14th October 2021
Over the last four years, England Handball Chair, Tracy Watkinson, has played a pivotal role in helping the organisation through some of the most challenging years in its history thanks to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With her four-year term about to come to an end, Tracy has decided to step down from the role and her replacement, Rosie Williams OBE, was recently announced as her successor, officially taking up the reigns in November.
Here, Tracy reflects on some of the highlights and challenges during her time as Chair and offers a positive outlook for the future for handball in England.
How did you first get involved in handball?
I stepped into the current role in September 2017 as an independent chair. I was voted in by the members who at the time were very clear that they wanted something different and a fresh approach. That's something that I'm very proud of and I've worked hard to repay that faith over the four years I've had.
When you look back at your time as Chair, what stands out?
I think culture is the biggest thing for me, improving the relationship between EHA and the members. There was a real need to focus on this from day 1 and I remember an AGM in the early days which highlighted a real division between clubs and the board. Relationships and communication needed strengthening so I made it my mission to fix that. The first step was rebuilding the board with the right diversity, considering culture, values and those who could understand the concerns of our members. Governance was also crucial across everything. We needed to change the focus to make sure members saw purpose and value in the association, so transparency was a big thing for me. I've helped to deliver a lot of change across the board and I'm very proud of that, including the appointment of Mike Bain as CEO who I think is the right person to take the sport to the next level.
Did you get to see much handball over the four years?
I did get to see quite a bit of handball and I actually went to the European Men's Cup Final in Croatia, and it absolutely blew me away. That's when I really saw the potential of the sport in England. There were huge stadiums and such a buzz and electric atmosphere. Speaking to colleagues in different countries was so inspiring and that memory stayed with me. It reminded me that we had to be ambitious and that we could achieve something special in England.
Handball is one of the country's most diverse sports – have you been involved in shaping that?
I'm a massive believer in diversity and inclusion and very proud of the fact that handball is so representative. From my position as Chair, I've worked hard to promote greater diversity at board level and have spent a lot of time making sure that the new board was created with diversity in mind. Making sure we had a real representation of people was key and I believe it results in better decision making and outcomes. We made sure the recruitment process was incredibly robust and removed any opportunities for bias to influence decisions. The process we created has actually been used as a blueprint across other organisations so I'm very proud of that.
Why have you taken the decision to step down as Chair?
My four-year term has completed so it feels like the right time to step away and let someone else take up the mantle. I also started a new job a year ago and have found it a lot harder to commit as much time to the Chair role as I would like. When assessing if I could commit the same again for the next four years, I decided it would be a real challenge and questioned whether someone else could give it more.
What is your role outside of handball?
I'm the Finance Chief Operating Officer at NatWest responsible for running and transforming the function. I do plan to keep taking on roles as a non-executive director (NED) but for now, I need to focus on this role. I'm also very passionate about seeing more women at board level and am involved in the Women on Boards group which helped me secure my first role. The question I get asked most is why I take on the NED roles, but I really see it as a hobby of mine. I enjoy being part of something different - I choose to spend my time doing it. I love it and it gives me a lot and I believe it balances the purpose in my life. There are also lots of transferrable skills both ways and the most enjoyable thing is you meet people from all walks of life.
What position do you think you leave handball in England in?
I think things are so much more positive now. Even though we've had the challenges of the pandemic, when I started as Chair, we had lots of unhappy members and there was a lack of trust. Now it's much more collaborative and constant two-way communication is embedded now. I take a lot of comfort from looking back at what's been achieved. Even small things in the early days for me were personally writing to members on the back of board meetings to let them know what was discussed. I would do that on the train home from meetings and just those simple little actions created more openness and built trust.
What about the future for handball?
I still think handball is a huge growth story waiting to be told. There is no reason why it can't be far bigger in this country. The huge increase in participation with schools and young children is just one of the signals that highlight this. The next strategy needs to be big and bold and having been involved in some of the workshops I know it will be. It would be easy to keep things ticking over but the growth trajectory is really exciting and now it's about making it happen.