I. Lucie Agras' journey as a female athlete and coach
Could you please tell us more about your backgrounds and career?
My name is Lucie Agras and I've always been a very active person since I was a child. However, I never really thought that I would make a career out of it. I initially went to business school and got my MBA, and then spent 3-4 years working in the corporate world. However, I quickly realized that it wasn't for me.
Inspiring others to move and feel better in their body and mind came much more naturally to me. So, I travelled to the US to train and obtain my first diplomas in fitness and coaching. After completing my training, I returned to France where I have been working in the fitness industry for the past 7 years.
During this time, I have gained a lot of experience in various areas of the industry. I've worked in gyms, boutique fitness studios, corporate classes, and with 1-to-1 clients. I have also taken part in many activities that are not directly related to coaching, so I can see all sides of the industry. In France, coaches are not always well-respected, which is why I find it easier to deliver my message outside of my coach status.
Aside from coaching, I also have a passion for sports, particularly basketball, rugby, and boxing (which is not often associated with women).
In addition to my coaching work, I also have had the opportunity to work as a commentator and host for various sports events, including the NBA Paris Game in January 2023. In this regard, I am excited for the upcoming Olympics, which promise to ensure parity between men's and women's events. For example, Candace Parker recently made history as the first woman to commentate on the All-Star Game, which is a huge step forward for women in sports broadcasting.
What is your appraisal of the differences between France and the US when it comes to sport?
In my experience, there are significant differences between France and the US when it comes to sports.
In the US, sports are highly valued, and athletes are well-supported and recognized. There are scholarships available for athletes to attend top universities, and you can have a very successful career in sports, both in terms of athletic achievement and financial rewards (some athletes are paid more than some CEOs!).
In contrast, in France, sports are generally considered below other professions. I want to change this perspective and narrative around sports and fitness in France by highlighting the benefits of physical activity and promoting the value of working in sports.
How do you promote your image?
Running my own business has required me to develop my skills in communication and strategic thinking, which I learned in my previous career in b2b communication. My business school education also gave me a more global perspective, allowing me to connect with people abroad and expand my network.
What difficulties did you encounter when starting your professional journey: French society and/or being a woman?
When I started my professional journey, I faced the challenge of being a woman in the coaching world. This profession is often based on appearance, and women are often perceived as less credible, less legitimate, and weaker. Despite these challenges, I was determined to pursue my passion for making sports more fun and promoting well-being. I had a clear goal and didn't want to compete with men in just pushing heavy weights, but rather to focus on helping people feel better through sports.
Did you experience any differences in treatment related to your gender when you coach or practice sport?
I cannot compare my experience to that of a man in coaching or practicing sports. However, I have observed prejudices in the industry when giving cycling classes. For example, men may be more inclined to take classes with male coaches, assuming that a woman's class will be easier. But I believe these prejudices are more a difference of style than level. When I coached a professional soccer player in 1 to 1 session, he did not make me feel less competent because of my gender. I choose who I work with based on my own criteria, not on stereotypes.
II. Difficulties and obstacles encountered by women in sports
What are, in your opinion, the main difficulties encountered by women athletes?
There is so much discrimination, when we talk about women in sport:
- Access to sport that starts in school (you can read our article: Playground for all: designing inclusive public places for girls and women in sports),
- Lack of women in leadership positions in sports organizations,
- Invisibility in the media,
- Sexual and gender-based assaults/violence.
Also, in women's sports, there is the sexualization of bodies. We don't know if we are considered for our skills or because we are pretty or well built. Unfortunately, we are not always listened to.
In your opinion, how can these difficulties be reduced? And more broadly, how do you think women can be encouraged to participate more in sport, especially in traditionally “male disciplines”?
Tackling these issues requires representation by women who are in the field and to promote women's leadership in management positions in sports institutions.
It is also necessary to provide girls from access to all sports from an early age, rather than limiting them to "girls' sports," and to go beyond gendered stereotypes of different disciplines such as boxing or rugby.
