fbpx

Boob Armour: Protecting women in sport for the future

Boob Armour

Launched in 2020, Boob Armour (which is officially licensed by the AFL and AFLW) was founded by Suzie Betts with the sole ambition of giving more women and girls the confidence to play impact sports while protecting their breasts from injury.

A world-first for women’s sport, Boob Armour inserts are designed to provide breast support and to minimise unwanted movement during running, as well as absorb impact to alleviate injury to breast tissue.

The inserts are made from a soft but strong polyethylene that is just two millimetres thick. These inserts extend around the underarm for added protection, stabilising the breasts into position and are easily insertable into a sports bra.

Inspired by personal experience, Betts sought medical research for the need of protective inserts for women. What she found was an underwhelming lack of attention given to the issue, and furthermore, that the products designed to do the job were ill-suited to the vast majority of women.

Suzie Betts Photo

To start off, what is Boob Armour?

Suzie Betts: So, Boob Armour is protective inserts for girls playing contact, impact and ball sport. They’re two-millimetre-thick polyethylene inserts that you slot into your sport bra or crop top pre-match. A lot of girls obviously don’t want to have anything heavy in any shape or form, and the inserts weigh about fifteen grams each.

Once they’re in, you’re basically invincible. You could get kicked; you could get punched – you won’t feel a thing. By absorbing the impact (which is what the polyethylene does) it actually alleviates any injuries.

What inspired you to initiate the Boob Armour project? How did it all come together?

Suzie Betts: In 2018, I found lumps in my breast. And the first thing my cancer surgeon asked me was whether I had received a trauma, which I found strange at the time. What I’ve since found out is trauma lumps, which present themselves later in life, can present themselves as breast cancer cells. Even through MRIs and ultrasounds can’t differentiate between them. So, you have to go down the path of what I did – biopsies and three lots of surgery to find out I didn’t have breast cancer (which I never thought I had) – to find out the lumps were a result of a trauma I received when I was younger.

So, with that in mind I had two girls who played AFLW and basketball and after asking them about their experiences they acknowledged that they’re hit in the boobs all the time whilst playing. From thereI began to look for research and found that basically, globally there’d been really nothing in terms of studies.

There’d been a study done in America in regard to football that had found out that out of 90 girls playing, 50% had reported sustaining a breast injury. And most of them hadn’t reported it to anyone. Part of the challenge would’ve been that most of the coaches were male at the time so it would’ve been difficult for the players to talk about and the guys aren’t going to ask about it. 12% of those girls actually said that the injury had affected their participation.

So, I went in search of what there was to protect girls’ boobs and really came across nothing except products that were unsuitable. So, we’ve made sure that our shells encapsulate the shape of the breasts and we’ve got seven sizes; so, there’s a size for everyone.

Originally, my background wasn’t in football it was in Aussie Rules. But as we’ve gone along, we’ve had a lot of interest from Europe and the United Kingdom in regards to football and rugby as well. And so, it dawned on me about how many girls were avoiding chest passing in football. [From there] what we’ve found is a lot of parents who previously avoided letting their kids play football, rugby or Aussie Rules are now letting them play.

Boob Armour in kit

Has it been a challenge to educate and get people on board with the product?

Suzie Betts: Absolutely it has been a challenge. Because even though we’re talking female sport and it has been around for years, it’s still run a lot by men. No one really has thought about those injuries and that’s why the research hasn’t been there.

Not until 2020 was anything done in regards to AFL injuries, which saw 207 girls who were playing AFL and rugby surveyed. About 60% of them said that they had had a breast injury and most of them have said they couldn’t play on because of it. The numbers are there when they do it but it’s been difficult to get any further research done other than what is available. Only through my own trauma do I know the next steps.

So, opening up the conversation with the male contingent has been the hardest bit and avoidance of talking about it [for years] hasn’t really helped.

Since the launch of Boob Armour, what has the response been like from the overall sporting community?

Suzie Betts: For women this is like the best thing they’ve ever seen. We’ve got some co-ed schools taking on board the point that girls need to be protected in the same way boys are in cricket for example.

And the response has been phenomenal. When the girls put it on the confidence they get for tackles, marking and chest passing is like a newfound confidence, because they know that they can just run through it or have the ability to mark or chest the ball without any injury.

