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Sam Quek: Female athletes should be able to look good without being sexualised

Sam Quek was part of the Great Britain women's hockey team that won gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Here she talks about the challenges that women face in the media's portrayal of female athletes on and off the field.

Name: Sam Quek. Age: 27. Occupation: Swimwear model.

Are you kidding me?

My partner collected all the newspapers from when we were out in Rio at the Olympics. Every bit in which the hockey girls were mentioned, he'd cut it out. Before the final, one paper did a bio on each player: name, age, occupation.

People had 'doctor of nutrition', 'full-time PHD student' or 'training to be a solicitor'. I got down to mine and it was 'Sam Quek: swimwear model'. Then it had a background of my other half, who owns a property company.

I felt it painted a picture that I had no education - like I was a bit of a no-one. 'She's a swimwear model, so let's talk about her other half.'

I did one shoot before the Olympics about celebrating the female body. I thought it was great: it ticked boxes of being classy, being sporty - but it was also glamorous.

But when you searched my name it was the first proper picture that came up. I'm not a swimwear model, but you've seen one picture and decided to latch on to that?

Why not the fact that I've got a degree? Or that I got my first international hockey cap when I was 18? Even that I'd missed out on the Games in Beijing and London and was fighting for gold in Rio?

'Sweat in our eyes and spit in our faces'
The drop-out rate for young girls in sport is massive, especially around the age of 15. There used to be a perception - and I think it still exists - that you're either sporty, or you're not. I've always laboured the point that you can be both.

Before the GB hockey girls left to get on the bus for our matches, we'd spend time getting ready. We'd have our hair done. We'd put on make-up because, yeah, we wanted to look good. We were representing ourselves and our team, and each other. But as soon as we crossed that line we had sweat in our eyes, spit in our faces, and it was win at all costs.

Women don't have to be labelled 'sporty'. Or 'glamorous'. You can be both, and it's important for youngsters to recognise that.

'To be successful, do I have to get my kit off? No'
I'm very conscious that I don't want to be sexualised. When I was searching for an agent, one immediately started speaking to me about underwear deals. I thought, 'you have no idea'.

To be successful as a female sportsperson, do you have to get your kit off? No.

You'll not see me doing an underwear shoot. I'm very prudish. Potentially, women do feel pressured to do those type of shoots to be seen and to be heard, but you'll not see male athletes doing them as often.

As female athletes, we're so used to toeing the line that you don't come out and say something against it for fear of being judged. If we ever did, there would be a lot more attention than there would be on a male athlete.
'Differences off the pitch, world beaters on it'
But it's not just about appearance. Female athletes should be allowed to have and show their personality too, rather than blending into the mould of what the media feel they 'should' be.

I'm a firm believer that if you're going to increase participation in women's sport, you need characters to follow. If someone has a strong opinion, let them have that opinion, and let them back it up.

I think it's healthy to challenge each other because if you have everybody agreeing all the time, I don't necessarily think you'll get the best out of people.

That's why I felt compelled to talk about the disagreements that happened in the gold-winning GB team in my autobiography Hope and a Hockey Stick. Sometimes people are scared to say they didn't get on with someone, and everyone has to say 'we're all best mates'. Men are much more open about that.

The amount of footballers I've spoken to where it's known publicly that, in one team, X didn't get on with Y - but on the pitch they were world beaters together. They'd know where each other would run and when to pass the ball. It's a big difference, I feel, between male and female sport.

My story is not one of continued success, it is one of persistence and hope that in the end paid dividends. I hope people can take from my book that if things are not always going your way, just be yourself and hang in there to chase your dreams.

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