Investing in women's sports and increasing media coverageA female Olympiad would be uninteresting and unattractive".
can make women's sports more visible and setting quotas for TV programs can help achieve this. In 2021 only 4.8% of airtime was dedicated to women's sports competitions on French free channels (almost non-existent on paid channels), compared to 21% for mixed sports and 74% male ones. This situation results from prejudices pursuant to which most people consider that women's competitions are less interesting, less spectacular, slower, less powerful. This leads to less spectators, less tickets sold, less sponsorship, less visibility, and eventually to wage gaps. Unfortunately, this is not a new problem. In fact, the creator of the Olympic Games, Coubertin, once declared: "
women in the top management positions in sport federations, as they have a better understanding of female athletes’ reality, such as the impact of maternity on athletes. Federations and media should address these issues to make everyone feel concerned.
We need to put more
Today, the sports industry is not made for women: it is made by men and for men like the rest of society. This is evident in the way that scientific studies on the impact of training and intense physical activity are primarily conducted on men or male rats, neglecting the biological differences between men and women. Factors such as menstrual cycles, hormone fluctuations, iron deficiencies, bone health, and impact on fertility are often disregarded, and most women athletes receive the same training as men. However, change can occur gradually when medical professionals and former athletes begin to address these issues and when budgets are allocated to studying the impact of sports on women. Kate Ackerman, a Ph.D. in Sports Medicine and Director of the Female Athletes Program at Boston Children's Hospital, frequently discusses this issue, and her media appearances have prompted companies and federations to seek her advice and allocate funding for research.
Finally, sport is not only about performance or mental/physical health: in the Fortune 500 of executive positions, 80% of the women on the list are athletes: it is a vector for professional success. It's not just about performance in your club but it allows you to succeed in other area. Everything is beneficial to push women and try to optimize their performance.
What is your stance on the gender pay gap in professional sports?
The current pay gap between male and female athletes is unacceptable, with some sports being particularly catastrophic. For instance, in soccer, women earn 12 times less than men, and for rugby, there is no professional status for women while the French team was bronze medalist at the World Cup 2022, third place at the 6 nations tournament in 2022. This forces them to have a side career while already facing truncated careers due to maternity and other factors. Unfortunately, the structures of these sports are frozen, making it uncertain whether fairness will ever be achieved.
However, there are some sports that have achieved equality in pay, such as tennis, which has had equal pay since the 1970s, and more recently, surfing, which launched an advertising campaign promoting "same wave, same salary." 
Tackling this requires improving women’s representations. Women must continue striving for top positions and visibility to show that they have a voice. They need to lobby and advocate for themselves, as seen with the French soccer team, who withdrew from the team and protested until the coach was dismissed, sparking a positive change.
III. Focus on sport in the city and the Ridiculous Run
How do you believe urban sports can empower women?
Provided there are accessible, well-maintained spaces, sport can be a powerful tool for breaking down gender, community, and age barriers and promoting social equality. However, this is not the reality in most of our cities. The city of Paris  has published a guide detailing the experiments, initiatives, and tips to create less gendered and safer public spaces, such as using alert apps on phones, allowing stops on request in buses, and promoting association initiatives.
Unfortunately, greater enforcement measures are necessary, and while Marlene Schiappa had created more important sanctions (against the "cat call") but they are difficult to implement (men do not do this before cops and in any event, cops often don’t care). Women should not feel out of space and there should not be gendered spaces.
Can you tell us about your campaign "The Ridiculous Run"? How did you become an ambassador for adidas?
The goal of the adidas campaign was to create a film featuring two female runners in two different cities, in order to illustrate how the problem of insecurity while running is universal. The film was designed to ridicule the steps and measures that women must take just to jog safely, by featuring an unbelievable and improbable escort. The campaign was inspired by a study commissioned by adidas from a polling institute which found that out of 9000 runners, 92% of women reported feeling insecure while going for a run, with 51% fearing physical assault, 56% experiencing unwanted attention, and 55% experiencing sexist comments or unwanted sexual attention.
