Black Lives Matter: State of sport in the UK - and what needs to happen next

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Darcy Bourne holds up a sign saying 'Why is ending racism a debate?' - Black Lives Matter: What sport needs for an increase in diversity, with testimonies from 11 of our major sports - @misanharriman Misan Harriman
Darcy Bourne holds up a sign saying 'Why is ending racism a debate?' - Black Lives Matter: What sport needs for an increase in diversity, with testimonies from 11 of our major sports - @misanharriman Misan Harriman

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Football by Jason Burt

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Nothing will change in football – where 25 per cent of Premier League players are black – until there is far greater representation in the dug-out and the boardroom. Just six managers come from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background (BAME), with only one in the top-flight, and there is just one BAME director of football in Les Ferdinand at Queens Park Rangers and one owner, chairman or chief executive in Ben Robinson at Burton Albion.

The imbalance points to, at the very least, an unconscious bias. There is an obvious mechanism to improve the situation and that is the full implementation of a ‘Rooney Rule’ - which was brought in by the NFL in 2003 to address the under-representation of African-American head coaches in American football - in which at least one black candidate is on the shortlist and interviewed when a manager’s job becomes vacant. It should be extended to opportunities for coaching and technical staff and also executive recruitment at every single football club, the Football Association, Premier League and English Football League. The EFL introduced it at the start of the season but that was heavily qualified: the rule only applied if a Championship, League One or League Two club actually ran a recruitment process.

Rugby union by Gavin Mairs

The Rugby Football Union’s decision to conduct a review of the “historical context” of the singing of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ at Twickenham is the most prominent of a number of steps to address the alarming lack of diversity in the sport. The most immediate impact has been the suspension of the RFU’s social media slogan "Carry Them Home", inspired by the song's second line. More significantly, it has sparked a debate about increasing participation and involvement in the sport from people from BAME backgrounds in every area of the game – from the absence of any black members on the 14-strong board of directors at Twickenham, to the grass-roots game.

The England squad may be becoming increasingly diverse but the sport remains largely white and male. Maggie Alphonsi is the only black member of the 60-strong RFU council, a council which has established a diversity and inclusion task force with the aim of attracting at least 30 per cent of new members “with protected characteristics, including race”. The RFU and Premiership Rugby run “Project Rugby”, an inclusivity programme, in the hope that by making the game more diverse from junior rugby upwards, eventually the top jobs will become more reflective of society.

Victor Ubogu, the former England and Bath prop, says players from minority backgrounds should be used to garner interest in those communities. World Rugby have also launched a governance review that will include diversity on its board and committees.

Former Bath and England prop Victor Ubogu - ACTION IMAGES
Former Bath and England prop Victor Ubogu - ACTION IMAGES

Cricket by Nick Hoult

The England & Wales Cricket Board launched its Inspiring Generations four-year strategy last year. This February, its new agreement with the 18 first-class counties included targets for BAME representation on county boards that reflect the local population. Training is also being rolled out for ECB staff, county academy directors and women’s talent scouts on unconscious bias.

Much of the work in cricket is focused on the South Asian community. It is now accepted at the ECB that it needs to engage more specifically and separately with the African-Caribbean community and announcements are expected in the coming weeks. One of its key elements is the provision of facilities in urban areas because cricket is an expensive sport to play and run. Artificial pitches will be installed in Luton (seven), Greater Manchester (17 plus two new practice facilities) and London (15 by the end of August). The ECB believes by the end of August the additional capacity on artificial pitches will allow an extra 200 games per week to be played by around 4,000 participants.

Around 13 per cent of All Stars (a programme aimed at five to eight-year-olds) participants in 2019 were from BAME backgrounds and the ECB have been recruiting South Asian female volunteers to help deliver All Stars cricket in inner-city areas.

Daniel Bell Drummond, one of only nine black county cricketers, was involved in a programme to help Black children from disadvantaged backgrounds play the sport. - PA
Daniel Bell Drummond, one of only nine black county cricketers, was involved in a programme to help Black children from disadvantaged backgrounds play the sport. - PA

Boxing by Gareth A Davies

There are 1,200 professional boxers in the UK with licences through the Boxing Board of Control, but there has never been a breakdown of the numbers based on their colour or ethnicity. The Boxing Board is made up of representatives from its seven area councils. The lawyer Andrew Vanzie, 50, and Bunny Johnson, 73, the former British light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion, have been on the BBBC's executive board. Both are British of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Boxing Board general secretary Robert Smith believes that the boxing industry "as a sport, in its gyms, is a very tolerant sport and we are very lucky". Vanzie, elder brother of the former British and Commonwealth lightweight champion Bobbie Vanzie, would welcome more ethnicity on the board, however, as would Smith.