So, it’s been phenomenal but the key is education. All of our medical research and promotion of that education is essential because we want it to be like the mouthguard of the future. We want it to be in every girl’s kit; if you’re getting ready of football you’ve got your shin guards, your mouthguard and your Boob Armour.

[And with it] all the girls play tougher. After every game they say with confidence that they went for it and previously it wasn’t like that without Boob Armour. And in addition, it works to minimise bounce. Another study we found discovered that a lot of teenage girls drop out of sport because they don’t have the right support. So, we don’t want that to be a reason why girls stop playing sport. We need everyone to stay in [sport] for as long as they can, so, if that tiny thing is keeping you away from sport, we’re here to alleviate that problem.

We’re really targeting the grassroots, which is why I am proud to see the young girls wearing it because they’re the ones we’ve got to educate to keep it. Some girls are only going to play for fun but they’ll be protected along the way and that’s the most important thing. It’s all about prevention.

Arsenal tokens to add new fan engagement

Arsenal Fan token

English Premier League side Arsenal have partnered with sports blockchain provider Chiliz to launch the club’s custom fan tokens on Chiliz’s Socios.com app.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, sports clubs have had to look for other revenue streams to compensate for the lack of ticketing on game days. Arsenal joins a growing list of sports entities on the platform, including Barcelona, Juventus, Paris Saint Germain and AC Milan.

The platform enables fans to purchase club fan tokens, an area of the blockchain industry that generated over $200 million in revenue in the first half of 2021 alone. According to the Socios.com management team, the app has had almost 1.2 million downloads since its launch in 2019. Of those, almost 70% took place in 2021.

Fan tokens can be exchanged for rewards such as merchandise, the ability to participate in polls, access exclusive content, and play interactive games. They can also lead to experiences like meeting players or attending home games. The Arsenal-specific digital collectibles can be bought and sold through the marketplace as a cryptocurrency.

“We are committed to finding new and innovative ways for all our supporters – whether local or international – to get closer to the club,” Arsenal Commercial Director Peter Silverstone said.

Chiliz has allocated over $50 million to expand into the top sporting leagues in the United States, whilst also becoming an official sponsor of LaLiga football club Valencia CF. The sponsorship will showcase a token logo in the front of the players’ jerseys this coming season.

In addition, Chiliz is also sponsoring Argentina’s top football league, which will officially be called Torneo Socios.com for the 2021/2022 season.

As a club, Arsenal is not new to the blockchain space. The club has partnerships for three mainstream applications of blockchain in sports – Sorare for fantasy football, Fantastec for digital collectibles, and now Chiliz for fan tokens.

In 2018, Arsenal also signed a sponsorship deal with cryptocurrency application CashBet. This deal was the first time a major global club has partnered with a cryptocurrency firm.

Liga MX to extend global reach through OneFootball partnership

Liga MX

OneFootball have announced a new deal with Liga MX which will see the world’s largest football media company stream live games and highlights from the Mexican top-flight, after inking an agreement with the league’s international sales partner – Spanish-based agency Mediapro Group.

With a platform used by 85 million monthly active users across the world, OneFootball will provide free-to-air coverage of between two and five live matches from teams such as Club América, Cruz Azul, Pumas, Toluca, FC Juárez, Necaxa and Tigres to the world.

Under the terms of the agreement, the football media platform will provide coverage of the summer Apertura 2021 tournament and the winter Clausura 2022 competition, featuring the league’s 18 teams.

The deal covers several regions where OneFootball currently operates, including France, Italy, Germany and the UK, along with Latin America, Africa and Asia.

OneFootball’s latest broadcasting agreement builds on a number of deals the firm has in place to air the German top-flight Bundesliga in Brazil and Latin America, the Japanese J League in Italy, and the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) in various international markets.

The new agreement with OneFootball, which adds to Mediapro Group’s extensive experience in the sale and distribution of audiovisual rights of global sports competitions, will extend the international broadcast reach of Liga MX to a vast userbase of young and highly engaged football enthusiasts around the globe.

The Mediapro Group is the global media rights sales agency of the Spanish LaLiga, the Chinese Super League and the Belgian Jupiler Pro League.

Earlier in March, OneFootball also struck a deal for the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to become the first national federation to link up with the platform. The company has also acquired the rights to the Ligue 1 in Brazil, with the French top-tier also becoming the first professional football league to confirm an editorial collaboration with OneFootball.

