players.

“Mark has come in and changed the philosophy, the buzz around the team. We are going into games a lot more positive. He has freshened things up and there are some really exciting and young players coming through.”

One particularly young and exciting player is 21-year-old Fran Kirby, a striker for WSL 2 side Reading who scored 29 goals last season. Sampson’s bold decision to integrate a player from the second tier of the WSL looks to have paid off and Kirby was named Women of the Match on her debut against Sweden.

“If she keeps going the way she’s going, Fran has a big future in the women’s game. That’s the good thing about Mark, if you play well you are going to get a chance.,” says Scott.

Kirby and company will have to be in fine fettle if they are to upset the European Champions Germany – a team who also recorded the perfect World Cup qualifying campaign and are ranked World Number 2, five places above England.

Not only will the record crowd spur them on but also their poor record against their European rivals. England have never beaten Germany and the last time the teams met Germany denied England the 2009 European Championships title.

When asked to name Germany’s danger players, Scott is not sure where to start: “They are a force. There are so many dangerous players and they keep coming at you, they are relentless. Alexandra Pop is an amazing midfielder, she is so strong and technically gifted . They will be a real challenge.”

A victory on the pitch is important, but arguably a more important victory has already been achieved. The match against Germany marks the first time the England women’s team have played at Wembley and the capped 55,000 crowd is well above what anyone predicted.

“This is a special occasion and a great time for women’s football. When Great Britain played Brazil everyone thought it was Olympic fever but this match shows the interest is there and we need to put on a good show to keep fans coming back.”

Scott says playing at Wembley for England is a childhood dream but she will not be a bundle of nerves on the big occasion. The unofficial team DJ is more likely to be found dancing or making sure nerves don’t get the better of less experienced players. Scott believes the match is the ideal test before playing in front of big crowds in Canada next summer.  

Whether the players like it or not - the future of women’s football is tied to the results England achieve on the pitch.

“In order to capitalise on this support, we must do well in the World Cup next year. The media are now covering our matches and putting women’s football in people’s faces. We need to achieve results that keep us in the media so people can connect with us and follow the story and our progress.”

With clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester City investing more into their women’s sides, the top flight of women’s football finally has the competitive edge it has been lacking. An exciting climax to the 2014 season, which saw reigning Champions Liverpool edge to victory over Chelsea, has no doubt wetted the appetite for the fixture at Wembley. Unfortunately for Scott, all this competition means Arsenal no longer run away with the title year after year.

“Crowd figures are up across the board. Man City get good crowd averages and Arsenal do at Boreham Wood. But we need to make sure these 55,000 fans filter down into the women’s game.”

“We are role models and seeing us play makes young players realise they can make a career out of playing football. Many never looked at women’s football like this before, but now girls are believing they can become professional and make a salary out of the sport.”

DJ Dean's beats of the season

Action Images/Adam Holt

Featured in Bees Review (5th March 2016)

Most fans will know that if you cut Harlee Dean he bleeds red, Brentford red.

Recently extending his contract with the Club until the end of the 2017/2018 season and becoming Vice-Captain, Harlee has been instrumental in the success of The Bees over the last few years.

However, what less fans will know is that Dean has a crucial role which is less talked about. And with this position comes great responsibility.

“I’ve been in and out for years but this season with a few people leaving it was time for someone to step up to the decks,” said Harlee Dean, aka DJ Harlee Dean.

“In the past it rotated around with Clayton, Mo and Dougie getting involved. But now I have taken up the challenge.”

With footballers being a fairly superstitious bunch, it’s not surprising that during their promotion winning season music became very important.

“The year we went up we had one mix we listened to for the whole season,” said DJ Dean.

“Everyone knew it off by heart and which song was coming next. Actually Bob (the Kit Logistics Manager) was one of the DJs and he put on a Colin Francis mix – and that was it for the whole season. There was even one song that had to be played when we were walking out to the tunnel.”

Now Dean is king of the beats, I asked him to name the songs which have been rocking the Griffin Park changing room this season.

Impossible – Jax Jones Remix
This is a high tempo club tune and one that the boys like. It’s a bit clubby and gets people in the right mood before kick-off. No, we don’t dance, we take matches seriously but it’s just a good track to get people’s energy up.

Can’t Tell Me Nothing – Kanye West
This is from the movie, The Hangover. I chucked it in the playlist because it’s a good song and seems to do the job. Actually it was probably our hangover song when we went to Vegas after getting promoted to the Championship. Vegas was unbelievable, everyone was there and I think only Adam Forshaw missed out. It was amazing celebrating together and it was the first time many of the boys had been there. It was special. I think socialising as a team is important, this season we had the Christmas do but that was cut short because there was a development game. We haven’t had as many socials as you would have hoped for but they are tied in with good results and we haven’t had as many of them as we would have hoped for either.

679 - Fetty Wap
This is one of Alan Judge’s favourites, and if you know the song you wouldn’t really think it would be. But whenever he is in there he always asks for that to go on. He sings along and gives everyone a laugh. To be honest, without him this season we would be up against it. It is unfair recently how much pressure there is on him, he is the only one consistently producing at the minute. Hopefully he gets to the Euros because I think he deserves to be there. He has been one of the best players in the Championship this season, if not the best.