Elsewhere, Dr Ashwin Patel is the current Chief Medical Officer on the Boxing Board. The Rooney Rule could be applied to promotional groups involved in the sport in the UK, and Smith is "open to more representation from minority groups". 

Racism directed at boxers at events is infrequent but the sport knows it needs to be stamped out. Vanzie said only once has he "ever been exposed to racism in boxing".

Tennis by Simon Briggs

British tennis is notably lacking in black representation behind the scenes, although the sport boasts a respectable number of elite role models including Heather Watson, Jay Clarke and Paul Jubb. The Lawn Tennis Association’s chief executive Scott Lloyd posted an open letter two weeks ago in which he said: “We haven’t done enough… [We are] looking at the current composition of our Board, our Council and our workforce.”

Speaking to half-a-dozen black coaches and players last week, Telegraph Sport found that few had encountered overt racism, although one common experience was that black players were stereotyped as athletic rather than skilful. Another common barrier is how expensive it is to access the game, even at the grassroots. 

Rodney Rapson – a mixed-Asian former coach and player who now runs the hi-tech tennis company Playsight – said that the LTA should be working harder to reach into minority communities, and recommended the following four-point action plan:

  • Build more facilities in areas with high BAME populations.

  • Position those minority figures who have already established themselves as role models for others.

  • Set up an action group to supervise selection, funding grants and programmes.

  • Open channels of communication to the BAME community, preferably manned by representatives of those same minorities.

Netball by Fiona Tomas

The England squad has had more black captains than any other female national team. Sonia Mkoloma, Pamela Cookey, Ama Agbeze and Serena Guthrie have all led the Roses. Yet this is not reflected at England Netball’s board, which has just one BAME member, Sharanjit Gulati.

“England Netball definitely has a representation challenge to address,” says Agbeze, who led the Roses to an historic Commonwealth gold in 2018 and is of Nigerian heritage. "The biggest thing for me is being aware of unconscious bias, when you look around an executive board, administrative or coaching level. For years people have kept their eyes closed and just carried on.”

England Netball has pledged to run forums to better understand the experiences of its black and ethnic minority members, although whether that will drive ethnic diversity at the top is another matter. The Netball Players’ Association, meanwhile, has formed a working group to identify racial inequalities among players, coaches and wider representatives within the sport. But at the sport's grassroots, there are fears its reach to disadvantaged communities is waning. “Netball is in danger of becoming elitist, precluding those with less disposable income and available transport means," insists Agbeze. “It has become more suited to those with a more privileged upbringing.”

Hockey by Fiona Tomas

Earlier this month, Tendo Kimuli, a black hockey player who has represented England at junior level, revealed two experiences of racist abuse from the sidelines during his university playing days. On one occasion he was called a “black p----”. The other included hearing the words, “you only need one negro” after missing a chance in front of goal. Kimuli’s revelation attracted a wave of support and a surprise call from Nick Pink, the chief executive of England Hockey, to discuss ways BAME people “can move forward as a community” in the sport.

As the only black player currently on Great Britain’s senior men’s team, Rhys Smith can relate to the challenge. He set up Hockey Inner City, a community investment company aimed at bettering opportunities in the sport for inner-city children, including those from BAME communities where uptake in the sport is very low. Funding is a key barrier. Last year England Hockey set up a diversity and inclusion working group but when it comes to addressing the lack of black representation, there are more questions than answers.

“What are the pathways for the children to find clubs?” asks Smith. “Can children be given bursaries by England Hockey to help them get into clubs? Can they help cover their costs for travel and transport?” Darcy Bourne, a black England under-21 player whose powerful photo at a Black Lives Matter protest went viral at the start of June after it was shared on social media by Martin Luther King III, agrees: “I’m not sure an anti-discriminatory watchdog is the best use of time right now, but increasing access to hockey at grass-roots levels in the BAME community is,” she said.

Formula One by Oliver Brown

Weary of his sport’s vapid platitudes on race, the six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton is determined to force the change he seeks, setting up a commission in his name to enhance diversity in motorsport. The Hamilton Commission will, he promises, deliver “real, tangible and measurable change,” working in partnership with the Royal College of Engineering to ensure that motor racing engages more young people from black backgrounds with science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. Hamilton is exasperated by F1’s tokenistic gestures at reforming a white-dominated sport.