A telling contribution: The rise of Preston Lions under Zak Gruevski

At BT Connor Reserve, home of Preston Lions, it has not been an uncommon sight to see over 2,000 people in the stands supporting their team.

It is a typically frosty winter’s night in Melbourne on Friday, July 9.

The famous Preston Lions Football Club and its hordes of support are preparing to welcome Nunawading FC.

For the vast majority of clubs playing in the various National Premier Leagues Victoria divisions, the recent easing of Victorian Government restrictions allowing up to 1,000 spectators at games would allow them to operate matchday with minimal restrictions and fuss. Not Preston.

At BT Connor Reserve, it has not been an uncommon sight to see more than 2,000 people in the stands supporting their team.

With a spectator cap of 1,000, the Lions have needed to meticulously manage the gate, ensuring sponsors, members, spectators, players and officials check-in upon entry.

It is an administrative hassle, but it is a stark reminder of just how far Preston has come.

For that reason, the night is full of mixed emotions for outgoing Club President, Zak Gruevski.

Having announced the end of his presidency at the club – a reign that lasted over seven years – it provides an opportunity to reflect on just how far the club has come, as well as the important strides forward the Lions still hope to make.

“Like most, I didn’t go to President’s school,” Gruevski said.

“The journey really started from a call out to the community to say that Preston was in some deep trouble.

“At the time, they really weren’t that far off putting the padlock on the front gate and sadly saying goodbye to an iconic club.”

Towards the back end of 2013, Preston was a world away from the relative heights it enjoys now.

Ladened with over $200,000 in debt, mainly to the Australian Tax Office, undermined by terrible infrastructure and suffering from the consequential lack of juniors at the club, the glory days of Victorian Premier League success in 2007 felt like an age ago, much less the golden era of the National Soccer League in the 80s and early 90s.

Prior to his own presidency, Gruevski – who before becoming President of Preston served on the board of Football Victoria – explained that the work of his predecessor, Zoran Trajceski, was crucial to giving the club something of a blank slate to build from.

“Zoran was a bit of a figurehead. He galvanized a number of people behind him to say, ‘hey, let’s not allow our club to fall by the wayside,’” he said.

“That took us to a position where there was a fundraising sub-committee established and they set out to clear the club’s debt.

“My brother was heavily involved in that group, and he’d often ask why I was on the Federation board, however for me that was a great learning experience and helped me understand the business of football and how it works as an administrator.

“I was a lifelong supporter of Preston and I always remembered going to the games as a kid and I now found myself in a position where I was able to give a bit back to the club from a time perspective.

“So I joined the committee that year.”

In 2014, the club was able to announce that it had cleared its debt with the ATO and at the end of that year, Trajceski stepped down handing the reins over to Gruevski and a new committee.

With a new committee elected at the 2014 Annual General Meeting, Gruevski took on the role of Presidency with gusto, seeing the election of a new breed of committee for the club as the perfect opportunity to try and start fresh.

One of the first issues he wanted to tackle was the ‘seniors-first’ mentality.

“The senior men’s side are the flagship team, but they’re only one team of 23 or 25 or however many teams we’re fielding in any given year,” Gruevski said.

“Whilst they’re important, there’s a broader picture about the club and we’ve had some great kids and great women who have come through our club.

“When we took over, we literally only had 35 kids registered at the club making up three junior teams.

“The facilities were poor… we had two half pitches of lighting for our juniors, the lighting on the main pitch was disgusting to the point it was dangerous for the players even for training.

“Why would anyone want to come to the club?”

As a committee member first and then a President, Gruevski admitted that at times it was hard to look any more than one year ahead.

Many of those first years were simply just about surviving, being competitive on the pitch from a senior’s perspective and just battling through.

However, with the debt cleared and some breathing space achieved, Gruevski wanted to begin looking beyond the short-term fixes.

“With this new committee and the assistance of some trusted advisors, we wanted to stabilize and formulate a five-year plan for 2015-2020 to set the tone for where we wanted to go.”

And the plan centred around one keyword – hope.

“We wanted to give people hope,” he said.

“And we knew we could only do that by doing three things. One, we needed to bring people with professional skillsets to the club. We had to demonstrate to our sponsors, members, players and supporters that we had and were bringing quality people to the club.

