Women in sport: Claire Nelson

For the final interview of our women in sport series, Elana Shapiro speaks to the CEO of Netball Scotland, Claire Nelson.

Elana Shapiro
8th March 2021
I discovered Claire on LinkedIn and asked if she might be interested in taking part in the series. Her response was immediate, “Of course. It was at university that I re-found my love for netball again and led the university team". Now, Claire leads Netball Scotland, as CEO, and its subsidiary outfit the Strathclyde Sirens. Their name may sound familiar, even if you aren’t a netball fan, as they frequently go viral on TikTok, as well as competing in the Netball Superleague.

It’s an exciting time for netball in Scotland and Claire Nelson is at the forefront. Over the last 18 months, the growth of the sport has really accelerated. A broadcasting deal with Sky means that every league game is televised and the Sirens opening game of last season attracted a crowd of 9,500 fans. Claire explains, “The challenge will always be visibility and investment but it’s not a hard sell. It’s a great product with end to end action - you aren’t watching a match for 90 minutes where someone might or might not score”.

It's a great product with end to end action - you aren't watching a match for 90 minutes where someone might or might not score

With the domestic Commonwealth games next year and the World Cup the year after that, Claire wants to “utilize this moment in time to catapult the sport forwards”, but she’s also aware that it needs to be done sustainably, “There’s a real space for women’s sport. Sport in Scotland isn’t a cluttered marketplace but women and girls need to show an appetite for it so we can carry on driving forward”.

It is apparent that Claire is eager to use netball to help build progress in other areas of life as well. “Sport has an important role in societal affairs,” she tells me passionately, “We talk about mental health, about menstruation, about pregnancy loss and we show real body types. I would love to see a shift in our culture where athletes become influencers”.

“It’s important for young girls to see that and to have these role models. When I was growing up, I wasn’t aware that I was able to play professionally and  never mind one day be a Chief Exec! It’s the business of sport as well as the professional pathways that change the game and offer more opportunities. My favourite thing to do is engage with our members and sometimes after a game, a parent will tell me their daughter doesn’t really play netball. I tell them it’s fine, they can be a CEO instead.”

It's important for young girls to have these role models

At a game recently, Claire came across Sue, a friend who she played with at Newcastle. Claire, the 1st team centre, loved playing at university. She captained the team and was president of the netball club as well. The bonds that she built during this time still last and she describes being on the team as “being part of a family”. With a smile she says, “Newcastle was where we became the people that we are today, free from any pressures and with the opportunities to make our own decisions.”

After University, Claire worked at Revolution as a promotional manager for a few months and found her knack for marketing. Following that she worked in hospitality and tells me it was a very male-dominated industry. By the time she was thirty, Claire had four children and decided to start her own company, before being headhunted to be Senior VP of a global tech company.

So how did Claire end up working for Netball Scotland?

“I was in Chicago, sat listening to Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post when I realised I needed to drive change and follow my passion to transform women’s sport and that’s what made me decide to pursue my current role. I think it’s really demonstrated to me the truth in the adage ‘Do what you love, and you’ll do it well’. It’s important to me that my daughters have a better experience and more opportunities”. One way that Claire does this, aside from developing and growing the sport, is through mentoring and education and she welcomes anyone to contact her via Twitter or LinkedIn for support.

I can only sit attentively (and somewhat in awe) as Claire offers some final advice, “Don’t limit yourself at all. If you can’t find what you want to do then create it. Design the world you want to see. Also don’t just think about what you want to do, but also the life you want to have, and the impact that you’re determined to make.

And I think that is the perfect message to conclude our Women In Sport 2021 Series. Happy International Women’s Day.

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