The purpose of this campaign was to highlight this issue of security and make men aware of what is going on, in order to bring them into the discussion and make them allies. The Canadian association White Ribbon joined the campaign, and together with adidas, they created a best practice manual/guide of what you can do to be an ally .
The campaign received coverage from media and was contrasted with a campaign for a phone, which showed a woman going for a run at 2am in a fantasy city that was not realistic. The adidas campaign aimed to show the reality of women's insecurity in public spaces.
As an adidas coach and athlete ambassador, I have had the privilege of conducting workshops and classes for different communities, promoting the brand on social media, and being a member of the adidas European coaching group. When adidas does advertising campaigns, they choose among their athletes to be the major character of the ad. For this particular campaign, they were looking for someone who was representative of many people, and that happened to be me.
When I saw the script for the campaign, I was thrilled. The message behind it is something that I talk about all the time, and I appreciate that adidas is using their platform to highlight this important issue. The campaign sheds light on the insecurity women feels while out for a run, and aims to make men aware of what is going on and to bring them into the discussion as allies.
How did you initially become involved with adidas?
I was invited to participate in the Women's Night event at the adidas flagship store on the Champs-Elysées. The event included a variety of activities such as bootcamp, boxing, and yoga. I was asked to lead the bootcamp course to replace a friend, and it turned out to be a success. A month later, adidas reached out to me with a long-term project proposal for 2019. The project focused on a multidisciplinary approach to sports, emphasizing well-being as well as performance.
What advice would you give to young women who aspire to become professional athletes?
My advice to them would be to remain strong, courageous, and persistent in defying all stereotypes and overcoming any obstacles that come their way. Being a woman in sports is already being a boss, an accomplishment in itself and they should never limit themselves by listening to the outside noise and negative feedback. They should dream big, choose a role model who inspires them, and constantly seek inspiration.
Every woman who excels in sports and shares their story is an inspiration to others and this inspires a chain reaction of more women pursuing sports. It is crucial to believe that they have the power to make a change and create a more equitable world of sports for women.
They should go for it and never question their place in the decision-making table, whether it be in sports or any other field. Women represent a significant portion of the world's population and they deserve to have their voices heard and their contributions valued.
Is there anything else you would like to add or discuss?
We have the impression that all these things are battles for rights like those to work/vote: in sport it is the same thing, we fight for rights because nobody does it for us or not enough. Ultimately, it comes down to an issue of money and investment.
Brands have a unique responsibility to carry a message and create awareness, as they are the main sponsors of many athletes and make a lot of money off of them.
There is increasing research and attention being given to the menstrual cycle, and brands are incorporating training applications that cater to athletes during their menstrual cycles. It's important that these brands continue to talk about these topics and raise awareness for them on a global scale.
The biggest issue facing pro athletes is maternity. Many are afraid that sponsors will drop them once they become pregnant or have a child, leading to a disadvantage for women who wish to compete at the same level as men. While it's possible for athletes to give birth and resume training, it's not always easy. For instance, in judo, Clarisse Agbegnenou was able to come back after giving birth, but only because she could take her baby to her trainings and have her physiotherapist watch over her. Unfortunately, not all athletes have this kind of support system: a runner was recently dropped after her pregnancy, while a bank abandoned a sailor before the Vendée Globle, indicating that it's ultimately about money. Despite this, female athletes have continued to perform at a high level while pregnant, and their perseverance and dedication is a testament to the power and capability of the female body.
Male athletes and teams have the potential to offer support to their female counterparts. For example, basketball superstar Lebron James has attended women's basketball games to show his support. Similarly, the French men's soccer team has been known to attend women's soccer matches. By demonstrating solidarity and interest in women's sports, male athletes and teams can play a role in promoting gender equality in the sports world.
 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs were athletes (2023): By Investing In Girls' Sports Today, Businesses Help Create The Leaders Of Tomorrow (forbes.com). In 2017, 65% of Fortune's list of the Most Powerful Women included those who have played sports competitively in either high school or college or both
Credit: Albin Durand