Chunky - Format: B
This is another club tune that the boys like. Judgey says that I have the biggest head in the league which could be a link to this track, as long as it is not a reference to my waist! I personally think that there are a few bigger heads in the league – it just looks big to Judgey because he is so little. I’ve made a living from heading the ball – so I’m glad I’ve got a big head really. When I was at Dagenham and Redbridge – I was just a head on a stick. You can ask Sam Saunders who was also there. I am still trying to grow into my head now. Heading is going out the game a bit but the Rotherham game proved that you still need to be prepared for a physical battle.

Digital Dash - Drake
Sam Saunders is a fan of Drake, he pretends he knows the words and just mumbles, but he does the little shuffle in Digital Dash. I was 16 when I first met Sam at Dagenham and Redbridge and when I came to Brentford he put me straight under his wing and now we live down the same road. He is one of my best friends and I think we will always be best friends, even if he is A LOT older than me.

And what about, say, the Spice Girls?
Another teammate Harlee had a close relationship with was James Tarkowski – who, rumour has it, risked his credibility to play Spice Girls on the team bus.

“I don’t think I was there then but it doesn’t surprise me,” said Harlee. “Tarky was quite a weird character and just did what he wanted to do and played what he fancied. We saw each other last Saturday and we are still very good friends.”

“Tarkowski saw his future somewhere else but I know Brentford is for me. Although it feels like we have taken a step back this season we are a Club with ambition and that is why I wanted to stay. I believe we will get to the Premier League and when the stadium is built I will enjoy playing in it. Since I’ve come here the fans have taken to me and I love playing for them – that’s also been vital in my decision to stay.”

So to the disappointment of aspiring Bees DJs, it doesn’t look like Dean is going to leave a space in the Brentford Music Department for a little while yet.

Qatar's women win more than gold

London 2012 was the first time all nations included women in their teams
This article featured on Al Jazeera English.

The last time London hosted the Olympic Games it was 1948 and these words proudly hung over the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony.

The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part

These words were first spoken by the founder of the modern games Baron de Coubertin. Since then they have been paraphrased by mum and dads across the world when dealing with overly-ambitious children.

But is it really the taking part that counts?

Try telling the most successful Olympian - American swimmer Michael Phelps - this and he would playfully splash water at you. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s reaction is likely to be equally amusing.

But perhaps Coubertin's words of encouragement shouldn’t be so quickly mocked.

Because Olympic champions are only made if they are allowed to take part.

On Sunday August 5th, I met three inspiring young women on their way home after being knocked out in the early stages of the Olympics. But there was not a tear of disappointment nor look of resignation between them.

These athletes had already won something more valuable than an Olympic gold, or even eight – the chance to take part.

64 years on from London’s last Olympics, Qatar had sent four female athletes to the Games for the first time. In fact, London 2012 was the first time all nations had included female members.

Baron de Coubertin’s words would not have been out of place at Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony.

While talking to sprinter Noor Al-Malki, swimmer Nada Arakji and table tennis player Aia Mohamed it became clear how important their presence at the Games was.

These three friends – who proudly donned their maroon Qatari tracksuits and spoke of missing the Olympic Village – were the real history makers of the Games.

And by being part of the greatest sporting competition in the world - they are blessed. They have already fulfilled ambitions that were dreams to their mother's and grandmother's generation.

Noor, Nada and Aia symbolise a change in attitude toward’s women competing at the highest levels in their conservative nation. And with only 52 years between them they have their whole sporting careers ahead.

But now their Olympics are over, will they receive the support needed to one day win gold? Or are they just figureheads to appease the IOC and equal rights groups?

Although they wouldn’t be drawn on whether they faced discrimination or barriers during their journey to the Games, one thing they openly shared was a delight at being able to inspire peers and future generations.

“I was so proud at being able to represent my country. It felt great being there and entering the stadium” said 50m freestyle swimmer Nada Arakji.

“Being the first Qatari female swimmer at the Olympics will encourage younger generations to take up the sport.”

Sporting ambition

Quite understandably, at no stage did table tennis player Aia Mohamed feel the Olympics was a right of passage.

“The Olympics was in my heart but I didn’t realise I would be here. It is like a dream come true. I want younger players to live what we have just lived,” Aia said with emotion.

“It is every athletes dream to reach the Olympics and thank god I achieved that dream, and hopefully I will be there in Rio in 2016.”

Qatar - the host of the 2022 Football World Cup – is busy developing itself as a sporting cultural hub.

Despite losing out on the bid for the 2020 Olympics, Qatar will pursue the Games in the future.

“It is really important to host events like the World Cup because people from other countries will come and they will know we can do it. We have all the facilities in place and Qatar will bring lots of new things to the event,” said Aia.

It is hard to argue that Qatar does not have the resources to entertain the world but question marks still hang over their attitude to women pursuing Olympic success.

