Magnificent seven come together to launch the Welsh Sports Association #COUNTMEIN campaign

Seven stars from the world of Welsh sport and business – Jamie Baulch, Tesni Evans, Dan Lydiate, Ieuan Evans MBE, Jazz Carlin, Kieran Hardy and Ty Francis MBE – came together online to launch the Welsh Sports Association’s (WSA) exciting #COUNTMEIN campaign – an incentive aimed at encouraging professionals to donate their time and expertise into a knowledge bank which can then be used to enable Welsh sport to build back better after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The theme was very much about Wales being a proud nation that always punches above its weight. It was about never forgetting your roots. It was about being passionate and loyal towards your homeland. And in this age of online meetings and laptop get-togethers, it was about the ability to contribute virtually to grassroots sport, regardless of where you live in the world.

Whilst the elite sport stars have represented Wales (and indeed the UK) in rugby, athletics, swimming and squash, they were quick to acknowledge that it was all down to their coaches and the volunteers who inspired and encouraged them at an early age that brought their dreams of representing their country to life. And why now they dedicate much of their time to giving something back to the next generation of sports stars, and why everyone with a skill can join them in the development of Welsh sport.

Olympic silver medallist and double world champion athlete Jamie Baulch, who now devotes a lot of his energy into charity fundraising, said the time his foster parents invested in him, taking him to train at Newport Harriers, set him on the path to enable him to ultimately achieve his sporting dreams.

“I call it the Christmas tree effect,” said Jamie. “When you become an icon in whatever you do, you have to give it your best – you’re the star at the top of the tree getting the medals, but I wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t for my mum and dad, my coach and people like Colin Jackson.

“I’ve never been defined as just a runner, but it’s given me the opportunity to go on and do so much more in life. I enjoy being able to give something back and I’ve managed to raise a lot of money around the world for good causes via my BidAid and uWin fundraising activities. I sometimes pinch myself because of the social reach I now have and the people I know, and if I can utilise that to raise money and give back then it’s a great thing to do.”

Double Olympic silver medal winning swimmer Jazz Carlin remembers races against her headmaster in primary school and beating him twice! Her mother and father encouraged her to try different sports, just to see if she liked them, although it was clear from a very early age that she was a naturally gifted swimmer. However, it was the support network of volunteers that brought that raw talent to life.

“I always remember the coaches and volunteers who believed in me,” said Jazz. “They didn’t just try and shape me to be good in sport, they supported and encouraged me to be the best person I could be. People like that help you develop and grow in different ways. For me it was the coaches who gave me the confidence to make me believe that I could progress and achieve in sport. I also wouldn’t be here without my family, and their support was a huge factor for me. Diving into the water at 05.15 in the morning isn’t for everyone, and when I look back I don’t know how I did that and then went to school all day as well – but I couldn’t have done it without all the people who gave up their time to support me. They made a very big difference – not just getting me to competitions, but giving me the belief that I could do it as well.”

Tesni Evans, the world number nine female squash player, agrees.

“In my career to date, my most special moments are playing for Wales,” said the five-time Welsh national squash champion. “I do compete in an individual sport, but it’s still a team effort – and I’ve had so much support from everyone in Wales in terms of the governing body, Sport Wales and everyone. My best career moments have been, and will continue to be, when I’m wearing a Welsh shirt and I’m proud to travel around the world and tell people that I’m from Wales.”

Ieuan Evans MBE, the former Wales and British and Irish Lions star, says he feels a strong “sense of duty” to give back to the sport. And helping to develop community rugby is a key reason why he has become a National Council Member of the Welsh Rugby Union.

“Every sport relies on the participants, but the volunteers are the ones that bring that resource and raw material to life,” said Ieuan. “For all the talk about elite sport, playing in World Cups, taking part in Commonwealth Games and at the Olympics, that’s the roof of the sport and you can’t do it without the foundations holding it up.

“For me now, it’s about giving back. You feel an obligation and a sense of duty to contribute and help sustain the game and move it forward. We know how important sport is to the psyche of Wales. We’re a small country and in many cases, with 3.2 million people, we over achieve, and sport is a way to project ourselves across the globe. Giving something back is a responsibility that I gladly carry, but I’m very mindful of where it started – and that was playing rugby on College Fields in Carmarthen, in front of four people and a dog. My friends from back then are still my friends today, because the benefits from playing sport are not just physical, but they are life lessons and they are invaluable.”

