Sport claims to be trying to give BAME people a voice. But is it lip service or a charge for change? – Daily Mail

Some fragments of hope at the end of a week which has laid bare how far from diverse British sport actually is.

Vikram Solanki, who emerged from a state school education in Wolverhampton to play one-day cricket for England, was appointed Surrey’s head coach on Friday, while the NFL pledged $250million over 10 years to fight systemic racism. And then, on Friday night, came the Premier League’s powerful and unprecedented expression of solidarity for Black Lives Matter.

These are developments. They don’t make sport more diverse. Solanki’s appointment does not change the fact that Afro-Caribbean communities which once gave us Monte Lynch, Wilf Slack, Roland Butcher, Gladstone Small, Norman Cowans and Alex Tudor have become increasingly lost to the game.

Former England cricketer Vikram Solanki was appointed as Surrey’s head coach on Friday 

The NFL’s investment equates to less than the annual salary of the league’s 10th best-paid player. The Premier League’s statement does not add to the mere six BAME managers in the 91 clubs in England’s top four professional divisions — three British-born.

The view from several UK sports governing bodies is that the stance against British sports’ lack of diversity would not be as strong without the background of pandemic and lockdown. But several of them talk of the events of the past week as a watershed which will make British sport less elitist, less white and more accessible.

We’ve heard that one before. It is four years since Colin Kaepernick took a knee to call attention to police brutality. The quarterback was ostracised from the NFL, has not found a team since, and it has taken the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minnesota police officer for his gesture to become a global phenomenon.

It has been four years since Colin Kaepernick (C) took a knee to protest against police brutality 

But the quarterback was ostracised from the NFL and has not found a team since 2016

British sport is always talking up its own diversity. Yet this was the week which revealed that the FA, LTA, ECB, RFU, Swim England, British Cycling and UK Sport to be among 11 national governing bodies who lack a single BAME representative on their boards. Cricket actually knows about the impact of BAME management.

The ECB’s South Asian Action Plan, a broadly successful attempt to reach more of Britain’s three million South Asian population, was driven by former board member Lord Kamlesh Patel of Bradford. The work of the ECB’s City Executive Team, which flowed from that, took the sport into the inner cities.

All but two of the initiative’s board are BAME, lending legitimacy as they recruit players and followers to the sport in cities such as Bradford and Birmingham.

Ebony Rainford-Brent, a Surrey management board member and the first black cricketer to play for England Women, has spearheaded the drive to re-engage with those Afro-Caribbean communities, whose representation in the county game has fallen by 75 per cent since the early 1990s. The week’s events will deliver new momentum to projects like these.

Ex-England star Ebony Rainford-Brent wants to re-engage with Afro-Caribbean communities

Rugby union has more to do. The All Schools programme and Project Rugby are attempts to dispel the idea that the sport is the domain of private schools. But BAME representation at the top of the game is badly needed if those who play it are to be more racially diverse, says former England international Maggie Alphonsi, the only black representative on the RFU council.

‘When it comes to trying to engage with those people who would not be the stereotype rugby player, we’ve got to do more in the inner cities,’ Alphonsi says. ‘It’s not just at board and council level. In every position of authority, you need diversity, the ability to take into account different perspectives.’

Football is not the enlightened place it would have us believe, despite a strong BAME representation on the field. ‘There is still this belief that black players are quick, athletic and less intelligent, while white sportspeople are leaders and intelligent,’ says Phil Korklin, the respected agent who has studied and written on the subject of the barriers to BAME players becoming managers.

Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has pledged to boost levels of diversity in the sport 

Serena Williams and her sister Venus have helped inspire a new generation of tennis players 

‘So when it comes to making the change from pitch to boardroom, you’ve never been seen as a leader. The prejudice persists.’

But football’s domination of this week’s narrative has obscured the picture — graphically illustrated by the British medal roster at the 2016 Rio Olympics — of how embarrassingly lacking in diversity other sports are. There were 145 Team GB medal winners at that Games, with 12.4 per cent BAME winners (18 in total), against the 13 per cent BAME population in the UK.

Subtract track and field and boxing from the equation, though, and the total of BAME winners is just six. Not one of the 13 swimming, 20 cycling or the six canoe medallists were BAME. Just one of the 26 rowers was. These are the disciplines into which UK Sport is pouring millions of tax-payers’ money. The same UK Sport which has no BAME board member.

There have been calls for Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston to ensure at least 20 per cent BAME representation on the boards of governing bodies

Football has a discrimination issue at the top but for most British sports, the woeful lack of representation applies to the participants, too. It takes a brave individual to blaze a trail in those sports. ‘We need those role models to be visible, too,’ Alphonsi says. ‘They make all the difference — that was certainly my experience.’ 

The influence of the Williams sisters in tennis — inspiring a new generation of players, including Coco Gauff who is now, too, a figurehead — bears this out. If cycling or swimming can generate a BAME winner, diversity can flow.

The racial equality charity Sporting Equals says that Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston should instruct all national governing bodies to establish at least 20 per cent BAME representation on their boards. There is no shortage of candidates. Cycling’s Yewande Adesida and swimming’s Alice Dearing are articulate.

Former Blackburn striker Jason Roberts would be a valuable voice at the Football Association 

Jason Roberts speaks so powerfully on these issues that you wonder why he is not at the vanguard of the FA’s work. But it’s a measure of how delicate those who do have a seat at the top table consider this issue that many are reluctant to speak. ‘Not ready to speak yet,’ came back one response this week. Solanki did not want to draw attention to his ethnicity, either.

But the need for circumspection may be receding. It emerged on Friday that players will not be cautioned for revealing anti-racism messaging under their shirts when football returns, in a change to FA Rule 4. A firmer position than the fudge in which FIFA, sensing reputational damage when Jadon Sancho was booked for a protest, called on referees to ‘apply common sense’.

Players, once so reluctant to contribute to the conversation, are driving it. Whether the more recalcitrant governing bodies do the same remains to be seen but the momentum is beginning to look unstoppable.

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