However, at such times as these criticism is unfair. By bringing women to the Olympics, Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia have taken huge strides forward. They have been working closely with the IOC and there's no reason to believe this conversation will breakdown.

All three athletes I met were vocal (very vocal) about the huge amount of support they receive from friends, family, coaches, teachers, authorities and other athletes.

“Qatar supports us. Qatar is proud of us,” says 100m runner Noor Al-Malki.

So what next for these girls who quietly disappear from the Games without the hysteria that surrounds Michael Phelps, Ye Shiwen or Usain Bolt?

Will they one day stand on the podium celebrating gold instead of wondering whether they will be allowed to take part?

Yes, this small, young crop of female athletes have won their first battle – but the battle on the track, in the pool or by the table tennis table has only just begun.

Winning - that has to be the next step.

Mo Farah brings Olympic legacy to Hounslow

This article featured on Brentford FC CST website

"What is really emotional for me is the involvement of Mo and Tania. To come back and put this much into the Hounslow community is something I am incredibly proud of. This is what Olympic legacy is about."

These were the words of former PE teacher Alan Watkinson, the man who helped runner Mo Farah grow into one of Britain’s most decorated athletes.

On August 27th, both men returned to the place the journey had started – Feltham Community College – to launch a new local sports programme called Motivate Hounslow.  This initiative aims to motivate young people in Hounslow aged between 14 and 25 to take up sport, or take their talents to the next level.

"I thank Sport England for giving us these funds so we can help kids," said the Olympic, World and European 5,000 and 10,000m champion Mo Farah at the launch.

"To be able to support young people is amazing and I want to spot the next Mo. I want to give them a chance and say look this is where I started, I was just like you at that age."

A generous cheque for £250,000 was handed over by Jon Horne, Government Relationship Manager for Sport England’s Community Sports Activation Fund.

"This is a £47.5 million project across the country and this is one of 160 projects so far that have been funded," said Jon when presenting with the cheque.

"It is not just about people doing more sport but about the impact regular sport participation can have on wider local outcomes, whether this is educational achievement, health, diversity activities – whatever this may be in the local area."

Brentford FC Community Sports Trust, The Mo Farah Foundation and Sport Impact are working together to deliver the programme, which centres around three Motivator coaches who will be working in the most deprived areas of Hounslow to get more young people active.

"The age group we are targeting (14-25 year old) is set up for a reason, and it is a challenge. But we believe we have the credentials to do it, we all have different personalities and are enthusiastic about sport," said Senior Motivator Abdoullah Kheir.

During the launch, young people from the community took part in a variety of different sports activities including basketball, football, tennis, American flag football, boxing, trampolining and sprinting.

Motivator Martin Bradshaw said the diversity of sports on offer reflected the nature of the programme, which would use as many different sports as possible to engage the target age group.

“We will start with schools and colleges, then look to go to youth clubs and talk to young people about what they want and what will make them motivated to come to our project," said fellow Motivator Kojo Sedefia.

Chair of the Mo Farah Foundation, Tania Farah, also attended the event, as did Mo’s daughter Rhianna – who enjoyed taking part in the activities on offer, especially the tennis.

"We are excited to work with Sport Impact and Brentford FC CST, who have experience at ground level working with young people," said Tania.

"By using Mo’s influence hopefully we can develop this into something across the UK. We started in Hounslow because this is where we are from and this is where our heart still lies."

Aspiring Olympian, and Great Britain 100m sprinter Clieo Stephenson, has already benefitted from the work of The Mo Farah Foundation. The sprinter is studying psychology at Brunel University while perfecting her ground speeds.

"When I joined Brunel I applied for a scholarship and the Mo Farah Foundation selected me as one of the four people they support throughout the year," said Clieo, who can run 100m in 11.7 seconds.

"They give me financial help through the course of year, help with injuries and look after me in any way they can. Physio, travel and equipment, that sort of thing."

While Clieo was tearing it up on the mini sprint track, vigorous bouncing on the trampoline took place inside the sports hall, and Brentford FC Club Captain Kevin O’Connor turned up to see the skills on the football pitch.

The Major of Hounslow, Corinna Smart, said the launch was the biggest sporting event of the summer because of Mo Farah’s motivational story and how young people respond to it.

"I am from Feltham Community College and am doing tennis, trampolining and dodge-ball. Mo used to go to this school and I have heard a lot about him. He won lots of medals at the Olympics," said 15-year old Vishal, one of the participants on the day.

If their hard work was spotted by the Motivators, the most impressive performers were awarded prizes by Mo Farah on stage.  With a handy right hook in the boxing ring, 19-year old Dominika was awarded a goody bag with a signed T-shirt from Mo.

"In addition to Sport England, I want to thank our supporters, ISIS Waterside Regeneration, Carillion Parks Management, The Heathrow Community Fund, Brentford Football Club and the London Borough of Hounslow," said Project Manager Neil Young,

"It was through the Hounslow Community, Sport and Physical Activity network – managed by the Borough Council – that this partnership was formed, so I would like to say thank you for bringing us together."