This month, the Federation of Gay Games is proud to welcome Sophie Cook to our board. After an impressive career working in sports for over 20 years, Sophie boasts a huge range of skills on her resume, from business owner, politician, TED talker, campaigner, business culture consultant, magazine editor, charity ambassador, tv broadcaster, sports photographer and many more.
Joining the Gay Games board as the new Officer of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Sophie sat down with Duncan Campbell to share her story with us, charting her journey from an AFC Bournemouth photographer through to the present day.
The Games are a beacon of hope
Sophie decided to join the Gay Games because she recognises that sports can help to open doors to teaching people about more inclusive practices, as well as act as a catalyst for education and change.
“I see sport as this universal language which allows us to start dialogues with a diverse range of people that don't necessarily have an awareness and understanding of the lives of LGBTQ people. And I think that the Gay Games is such an amazing vehicle for that dialogue.”
She describes the Gay Games as a safe place for our community, especially since so many LGBTQ people have traditionally been excluded from participating in sports.
“I think the Games are essential because in so many parts of the world LGBTQ people still face a lot of prejudice and a lot of restrictions on their rights, and the Games provide a beacon of hope for people. I think that is such an essential part of what the Gay Games does for our community”
Sport gives us an opening for communication
Sophie’s career has landed her in a variety of interesting situations, all tied together because of the unifying force that is sport.
Eight years ago, whilst preparing to address a school assembly, she was confronted with a room full of school boys giggling at the trans woman they saw before them. Those giggles quickly stopped when she started talking about her prestigious career in football.
And during a sponsored bike ride from one end of Vietnam to another, kids would approach her shouting “Hello David Beckham” - the only three words of English that they knew. “Sport has a unique place in that it gives us an opening where we can start to communicate”.
Sophie has also been invited to Moscow to speak to Russian LGBTQ people during the 2018 World Cup. “This was an amazing experience and a chance to really show support” she says. “Last year I was given the opportunity to go to Qatar but unfortunately, the opportunity to engage with LGBT people on the ground was denied me. So I refused the trip.”
“I am very lucky that I get these opportunities and that every single thing I do is something that I’m passionate about. That is one of the greatest gifts I've been given.”
Sophie also played a variety of sports when she was growing up, taking the role of wicket-keeper in cricket, and goalie in hockey and football. But after an accident in her 20s racing motorbikes in the Middle East that broke her shoulder into “a million pieces” she had to retire from racing and sports in general. “I'm still known to pull on a pair of football boots occasionally for a charity football match and I once did three half marathons in a year.”
Opportunities from living authentically
Sophie started her career as the cub photographer for AFC Bournemouth, right back before Bournemouth were promoted to the Premier League.
“During that summer, I came out to the club as a trans woman. I received a lot of support - from our manager, from the players and most importantly from the fans. So my first game as Sophie was in the Premier League and I remember being stood on the pitch, photographing the captains in the center circle before kick off and it all being live broadcast. I had the world’s TV cameras pointed at me - a trans woman - right in the centre of the pitch.”
“It gave me a lot of hope that when we stand up and realize that we need to live authentically, it opens up other opportunities. I could either keep my head down and hope that no one noticed the trans person on the touchline, or I could use the fact that I had this position within the game to try and speak out about the things that were important.”
Taking joy in having an impact on other people
Having known that she was trans since she was about seven years old, Sophie really struggled coming to terms with her gender and understanding how there was a way forward for her. Struggling with her mental health and addiction she had come close to taking her life many times.
“Then about five years ago, I came up with a philosophy to keep myself safe: ‘I know that one day I might try to take my own life because I don't know how to stop feeling this way, but it won't be today. And in the meantime, I'm going to do the best that I can to enjoy every single day.’ It gave me permission to have those days without guilt or shame. As soon as I let go of the guilt and shame, I could stop thinking about it emotionally, and start thinking about it logically”.
“It's all about living in the day, living in the moment. understanding what our contribution to the world around us can be and taking joy in that contribution, and the way in which our lives can impact other people”
Sophie wears a starfish pendant around her neck as a reminder of her mission to help others.
“When I first started speaking publicly about mental health, I was told this story and I’ve carried it with me ever since: There was a woman walking along the beach, and the beach was covered in starfish. She starts picking them up and throwing them back in the sea. This old lady comes over and she says ‘You do realize that this beach is covered in millions of starfish. You can't hope to make a difference.’ But the woman bends down, picks up a starfish and throws it back in the water and she says ‘I have made a difference to that one.”
“Every single day, if I can make a difference to one starfish, then that was a day when it was worth me being on this planet. That's my purpose. That's why I do what I do. That's how I take joy in the life that I've been given. Despite all the trials and tribulations along the path, they're the things that made me who I am and they're the things that give me that awareness of what a gift I have now.”