A leading campaigner for women and against abuse in sport has died.
Celia Brackenridge was born in August 1950 in Hitchin, Hertfordshire and educated in London. Academically gifted as well as a committed athlete, she surprised her headteacher by opting to study for a certificate in physical education at Bedford College (1968-71), although she then went on to an honours year – and a first – at the University of Cambridge (1971-72). She played cricket at county level and lacrosse at national level, as captain from 1979 to 1982, and later served as a coach at Harvard University.
After an MA in physical education at the University of Leeds, Professor Brackenridge taught in a girls’ school and a college of physical education, which became part of Sheffield Hallam University (1974-94). She moved to the University of Gloucestershire as reader and then professor of sport and leisure (1994-2001) and, after some shorter appointments, ended her career at Brunel University London as director of the Centre for Youth Sport and Athlete Welfare (2005-12).
A pioneer in raising the status of sports science as a discipline, Professor Brackenridge faced much mockery and once recalled a letter in The Times asking “Whatever next, coffee studies?” Yet she remained a tireless campaigner. She was the first chair of the UK Women’s Sports Foundation (1984-88) and co-founded the research-based advocacy organisation WomenSport International. She was also a keynote speaker at the first world conference on women and sport, held in Brighton in 1994, which set out core principles for greater participation in its celebrated and influential Brighton Declaration.
Sarah Springman, rector of ETH Zurich, recalled Professor Brackenridge’s “inspired leadership” at the Women’s Sports Foundation. “She developed a strategic approach to the particular challenges of under-representation politically, financially and [in terms of] media recognition," said Professor Springman, herself a former triathlete for Great Britain. "She battled the entrenched perspectives to challenge those who were running sport to aspire to, and achieve, a more equitable sporting environment from which many of us have benefited greatly.”
Professor Brackenridge’s willingness to “battle entrenched perspectives” proved even more crucial when she took up the cause of child protection in sport. Although first dismissed by governing bodies as “a troublemaker”, she won the support of Unicef and the NSPCC, chaired a task force on sexual harassment and abuse for Women Sport International (1994-2010) and, in 2014, became a co-chair of Safe Sport International. She was awarded an OBE in 2012 for services to equality and child protection in sport.
Professor Brackenridge died of leukaemia on 23 May and is survived by her partner Diana Woodward and two stepsons.