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CEO Personal and Wesport Statement on #BlackLivesMatter
The last few weeks have seen a worldwide response to the horrific death of a black man, George Floyd in America. It has sparked protests across the world and the widest debate in a very long time, maybe ever, regarding race and inequality here at home in the UK. Specifically, in the West of England – in Bristol, there have been large protests, including the pulling down of a statue of a man who made his fortune in slavery.
On a personal level, as a 1st generation black British man of Jamaican parentage, this debate is not a new one. I would sit and listen to my dad and uncles discussing loudly as a young teenager, as well as experiencing overt racism directed at me, friends and loved ones. I had honest conversations with my wife when our mixed race children were born, as to how some people in society will view them, based on the colour of their skin.
Sport appealed to me as a place where I felt judged on my actions, not what I looked like. I was able to turn my enjoyment of sport into a professional career, where some of the normal pressures in society are diluted – I played a sport (basketball) with high participation levels of black people, which tended to attract followers who were not racist, at least not overtly so.
I am also one of only a small number of former black athletes that have played sport at a high level, and then built a second career in sport administration. I am one of a few exceptions that proves the rule, highlighted by Sport England’s CEO, Tim Hollingsworth, in his recent blog, where he discusses the lack of diversity in sports leadership and their commitment to address this.
Each time there is a horrific event like this, the immediate response may be similar, but it often quickly withers as ‘normality’ returns and nothing changes. This time feels different as it not just the black community who have been making their voices heard and who feel there must be change.
On behalf of Wesport, the organisation I lead, we want to be part of the solution. We want to make sure the way in which we work, the communities we work with, the makeup of our team and board, our values and behaviours, reflect our belief in providing for all communities, disproportionately focusing resources on where they are needed most.
Both our current strategy and our new one (due for release later this year), have a focus on tackling inequalities. We are applying what we have learnt in the last 4 years to our plans going forward. We want to ensure we have a significant impact in those communities that need help and support the most. This clearly includes BAME communities and communities in lower socio economic areas.
Elsewhere, there is plenty of data on the widening of inequalities during this COVID-19 pandemic. It is not pleasant reading. Wesport is not a big organisation, but we are influential in our local area, as part of the network of Active Partnerships working across England, and through our work with and on behalf of Sport England. We will do our part, using all our influencing skills and networks to support the aims behind #BlackLivesMatter and the black communities in the West of England.
It is no longer enough not to be racist; we have to all be actively anti-racist. For many in the sector and beyond, this will require self-education, learning about Britain’s race history and the impact this still has today, building understanding and empathy, challenging and influencing how our sector works.
As someone who loves analogies, this is not the time to be standing on the side line hoping the game will somehow change on the back of a few words; but to be on the pitch, influencing play in all phases.
We know we cannot do this alone – we will need our networks, the organisations we are working with, and the ones we want to work with to help us address inequalities in sport and physical activity, especially for people from Black, Asian, and other Minority Ethnic communities.