“Secondly, we had to address the mistrust. We had to establish trust and transparency and for us was key.

“From that first AGM, it was important to us to be able to say to our members, ‘look, here are our books, this is what we’ve inherited, and this is the reality.’ We got the books audited and we invited any question anyone wanted to ask.

“And thirdly, we had to have a plan. It wasn’t good enough to say here’s a problem and ask members how we should fix it. We had to show them that we were working on solutions.

“That helped to show that we had integrity and helped to build that reputation and that trust again, and I think we’ve been able to sustain that over a number of years.”

The five-year plan for Preston wanted to inspire hope in its supporter base, and it did so by focusing on three key pillars – Facilities, Community and Communication.

Gruevski encouraged open communication between him, his committee and Preston’s members & supporters.

“In the first year or so it was a lot of just listening to people. I’m happy to hear anyone’s views,” he said.

“But if there was one thing that frustrated me, it was the negativity. I used to tell people, ‘I know the history, I know where we’re coming from isn’t great.’

“But for me, it was about where can we go? Any time someone told me something negative, I’d ask them to think about something positive that they could think about, or to give me an idea that they thought would make things better.

“We took all those ideas and threw them into the mix as part of formulating our plan. I wanted to treat people fairly and bring in proper governance structures and processes.”

What was clear to Gruevski, however, was that whilst communication was important, particularly in the early days, the real strides forward that needed to be made were with the former two pillars of facilities and communication.

“We saw that the facilities were poor, and we knew we wanted to be able to bring people back to the club,” he said.

“You can do that with success on the field, but the other way and the more sustainable way is to bring life to your club through the MiniRoos and juniors programs.

“We set out in year one to grow from the 35 and we grew our numbers to 80. In year two we grew to 180 and the third year we ended up with around 280 kids, which we’ve maintained and grown to almost 400 registered players between Miniroos, juniors and seniors men and women.”

As participation grew, the need for vast improvements to the facilities at BT Connor Reserve became more and more apparent.

“People didn’t want to come to the club. They’d tell us the facilities were poor, or they’d say our reputation wasn’t very good,” Gruevski recalled.

“Even me, before I was president, I wanted to bring my son to Preston when he was five or six, but the club didn’t have any programs for kids his age back then.

“He didn’t come back until he was 10 or 11.”

Gruevski adds making appointments such as junior co-ordinators and working with the City of Darebin for improved facilities was crucial.

It is in securing investment from council that Preston has really excelled in recent years.

“If you look at what they’ve invested in our facilities, it’s upwards of $5-6 million in five or six years,” he said.

“That’s gone towards new lighting, upgrades to pitches and new fencing and a new state of the art pavilion that is currently under construction. That fencing, in particular, we used to joke and say that when we got rid of the fence we got rid of the remnants of Pentridge Prison.

“The fencing was a 1.5m or 2m high. It was disgusting. How are you meant to welcome families and people to that sort of environment? It was a hangover from a previous era.”

Many might read that and wonder, how on earth has a suburban soccer club managed to win that much investment from council?

For Gruevski, the answer is simple, even if its execution is not.

“You’ve got give them a reason to invest,” he said.

“You’ve got to be able to clearly explain what your vision is, what you want to achieve.

“As a club, we engaged with blind football, the indigenous community, women’s football and we were able to demonstrate this to Council.

“We actually went to Council and our Councillors and presented our five-year plan to them. We showed them our collective – ours as a club and theirs as a Council – responsibility to our local community and improving access to sport.

“And to do that, we needed help to improve our facilities.

“You can’t ask me and my club to grow our participation base, if we don’t have anywhere to put the kids, or if it’s so dark that it’s dangerous.”

Consistent engagement was key.

“We engaged with Council officers, the CEO and Councillors because at the end of the day we needed to give them reasons to invest in our club and our sport.

“We were persistent, too. If we missed out on a grant one year, that was fine, we’d come back next year and we’d tell them again, this is what we want to do, this is why we want to do it and then we’d back that up with our numbers.

“We didn’t want to be whingers and whiners. We wanted to present professionally and I think they took notice of that approach. They wanted to work with us.”

With improved facilities and a growing junior base, Gruevski and Preston’s attention turned to on-field success, as the Lions sought to rise to a level more befitting of their historic status in the game and their growing present-day fortunes.

