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Wales’ First Female Youth Sports Conference Inspires a Generation of Young Women

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In the run up to International Women’s Day, Urdd Gobaith Cymru was proud to of hosted Wales’ first-ever Female Youth Sports Conference.

The #FelMerch conference (transl. ‘Like a girl’) was held over the weekend (5-6 March) at the Urdd’s residential centre in Cardiff Bay. Its aim was to inspire, support and empower young women between 16-25 to get involved in sports.

A hundred-and-fifty woman from across Wales attended the conference, to enjoy motivational speeches and various workshops delivered by 20 inspirational and leading experts in their fields. The conference was also an opportunity to share ideas and discuss volunteering, training and qualification options and opportunities in the sporting world.

The bilingual conference, which is suitable for Welsh learners, was hosted by endurance adventurer, athlete, and presenter Lowri Morgan. Speakers included Gemma Grainger, Hollie Arnold MBE, Laura McAllister, Natasha Harding, Elinor Snowsill and Gwennan Harries.

The nationwide #FelMerch project was launched in June 2021 by the Urdd’s Sports Department supported by Sport Wales, to tackle the fact that young women are more likely to give up sports in their teenage years, especially since the pandemic.

Gemma Grainger, Wales Women’s National Manager said in the build up to the event:

I am really looking forward to being involved in the Urdd’s #FelMerch conference. The weekend, as well as the wider #FelMerch initiative, is vitally important in growing girls’ participation and offering more opportunities in all sports across Wales.

“I have been fortunate enough to see the success of #FelMerch first-hand at the Urdd centre in Llangrannog, and the Urdd’s support in organising fan buses to our Cymru matches. I am excited to see how #FelMerch will continue to develop in the future.”

Four-time Paralympian and multi-world record holder Hollie Arnold MBE added:

Throughout time young women have often been told they can’t do something, or that they wouldn’t be good at something because of their gender. I’ve had challenges in my life growing up with a disability, but I have always used it to my advantage. For me it is all about mindset and attitude towards whatever the challenge may be.

“All young women deserve the same opportunities and that is why I’m thrilled to be part of Wales’s first ever female youth sports conference, #FelMerch, helping to inspire, empower and provide opportunities in supporting young women and girls to fulfil their full potential and reach their hosen goals.”

Giving young people a voice is at the heart of the Urdd’s work, and one of the young people who spoke at the conference is Francesca Antoniazzi from Anglesey, a keen netball player who broke her back in an accident 5 years ago. She didn’t give up on sports and started to train as a wheelchair netball player and weightlifter and has won two gold medals at the Welsh Championships and two silver at the British Championship.

Francesca said:

It always seems impossible until it's done. There is always a way around it, even if you have to ask for help, help is not a weakness.”

Delegates also heard from women who have achieved success in professional sporting roles, as well as looking at sports in its wider context. Trainer Catrin Ahmun will discuss fitness and mental health, a session with chef Beca Lyne Perkins will teach delegates about the relationship between food and sports, and a body image and sports session will be held by model and ex Love Island contestant Connagh Howard.

The event was held with the support of the Welsh Government, and Deputy Minister for Arts and Sport, Dawn Bowden said prior to the event:

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak at this first ever female youth sports conference and in supporting the #FelMerch programme of activity. #FelMerch is playing such an important part in encouraging participation in sporting activity, regardless of ability, and in creating safe environments in which to do so.   It promises to be a very inspirational event.”

Siân Lewis, Urdd Gobaith Cymru Chief Executive added:

“Ensuring that young women get the support and opportunities to take part in sports is a priority for us as an organisation – 56% of young people who take part in our weekly sports provisions across Wales are female. #FelMerch has created further opportunities for girls in sports, inclusive weekly activities, discussion forums, community hubs during the holidays and much more. The response has been brilliant, and we hope that this conference will help inspire a generation of young women to experience all the benefits of being involved in sports.”