When it comes to changing the game Netball Scotland Chief Executive Claire Nelson has been on a mission since her appointment in October 2015.
So, it was no surprise when she landed the Gamechanger in Sport award at the inaugural Great British Businesswoman Awards earlier this month. It’s not about personal recognition, of course, but Claire’s unwavering commitment to developing netball, as well as her role as advocate for women and girls in sport, put her out in front of the field.
It has been one of the most challenging yet successful periods in Netball Scotland’s recent history. A global health pandemic, lockdown restrictions and the knock-on financial pressures of both, have all made for a tough 18 months. But despite these challenges, netball is thriving under Claire’s leadership.
Claire was the driving force behind the formation of Scotland’s only professional netball side, the Strathclyde Sirens, changing the landscape for Scottish netball in the process and providing a pathway for the best young players to reach the highest level.
Last year saw the Sirens established themselves as one of the top sides in the Vitality Netball Superleague despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic. It hasn’t been easy, but the rise of the Sirens has helped change the game in Scotland.
Claire explained: “The award came as a bit of a surprise. Winning awards is always nice but to be a Gemchanger for women’s sport on a UK level definitely means a lot. When we launched Sirens, we did it under #ChangingTheGame and that has always remained my guiding principle.
“My mission always has been to change the game and I have been very clear on that.
"I simply couldn’t keep talking about the issues and challenges relating to women’s sport, I wanted to do something about it, and that has always been what Sirens has represented.
“But what we were able to do during the pandemic is shine a light on what we do and how we do it The next step is to unpick the business model because we need to work smarter, more effectively and more strategically, because we don’t want to limit our ambitions.
“It hasn’t been easy. We are not a cash rich sport and we needed Government funding to keep us going during the really difficult months of the pandemic. Our players are not fully professional, yet they were travelling across the country and still winning games.
“But when I think back over the last year, everybody loved the Sirens, everybody talked about us. All of a sudden, the Scottish team that had been the underdog for years, came out and were the heroes. That is something I am incredibly proud of.
“But taking all that aside, I genuinely believe we have now just put the foundations and the right people in place, to really take the sport to the next level.”
Claire has also led the #HeadlinesNotSidelines campaign, working tirelessly to raise the profile of the Sirens through a targeted campaign of engaging directly with editors to build awareness of the brand. And it has worked, with a 350% increase in coverage over the past year alone, but Claire is in no doubt that more must be done in the future.
“In our last full season prior to the pandemic, we had around 30 pieces of media coverage, but we managed to get around 140 last season. We have had coverage in national titles and that is great. So, when I reflect it is clear we have made huge progress but we are still so far away.
“We have got loads more work to do. However, for us as a sport and a business, we are just getting started. We are looking at an aggressive growth strategy. We want to build a really strong professional club model that sells tickets and has a strong digital sport and lifestyle brand that works with some great partners and sponsors.
“We are looking at launching a charitable foundation because we know now more than ever, we need to drive greater impact. We want to use that power of sport to make a positive change and that is something I feel really passionate about. But mark my words we really are only just getting started and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
Find out more
About Strathclyde Sirens