By Sarah Powell, Chief Executive of Sport Wales
I was asked last week whether I thought Sport Wales was institutionally racist. It’s a question I’ve asked myself a number of times, particularly since the death of George Floyd which sparked global discussions about race and equality. And having considered the question at length I can honestly say no, I do not believe Sport Wales is institutionally racist.
I do, however, completely accept that not enough has been proactively done to address racial inequalities at any level of sport, from our boardrooms right through to the playing fields and side-lines.
One of Sport Wales’ key priorities is to tackle all forms of inequality to ensure that everyone in Wales has the opportunity to be active through sport. It’s vital that we talk about this subject honestly, and for everyone involved in Welsh sport to reflect on whether they are doing enough.
It’s obviously a wider societal problem – sport is not alone in having diversity issues. But as a sector we must be committed to doing a better job of listening and involving the people that have been affected by all forms of inequality in sport so that we can take the right action that is long-lasting and impactful across the board.
Collective action needed for long-term change
We must not fall into the trap of only making progress in small pockets – we’ve been there before.
Over the years there have been a number of excellent localised projects that have made a positive impact, but we need a collective approach if we are going to see long-term sustainable improvements. Everyone must play their part. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not going to be achieved quickly, but with a collective will to do better, we can act together to ensure that sport becomes truly inclusive.
To help influence the scale of change that we want to see, our strategy is seeing us completely overhaul the way that we work to embed and place tackling inequality at the forefront of everything that we do. As part of this our approach to funding is significantly changing, with those able and best placed to make an impact among groups that are currently underrepresented gaining better financial support and more autonomy to do so.
The Be Active Wales Fund, which is currently helping clubs to survive the Covid-19 crisis, has already seen small signs of progress from this new approach. Joining forces with other bodies and groups who have already established community links is helping to make the fund more accessible for diverse groups. A quarter of the 1,200 applications for the fund have been from clubs aiming to improve their provision for Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic groups.
Creating a culture of inclusivity
There is an opportunity for sport to really shift the dial. Sport can play a key role in creating a more diverse society. In my opinion sport has a unique ability to break down barriers, to unite and therefore to help lead the way across society in tackling racial inequality. But not without us committing to the hard work, resource, and shift in thinking that this will require.
In our recovery from the Covid-19 crisis we shouldn’t just be thinking about getting our old audiences back into the sports they love. We have an opportunity to reimagine what sport can and should be in the future, and to attract new audiences to feel welcome and have the option to find activities which they love.
To create a culture of inclusivity, everyone involved in sport, across all levels, needs to be prepared to ask some difficult questions and accept where we have fallen short in the past. For example, is our club or sport welcoming enough? Are we really inclusive? Some of the answers may be uncomfortable to hear, but we need to expose ourselves to this and really listen to the issues that emerge.
From the pitches to the boardrooms
As well as taking action to improve equal opportunities for people taking part in sport, we also need to take further action to address the lack of diversity among people in leadership positions within Welsh sport.
Leaders, decision makers and deliverers of sport must be representative of our population, because without this we will continue to struggle to make sport appealing and accessible to everyone. We will continue to misunderstand, fail to connect or be ignorant of the needs of those who are not represented within our system.
At Sport Wales, we accept that our figures on diversity aren’t good enough, despite making some improvements over the last decade. Eight years ago, our board was heavily white and male. Today, we have eight female board members, and six males and I know that similar progress on gender has also been made in other Welsh sport boardrooms.
The success around gender balance signals a confidence that we can do it, if we broaden the scope of that work to also include other under-represented groups. To achieve this, we are very keen to work with other organisations, both inside and outside of sport, so that we can benefit from their knowledge and experiences.
I said earlier, to move forward, we firstly need to listen to and involve the right people so that we can better understand participation barriers within sport, as well as career-progression barriers for those wanting to work in sport.
Recently we have teamed up with the other home nations Sports Councils as well as UK Sport to commission Sheffield Hallam University to conduct a new in-depth study to gather data that we don’t currently have, and to advise on how best to continually update this insight.
A significant research project, again led by an external research body called #TellYourStory will also begin this week, offering people a safe space to tell their lived experiences of racial inequalities and racism in sport, whether as participants, athletes, coaches, volunteers or parents. Interviews, online forums and an online portal will provide opportunities to collate these stories. The conversation must, and will, continue. I would urge everyone to tell their stories so that we can bring about sustained and meaningful change.
I am positive that as a sector we can and will turn this around to make sport something for everyone in Wales. There’s a long road ahead of us but I know a real commitment to make a difference. It will be what we do when the eyes of the public are not watching, having a genuine acknowledgement and acceptance of the issues, and then following this by informed, sustained and meaningful action that will drive the scale of change required.