Through his latest initiative, he aims to tear down the institutional barriers across the racing industry, and to address the hiring practices that lead to fewer black graduates entering engineering professions. Hamilton will not stop here. His father, Anthony, is examining “legacy projects” that can sustain his influence beyond his expected retirement in two to three years’ time. There are understood to have been early discussions with Tottenham Hotspur about creating a karting track for inner-city children in London.

Lewis and Anthony Hamilton - REUTERS
Lewis and Anthony Hamilton - REUTERS

It is a damning indictment of F1 that Hamilton has had to take matters into his own hands to try to alter the make-up of the grid. Ross Brawn has pledged this month to create more grass-roots paths that can help minority groups to reach the pinnacle of motor racing, but such an assurance is still too vague. For F1, the key to shattering an overwhelmingly white image lies in making motor racing far less expensive at all junior levels and a more inclusive plan for karting, the racing discipline where most drivers first compete.

Athletics by Ben Bloom

Athletics has little problem with racial diversity at a competitive level in Britain. The concern is the lack of a similar representation among coaches, administrators and support staff. There are a number of black coaches, and Paralympic performance director Paula Dunn holds one of the two most senior elite performance positions at UK Athletics. Anna Wafula Strike is the only black person to sit on the board of a national governing body across the UK's nine biggest sports. But there is widespread acceptance from within that this is nowhere near enough.

Paralympic performance director, Paula Dunn
Paralympic performance director, Paula Dunn

At the Rio 2016 Olympics, 36 of the 80 athletes (45 per cent) on the athletics team were black, while only 11 of the 44 members of support staff (25 per cent) were BAME. Anyika Onuora, who won a 4x400m medal in Rio, has described how she did not report experiencing racist incidents because, "I felt uncomfortable telling a head coach and staff who were mainly white, and had never faced any form of racial discrimination".

Jo Coates, UK Athletics' new chief executive, has announced a number of plans: a series of forums - 'Let's Talk About Race' - to hear directly from people within athletics; the confirmation of an athlete Equality, Diversity & Inclusion advocate to represent the athletes' voice; and the appointment of a 'Race Champion' to provide "visible leadership on race and ethnicity" at UK Athletics.

Cycling by Tom Cary

Professional road cycling has a serious problem in terms of black representation. While there has been a steady influx of athletes from Asia, the Americas and the Middle East, just five out of 528 riders on the World Tour are black, and four of 409 on the Pro Continental Tour, the next rung down. Women’s cycling is even worse, with no black riders at all in the upper echelons. The problem permeates every level; administration, management, media. Specific policy aimed at improving this is thin on the ground.

The UCI, cycling’s world governing body, took two weeks even to respond to the BLM protests, publishing a statement entitled ‘The UCI for diversity in cycling’ and noting that it spent “5 million Swiss francs” (£4.2m) last year to increase “training and the development of cycling" around the world. It offered very little in the way of specific detail.

British Cycling is apparently not much better. Britain has 141 professional cyclists licensed by the UCI. None is black. None of its board members is black. Asked what it was doing to address this, the national governing body claimed that improving diversity had been a “clear priority for many years” but admitted a "significant problem". Yet it failed to provide many concrete examples of specific policy initiatives which might make a tangible difference. A strategy is expected later this year. Advocates for change say it must come from the top. Ayesha McGowan, the first African-American woman to become a pro rider, said: “It’s easier to look outward and think: ‘I’ll give money to this organisation, it will make me feel good right now and ease that guilt a little bit.’ But that doesn’t fix your completely white staff.”  

Ayesha McGowan - INSTAGRAM
Ayesha McGowan - INSTAGRAM

Golf by James Corrigan

That British golf has a diversity problem is not startling news, but a recent Sport England survey still managed to shock by spelling out the disparity. Just two per cent of the 650,000 registered golfers in England are from BAME communities and many golf clubs report that they have no black members. With support from Sporting Equals, the UK’s leading charity for racial equality and diversity in sport, England Golf set out to find the answers and the result was a report including a “toolkit” created to help golf clubs encourage more people from diverse ethnic communities to get involved in the sport. It remains central to England Golf’s mission.

A project run in Birmingham is held up as the benchmark, as it successfully attracted 140 people from a range of backgrounds to take a six-week beginner course. Local community groups and leaders were involved to analyse the stumbling blocks and these included the usual difficulties, such as time and money. But just as importantly they concentrated on cultural restrictions. England Golf has no black members in its 12-strong executive board, an omission which actually flies in the face of the governance guide for UK golf clubs issued late last year as part of the drive to modernise and grow the game. Created by key stakeholders including the home golf unions, and the R&A, the guide advises that “a visibly diverse board can improve the perception of the golf club in the community”. 

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