Of course, in the quagmire that is State League One North-West, that’s easier said than done, even with the impressive resources and support the club managed to generate.

Preston championed a proactive approach to member communication using the club’s digital channels, specifically social media, to encourage a new breed of fan to their games.

“We made a commitment to being really strong on social media,” he said.

“This was how we were going to communicate with our people. The old days of putting a story in the Macedonian newspaper were done, social media was a gamechanger for us.

“It helped us encourage people back to the club, whether it be as sponsors, as members or just to come to the odd game. The younger generation really took it on.

“These days they feel like they’re going to miss out on something if they don’t come to a game, so they would come down and come to a game.”

Even in State League One, crowds at BT Connor Reserve were often closer to 1,000 than they were to 500.

Not that it made life any easier in the division.

It took five years for Gruevski to realise his on-field vision of seeing Preston make the jump from State League One to NPL3.

The Lions finished second in the division in 2016, fourth in 2017 and missed out on promotion on the final day of the season in 2018 in front of almost 4,000 home fans, before eventually being crowned champions in 2019.

“Getting out of that league was extremely difficult,” he said.

“In some respects, we’re finding NPL3 a bit easier to manage than State One.

“When we lost that game in 2018, it brought many of us to tears. We were that close, and we lost it at the end. We had supporters at training in the lead up to that game. It was massive.

“But that disappointment was a turning point for us because it drove us to the championship in 2019.”

Gruevski makes no hesitation in crediting coach Louie Acevski for much of the on-field transformation of the club.

“He came to the club because of the vision we had and what we wanted to achieve,” Gruevski said.

“He’d just finished with Hume City, and he wasn’t interested in coaching again in a hurry. I just reached out to him and shared with him what we wanted to do, the people we had as part of our team and we were able to get him on board and that was the start of the way forward for the club on the pitch.”

And success on the park in 2019 has propelled success off it. Not even the loss of the 2020 season could slow Preston down.

With their brand new lighting on the main pitch, Preston took the decision to play home games on Friday nights at BT Connor Reserve, and their first game under lights was marked by a historic turnout.

Thousands of supporters attended the game and Gruevski was keen to note the ethnic diversity of the club’s supporter base.

“The response from day one to Friday nights has been superb,” he said.

“For the first time in several years since I’ve been involved, kids are starting to talk about the club on a Wednesday or Thursday night at training or at school about whether or not they’re going to Preston on Friday.

“We’ve connected with the broader community. Obviously, everyone knows that the club was founded and is traditionally supported by Macedonian immigrants and their families.

“But we’ve been super proud that we’ve been able to engage really well with the local community as well. We currently have 24 different nationalities at our club.

“That’s something we’re super proud of.”

As part of their registration fees, all MiniRoos and junior parents get a free season pass enabling entry to senior men’s games, which has also helped encourage greater attendance at Friday night games.

Of the thousands who attended the season opener against Melbourne City, this included more than 120 sponsors and invited guests at the club’s newly launched Preston in Business program.

On the night, they defeated Melbourne City’s academy team 2-1 in an absolute thriller.

It was the perfect debut for the club’s new sponsorship program, which has driven enormous financial support for the club.

“We really want to look at how we can help our sponsors grow as well,” he said.

“But it’s grown because sponsors have confidence in where their money is going and they know we’re creating opportunities for them as well.”

Whilst Gruevski is departing the role of President, he has been keen to impress that operationally, nothing will change.

“It’s business as usual,” he said.

“Even though I’m finishing up in this role, we have the same Treasurer (now elevated to the role of Chief Financial Officer), the Vice President [David Cvetkovski] is now the President, and co-Vice Presidents have been introduced, with the balance of the Executive Committee remaining committed as always.”

Gruevski’s role at the club will see him move onto the club’s Advisory Board, where he will champion the club’s efforts on a number of key projects including securing a junior boys NPL licence and continuing to be involved in National Second Division discussions.

“I’ve got the relationships and I’ve represented the club in these forums before, so I’m happy to continue working on anything that sees the club get stronger.

“It would be a shame for us to walk away completely from something we’ve helped build.

“We’re proud of what we’ve done, but we know there’s still a lot to be done and I’m still passionate about helping the club achieve that.”

Feature and body image credit: Matt Johnson

© 2020 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks