Celia Brackenridge - Bedford PE Old Student, England Lacrosse Captain and Coach, Academic and Leading Campaigner in Safeguarding
Celia Brackenridge was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, and then educated at The Lady Eleanor Holles School for Girls in London. In her last year there, she shocked her Head Teacher by ignoring the school’s advice to go on to University after achieving excellent A level grades. Instead, she opted to take a Certificate in Education at Bedford College of Physical Education, the most prestigious college for women’s Physical Education. After gaining her Certificate, she went on to add an Honours year at the University of Cambridge and was the first physical education student in the UK to achieve a First Class Honours degree.
While at Cambridge she was awarded a Full Blue for sporting excellence in 1972. In itself, this was rather unusual since the Cambridge rules stated that, unlike men, women could only achieve a Half Blue unless they achieved representative honours outside the University. Celia did this not in one sport but in two, Lacrosse (at national level) and cricket (at county level). She was subsequently awarded her Double Full Blue. Celia represented England at Lacrosse for fourteen years, becoming captain from 1979 to 1982. She was England Team Coach from 1985-86 for the Lacrosse World Cup in the United States, and Visiting Women’s Lacrosse Coach and Researcher at Harvard University in 1983 and 1984.
Celia completed a MA in Physical Education at the University of Leeds, going on to become a PE teacher at Bournemouth Girl’s School. From there, she went on to teach at The Lady Mable College of Physical Education, which became part of Sheffield Polytechnic and then, in 1992, Sheffield Hallam University. She spent twenty years teaching and managing the academic sport provision at Sheffield Hallam, where she also gained a PhD by portfolio before leaving to establish a research centre at the University of Gloucestershire in 1996 as Professor of Sport and Leisure. In 2005, she became Director of the Centre for Youth Sport and Athlete Welfare at Brunel University, where she worked until her retirement in 2013.
Celia receiving her OBE at Buckingham Palace in 2012
Throughout her career Celia demonstrated the importance of the relationship between evidence-based research and public policy. She was instrumental in setting up the UK Women’s Sports Foundation and was its first Chair from 1984-1988. She was personally approached by senior researchers, lobbyists and activists to join and develop Women Sport International in the early 1990s. She stated in 1994 that the non-governmental organisation was committed ‘not just to the exchange of information but toward achieving change, improvement and transformation’ for women and girls in sport globally. Celia was a keynote speaker during the plenary session of the first world conference on women and sport in Brighton in 1994. The ground breaking Conference, chaired by Anita White (previously Co-ordinator of the Sports Studies programme at the University of Chichester), brought together 280 policy and decision makers from 82 countries and led to the celebrated Brighton Declaration that outlined principles to be adopted to increase the involvement of women in sport at all levels and all functions and roles. Endorsed by over 400 organisations all over the world, the Brighton Declaration has been a powerful influence on international sporting bodies for over 20 years.
It was Celia who inspired the establishment of the Anita White Foundation at the University of Chichester. She donated her personal papers from her work in the women and sport movement to the University Archive collection, proposing that the archive should be named after Anita White. The archive is open to international scholars, so that history will never forget the sound of glass ceilings breaking across the sporting world in the wake of the Brighton Declaration.
From the 1990s Celia’s research focused on the issues concerned with child protection in sport, particularly the sexual exploitation, harassment and abuse of children. At first, governing bodies were reluctant to listen to the results of her research believing, as Celia said, that ‘I was just a troublemaker – trampling on Paradise’, but when Celia enlisted the support of the NSPCC and UNICEF, sports organisations around the world began to take notice.
From 2001, she was an advisor to the NSPCC and Sport England’s newly opened Child Protection in Sport Unit and chaired its Research Task Force for six years. Between 1994 and 2010 she was the Convenor of the Task Force on Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport for Women Sport International. She was Programme Consultant to the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission’s 2007 Consensus Statement on Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport and to the UNICEF working group on violence against children in sport.
In July 2014 she convened the inaugural meetings of Safe Sport International, and became the first co-chair of this new NGO which has a vision to end violence and abuse against athletes.
Celia chaired the Leisure Studies Association from 1993 to 1995 and edited the journal Leisure Studies from 1995 to 1997. In 2007 she received the prestigious Darlene Kluka Research Award from the United States Women’s Sports Foundation and in 2008, the Distinguished International Scholar award of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Celia was awarded an Honorary PhD from the University of Bedfordshire in 2009, and in 2010 an Honorary Fellowship of the University of Chichester. In 2012, she was awarded an OBE for services to Equality and Child Protection in Sport.
In recognition of her sporting achievements, research and activism, Celia was awarded The Sunday Times Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Sportswomen of the Year Awards. Celia died in 2018, but made an immeasurable contribution to making sport a safer and more humane environment. She leaves behind a unique legacy for the women and sport movement, not least in her central role in the establishment of the Anita White Foundation.
(with acknowledgement to the University of Chichester)