Kieran Hardy has fond memories playing rugby in school and going on to play for Pontyberem RFC and then the Scarlets, before making an international winning debut for Wales against Georgia in November 2020.

“It was always a dream when I started playing rugby at the age of six that one day I would go on to play for Wales,” said Kieran. “Back then it was all about having fun of course, but it’s all thanks to the volunteers and then the coaches who gave me the confidence to finally go on to play for my country.”

And even when the chips are down, there is much to give back to the sport. Take Dan Lydiate. He spent two years recovering from injury and working his way back into the Welsh rugby team, and then just 10 minutes into his first International match back he suffered an anterior cruciate ligament knee injury. He grew up on a farm near Llandrindod Wells and much of his early training was in what he calls a “green gym” – running after animals and throwing bales of hay. And even through he’s back recuperating on the same farm, he’s proud that he has always tried his best and achieved great things at the very highest level of the game.

“My brother and I are fifth generation working on the same farm, it’s not a big farm but it’s my passion outside rugby,” said Dan. “Seeing how hard my parents worked, and still work, instilled a good work ethic in me and it’s what I’ve taken into my professional career as a rugby player. It’s taught me a lot.

“Promoting grass roots sport, especially if you’ve made it as a professional, is certainly something myself and a lot of others want to do. Obviously growing up on a farm meant that I didn’t have a gym, but I got my fitness from running around the fields. Fitness is good for your mental was well as physical health, so it’s something we should all help to promote.”

And it’s not just sportsmen and women who can make a difference to Welsh sport and the WSA’s #COUNTMEIN campaign.

Ty Francis MBE was born in Cardiff and educated in Pembrokeshire before work (and marriage) took him to the US. The entrepreneur has worked at the New York Stock Exchange, and is the Chief Advisory Officer at LRN Corporation, a global corporate governance and ethics consultancy, and the founder of New York Welsh, which has over 2,000 members. He has also created a sponsorship network to raise money to support grassroots junior, female and mixed ability sports’ teams in Wales – with 200 community players benefitting from his passion and goodwill.

“It all started when I was back from the States and down in Tenby watching my friend’s son play in the under 18 Tenby Swifts, and they had beautiful shirts with sponsor logos on,” recalls Ty. “Afterwards the girl’s team came out, and they were wearing these really bland blue t-shirts, and I found out that it was because girl’s teams rarely get sponsored.”

Ty returned to New York and set about changing that. It not only resulted in nice new shirts, but a change in mind set as the girl’s team felt equal and their confidence was boosted.

“We have now supported two hundred players in Wales. It’s wonderful to give something back, things that a lot of people take for granted, and to see youngsters so happy because of it. I was at a game watching the Dragons play, and Mike Sage, who was their community manager, walked up to me and said that he’d seen what I’d done with the girl’s teams and wondered if I’d do the same with mixed ability teams. So I took the idea back to the network and now we support three mixed ability teams in Newport, with physical and mental disabilities, and there are two girls’ teams there as well.

“It’s grown to the point where I see teams with no sponsorship on their shirts and I phone them up and ask if they want help. People outside sport can volunteer. Give their time – it doesn’t have to be money. And when people find out how little some of these clubs need to make a massive impact, it’s really quite simple.”

Victoria Ward, Chief Executive of the Welsh Sports Association, is delighted with the launch of the #COUNTMEIN campaign.

“Covid-19 has hit sport hard in Wales, as it has across the UK and around the world, and there are so many buzz words like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘build back better’ – and that really is what we are trying to do,” said Victoria. “Because of the pandemic we are all now communicating online, so it doesn’t matter where on the planet you live, if you’re a proud Welsh person and you want to get involved with sport back at home you can.

“We are indebted to the volunteers and coaches who inspire our young sportspeople, but the business and governance of sport can come from experience gained in different sectors, and that’s who #COUNTMEIN is reaching out to connect with. Someone like, for example, a graphic designer, who can donate two or three working days this year into our knowledge bank, which can be used by a grassroots sports team who need, but could not otherwise enlist, the help of a graphic designer.

“Wales is a small and very proud nation, and wherever you are in the world we want to harness that passion and enthusiasm that people have got for sport in Wales and get more and more people involved.”

For more information, please contact the team on: 029 2033 4972 or admin@wsa.wales

Find the WSA ‘Knowledge Bank’ here:https://wsa.wales/knowledge-bank/

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