Stacey Copeland was an international footballer before becoming a European medal-winning boxer – and now she is empowering a new generation of sportswomen.
The 36-year-old Mancunian played for England Under-18s and Doncaster Belles before trading football for the boxing ring, but making a major impact in both sports has been just the start of something potentially more significant for Copeland.
Fed up at being told changes in the perception of women in sport would come if she showed sufficient patience, Copeland took matters into her own hands and launched herself into a third sporting career: the outspoken advocate.
On Thursday, Copeland will go up against footballers Eni Aluko and Nadia Nadim for the Women’s Sport Trust sporting role model award, at the #BeAGameChanger event in London.
Aluko won acclaim for her persistence in challenging and exposing the culture within the Football Association after accusing former England Women boss Mark Sampson of racism. She also recently won a league and cup double with Chelsea.
Nadim has emerged from the horror of life in Afghanistan under the regime of the Taliban, whose militants killed her army general father, to forge a successful sporting career. She plays for Manchester City Women and Denmark, the country to which her family fled.
Copeland is the lesser known of the three nominees, at least for now. She still works full-time as head of personal development at Parrs Wood High School in East Didsbury.
“They’ve got massive followings on social media and they’ve got the clubs behind them, so I’d probably have more chance on X Factor to be honest,” she said of her award prospects. “But it doesn’t matter whether I win, it’s just important to recognise women in sport and that’s a great thing to be part of.”
Copeland has her heart set on a career driving women to new heights in sport, and has seen football take giant strides in its early years of professionalism.
In her Belles days, she lined up against Aluko, who was a Birmingham player at the time. Later, Copeland won a welterweight silver medal in the boxing ring for England at the 2014 European Championships, held in Bucharest.
She now fights professionally and longs for boxing to give its leading women the same push as football has afforded to the Lionesses.
“Our own governing body is only just coming around to the fact that we’re there,” she said. “We’re all individuals trying to do things in our own way.”
Copeland’s way is her ‘Pave The Way’ project, set up with her school and Greater Sport Manchester last year. Her commitment to bringing through new generations of sportswomen has caught the eye. She has given 58 talks on the subject in the last 14 months, and in April she addressed the European Parliament in Brussels.
“I’ve spent that many years waiting for things to change and being told, ‘It will change, just wait, it’ll come, it’ll come’,” Copeland told Press Association Sport.
“And I’ve realised that it doesn’t happen unless some of us make it happen. I don’t want to be quietly waiting for other people to do something. I need to be one of them.”