International Women's Day Spotlight: Gursimran Kaur Johal LeaderBoard Academy and GNG FC

In honour of International Women's Day Sporting Equals is spotlighting strong women in sport to share their lived experiences, highlight the intersectional barriers in addition to their accomplishments despite those barriers and advice for other women. This year's theme for International Women's Day is to #BreakTheBias, by sharing these stories, reflecting on the journies and providing insight and advice on how to engage in sport and physical activity we hope to do just that! 

We will now be sharing the journey of Gursimran Kaur Johal currently an undergraduate of LeaderBoard Academy, a skilled footballer and champion of grassroots engagement through GNG Football Club. Gursimran highlights the lack of South Asian female role models she had growing up and how she channels that to motivate her to be the role model for young South Asian girls today.
1. What is your name, age and sport you are engaged in?
My name is Gursimran Kaur Johal, I am 22 years of age. The sport I am engaged in is football. 
2. Where did your journey in sport begin?
My journey in sport began at the age of eight when I joined the Leicester City Centre of Excellence. 
3. What were your motivations and inspirations to be engaged in football?
Football has been in my life since I can remember. My motivation and inspiration to be engaged in the sport were from my father and my brother.
They are both heavily invested in the sport and being brought up with that from a very young age, it inspired me to also thrive in the sport as I knew I had the talent to do well and set an example. 
At the time I joined Leicester City, I had no female role models, my role models have always been my father and brother. Not having a female role model was difficult as I felt I had no one to look up to. 
4. As a South Asian woman, what were the challenges you had to face to progress in football?
As stated above, not having a female role model in itself was a challenge. I felt from a young age that it was going to be difficult for me to progress in the game as I “looked” different to my teammates. 
Subconsciously this affected my progress as I would always feel left out and not part of the team. However, this challenge made me want to thrive more in the game as I knew I had the talent to become a great footballer and become a role model for other South Asian girls. 
5. What advice would you give to young girls who have aspirations to get involved in football?
My advice would be, go for it. Do not let anything or anyone stand in the way of your passion for the game.
Football is a sport that should be inclusive. The colour of your skin or whether you are male, or female should not stand in the way.
If you have the drive for the game whether that be on the pitch or off, take that step and become a role model for other young girls who were once in your position. 
6. What have been your biggest successes in football?
I have had many successes in football, one being playing for Leicester City for six seasons. Going into an academy at a very young age and playing all across the country in itself was a huge success. I was the only South Asian girl at the time who was in the team. 
Furthermore, I now volunteer at one of the biggest grassroots clubs in the UK, GNG Football Club. The club predominantly has a lot of Asian players, both male and female. Being able to volunteer at a club that is thriving every single day and offering opportunities to Asian players is a great success and something that I am very proud to be a part of. 
Lastly, for the past few years, I deliver on a FIFA Masters course that is run by the University of Leicester. When delivering, I speak about the journey that GNG FC has been on and how I have helped the club get to where they are today with barriers such as the glass and concrete ceilings that a lot of our players and coaches face. 
7. Which role models did you look up to in sport?
As stated above, the role models I looked up to, and still do, are my father and brother.
I did not have any female role models whilst growing up which is why I now aim to be a role model for young girls who are in a position that I was once in. 
8. For those who say South Asians aren't talented or interested in football, what would your response be as a South Asian Woman?
My response to that statement would be that the interest is there, and the talent is most definitely there.
Having volunteered at GNG FC for six years, I can say that the talent and interest are apparent. GNG FC has over 500 players signed on. That in itself conveys the notion that the interest for South Asians to play football is there. 
9. How has Sporting Equals supported you in your journey in sport?
Sporting Equals have helped me in my sporting journey by offering me opportunities such as being able to be part of the LeaderBoard Academy which enables ethnically diverse communities to be upskilled in a programme that prepares candidates for the boardrooms of sport. 
In addition to that opportunity, I have been awarded the chance to engage with other individuals who also have the same passion and drive as myself to allow South Asians to have equal opportunities within sport. 
10. In your opinion, how better can the sport sector work with specific communities to better engage South Asian women in sport?
In my opinion, the sport sector needs to give more opportunities to South Asian women, whether that be on the field or off the field.
The sporting sector needs to put people like myself in positions where we are best suited and where we already have the experience and knowledge to drive change and make a positive difference.
We should not be put into positions just to meet a certain criterion that an organisation may have. We should be put into those positions as a result of our hard work and merit.