Vanessa Åsell-Tsuruga: “I want to contribute to women’s representation in sport as speakers and storytellers”

The Playknox caught up with Vanessa Åsell-Tsuruga. She has previously worked for ASICS in Activation and Sports Marketing roles in Japan and Europe. Vanessa holds a Master’s Degree in Olympic Studies from the International Olympic Academy and a BA Journalism from City University, London.


What does sport mean to you?


Everything!… I was new in town from Stockholm and my high school PE teacher in Barcelona gave me a Frisbee which put a spin on life that is still turning things positive today. Through sport, I made friends. He also introduced me to volleyball and 30 years on, I’m still playing every Saturday. I do everything I can to give my 3 kids access to sport and they vitalize me in many ways to keep working my full time job, being a mother, a volleyballer, and a PhD student.


Tell us what your research entails.


I’m in my first year of the PhD program at Waseda University, Graduate School of Sport Sciences. It’s in Tokyo. I’m exploring Positive Youth Development through the context of an international baseball exchange program between Japanese and Swedish youth players. What can we as coaches, parents and partners do to create an environment where youth thrives, creating pro-social behavior and confidence?


Do you think organisations are now focusing on diversity and inclusion seriously and not superficially?


I live in Tokyo and all across Japan we see organizations focusing on diversity and inclusion. I have been considering the narrative around D&I, specifically when it gets to women in management. Many companies report the ratio of female employees in managerial positions.


That’s a good start, but should we possibly be chasing a different KPI? What if we started measuring the ratio of the total workforce reporting into a woman leader? That would give us a clearer picture of how impactful the women’s managerial positions actually are.


Is there still a lot to be done when it comes to having more women in leadership positions?


We have a lot of work to do but let’s all remember the work can be done at all levels. My peer in sports, Rebecca Sowden, is doing a phenomenal job asking users to correct the internet. Rebecca’s Call To Action is to help make sportswomen more visible. The website, Correct The Internet, states that “due to human bias, our search engines have learnt to prioritise sportsmen in our search results, even when the facts put sportswomen first”. Rebecca and the team created a powerful film depicting a girl in the middle of a football field striking up a conversation with the Internet. I would urge every sports lover to watch it.


As a woman in sport, what are the challenges you have had to face and overcome?


In my speaking engagements at sports events I have found that women are often underrepresented. I wanted to contribute to women’s representation in sport as speakers and storytellers. I curated a list of 200+ women speakers in sports. The engagement has been massive and I keep posting about it to highlight women in sport. Not only did we link up to spotlight our collective visibility, it also became very clear to me that we really want to support one another. Together we really are stronger.


Link to list: 



What is one piece of advice you would like to give to other women working in the sports industry?


Widen your network to all levels of companies and sports organizations. There are many future CEOs and leaders around you who may be in the process of setting things up and they’ll need you once they get going. Stick together with other women.


I found when I was working on my 200+ list that many of us are craving for collective visibility. Together, we become a global force that will make change happen. Lastly, we should not hope for change, we should expect change. Be proud to be the positive change.

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