Our chief executive Sally Munday calls on Olympic and Paralympic athletes and staff to join the battle against racism
The revelations we’ve seen emerge in recent weeks have been deeply distressing to read about and listen to. Hearing tales of racism directed at sports people particularly hits home as this is our environment. This is my environment. I find myself asking “what can I / we at UK Sport do?” We could just acknowledge that this sort of thing will inevitably happen while racism is accepted, or at best unchallenged, within our society. Or we could lead the way by standing together and doing whatever it takes to stamp out racism and make sport a truly anti-racist environment that is welcoming of everyone.
The bravery of those who have shared these awful experiences in public should of course be applauded. But applauding simply isn’t enough. Their bravery should be respected with the entire sporting community responding with action. I urge everyone involved in sport at every level to reflect on what they can and should be doing to stamp out racism, or any sort of discrimination in their organisation or team.
I also want to personally assure those who have suffered at the hands of racists that UK Sport will not rest until we are part of a sporting community where everyone is welcome and where racism does not exist. I do not underestimate the size of this challenge but I believe that the most important things are quite often the most difficult to achieve.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder last year, I wrote that there were three things I believed UK Sport could and should be doing together to tackle racism and discrimination. These were:
1. listen, learn and do all we can to understand the issues and the experiences of racism
2. continually recognise and reflect on our own shortcomings
3. set out to drive the change we want to see. That means challenging ourselves to ensure we are doing everything we can to tackle racism and to ensuring the sport we all know and love is truly inclusive.
At UKSport we have been challenging ourselves and each other to do these things for the last year. Revisiting them in the wake of what we’ve all witnessed recently, I think they remain the priority for all of us.
Getting comfortable talking about race
To help us on our journey to be an anti-racist organisation and a leader in driving the change we want to see, at UK Sport we created our own Anti-Racism Group (ARG) last year. The ARG’s remit has been to lead and inspire both UK Sport and the wider high-performance community in positive action against racism that will deliver meaningful change.
We recognised that the first priority was for us to be able to talk about race and we’ve started these conversations in the ARG. They’ve been honest and uncomfortable as we have shared our concerns about our lack of knowledge and understanding and our fear of saying the wrong thing. We spent time listening to the lived experiences of some of our colleagues from different ethnic backgrounds and seeking to understand the injustices and prejudices they have faced and continue to face. I am hugely appreciative that our colleagues have been willing to share their experiences to help us learn and be better.
In the process, we learnt that they felt very strongly about the term "BAME". They didn't recognise it as an appropriate description of their identities and cultural heritage or experiences. Worse, they found it offensive. So, we immediately stopped using it in all our communications, both internally and externally. We want to get to a place where we don’t need to group people and give them a homogenous description. We are all individual human beings and giving groups labels may suggest that all within that group think and behave the same, which of course is just nonsense. However, we do recognise that in our attempt to tackle discrimination there are times when it might be appropriate to group people, maybe for statistical reasons to drive change. As such, we have decided that if we feel it necessary to use collective nouns for such a diverse group thenwe will refer to "people with ethnically diverse backgrounds”.
Language is so important and I would urge organisations across the entire sporting sector to consider the language they use to describe the rich and varied heritage of athletes, participants, colleagues and fans across sport.
Tackling diversity in the sector
Externally, we partnered with the Home Country Sports Councils to carry out an extensive, independent review into Tackling Racism and Racial Inequality in Sport (TRARIIS). This project included the analysis of existing data from across the Home Nations as well as the lived experiences of more than 300 people from ethnically diverse backgrounds in a range of sports.
The findings of that review were announced in June and the lived experience part of the research
proved a particularly difficult read. Stories of racism directed at young children left me feeling physically sick, while the numerous stories of athletes and participants lost to sport altogether as a result of discrimination is shameful.
In response to the findings, all five Councils have stated a number of commitments
and UK Sport is working on a series of actions specific to high-performance sport in an effort to begin addressing some of the dreadful findings from the report. An update on this work is expected in December.
The scale of the challenge facing us is significant but we are up for the fight and will not rest until racism in sport is a thing of the past. I want all of us who are leaders in sport to make clear that racism is not welcome and has no place in the Olympic and Paralympic sports we know and love. We stand beside all athletes and staff with ethnically diverse backgrounds, we will support you and we won’t rest until everyone is welcome as part of our high performance community.
Alongside our anti-racism stance, I do recognise that our high performance community isn’t as diverse as it needs to be and addressing this is a major focus within our new strategy. We want the Olympic and Paralympic stars of tomorrow,and the huge workforce that support them, to reflect the rich diversity of British society and I’m acutely aware that talent continues to slip through the net because of historical bias and discrimination. This must end and we are committed to leading positive action to change this. I have been told by some that this could be a “distraction to performance”… if you are someone that believes that statement then you are part of the problem that is perpetuating racial inequality. I strongly believe that not only is driving greater diversity the right thing to do, it will also drive great performance as we will see so much more untapped talent.
In summary, I am asking all athletes and staff working across the high performance sport sector to play their part in stamping out racism in our community. If you encounter racism, whether it’s directed at you or at someone else, please call it out. We all have a responsibility to end discrimination.