Lisa Palombo, Head of BBL (Women) and Community at Caledonia Gladiators

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Inspire Inclusion’. It’s about inspiring others to understand and value women’s inclusion in a bid to forge a better world. And it’s about giving women the platforms to be included, ensuring there’s a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment.

I’m incredibly passionate about bringing this into the world of sport, and more specifically, basketball, and ensuring that our inclusivity knows no bounds. That we are able to go so far that we have an equal playing field and that for the young people right now and in the future who are thinking of a career in sport, we don’t limit their horizons based on their gender.

If you’ve even been to a Caledonia Gladiators game for both our professional men’s and women’s teams, you’ll see that there is no difference in the experience we provide. Yes, there will likely be a smaller crowd in attendance but that’s grown exponentially in the last few years. But the experience – the courts used, the entertainment, the sponsorships and the facilities that they’ve used to train to become the elite athletes you see before you – are all the same.

We don’t believe in different opportunities for our teams based on gender.

In recent years, the desire to celebrate women in sport has grown, and that truly is fantastic, but we need to deliver this in the right way.

There is often a drive to fill women’s sporting events to create atmosphere and tickets are given away. But we don’t want to fill our arena if it’s with fans that don’t care and we are instead focused on getting fans along who will come back week after week because they’ve fallen in love with the women’s game and our superstar athletes. It’s about playing the long game and building a sustainable fanbase that make sure they never miss a game.

Recently, we relaunched our Dear Basketball campaign. Inspired by the letter Kobe Bryant wrote to basketball, this was an initiative that we brought to the club last year, asking people to send in a short video highlighting how basketball has had a positive impact on their life. We had so many beautiful messages from many representatives across our whole community and some of the points made from young and old, was simply heart-warming. It really captures just how much basketball can change lives.

This year, for International Women’s Day, we are capturing just some of the inspiring videos from female contributors in hope that it encourages more young people to get involved – creating an inclusive atmosphere that inspires growth within the sport.

This includes Hannah Robb, who has competed on the international stage with Great Britain and Scotland and is currently on the Gladiators’ roster.

Hannah said: in her video “I can’t imagine my life without basketball, it has shaped me into the person I am today and enabled me to achieve things I could never have dreamt of. I’m so lucky the sport I loved as a kid has become my career.”

Fellow Gladiator Sam Roscoe also contributed to the campaign. Her impressive basketball journey has taken her from a college career with North Dakota in the US to international success and at 6’4, Sam is a key centre for Caledonia Gladiators this season.

In her message to basketball, Sam said: “Thank you for teaching me as a young girl that being a tall female was a gift, you allowed me to embrace my physique and body no matter what people said. You were my first love and although you’ve broke my heart a few times, you’ve also gave me some of the happiest moments of my life. Thank you, basketball.”

Sport is seriously powerful, and it doesn’t matter what part it plays in your life. Whether you go on to be the next best player in the world or you take the skills you’ve honed and focus on a career in business, sport can harness skills that you will use for the rest of your life.

So, this International Women’s Day, let us within the basketball community come together and inspire inclusion and equality. Let us create a platform where women in sport feel empowered. Join us and share your own video on social media and tag us @caledoniagladiators alongside the hashtag #DearBasketball.