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Omar Khan | More action needed to address BAME representation in UK sport

Omar Khan, managing director EMEA, Leverage Marketing Advisors, calls for fewer reviews and more action in addressing BAME representation on the boards of UK sports bodies.

The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted more than ever the lack of board room diversity and the scarcity of black representation in positions of power in UK sport and the need for immediate action.

A study conducted by the Daily Telegraph newspaper has found an alarming lack of black leaders in executive positions, revealing only 3 per cent of board members of tax-payer-funded UK national governing bodies (NGBs) are black according to the most relevant data. Sixty four per cent of funded NGBs have no black and minority ethnic (BAME) board members at all.

The Football Association, Rugby Football Union, England and Wales Cricket Board, Lawn Tennis Association, England Golf, Rugby Football League, UK Athletics, British Cycling and England Hockey have just one black board member between them.

Within the biggest sport of all – and the one that professes to lead the way in promoting diversity – the Premier League doesn’t have a single black owner, chair or chief executive amongst its ranks, while the English Football League could only point to one in Burton Albion’s Ben Robinson.

English cricket has had to face some uncomfortable truths around the Black Lives Matter movement, according to Tom Harrison the ECB chief executive who has recently updated the organisation’s Inclusion and Diversity Strategy. In 1995 there were 33 black British cricketers competing in county cricket, while there were just nine British players and two support staff across the game.

The national governing body has rolled out a game-wide Anti-Discrimination Charter introduced with efforts to make the game’s leadership more diverse and improve education on such matters.

West Indies legend Michael Holding and former England star Ebony Rainford-Brent delivered incredibly powerful messages supporting the Black Lives Matter movement ahead of cricket’s return from the coronavirus shutdown.

A feature on Sky Sports prior to day one of the behind closed doors First Test between England and the West Indies at the Ageas Bowl, saw both Holding and Rainford-Brent recall experiences of racism from their playing careers and call for change in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the launch of Black Lives Matter protests.

The Code for Sports Governance launched in April 2017 quite clearly hasn’t accelerated the so-called professionalisation of many national sports bodies in this area.

The review rather inconveniently and glaringly missed out providing NGBs with targets to promote representation in ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups. There was no mention of introducing a requirement for 30 per cent BAME representation, as suggested by Eni Aluko, the sporting director of Aston Villa Women and former England International, to increase BAME inclusion before a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

The time has come to steer the rhetoric away from calling for constant reviews of BAME representation which only serve to confirm the poor statistics in this area. The Code of Review for Sports Governance under Sport England’s watch, as announced by Sport England’s chief executive Tim Hollingsworth recently, will only serve to confirm the poor levels of representation and present further grim reading.

It’s clearly time for action now and ready-made solutions are already in place to help support NGBs in the United Kingdom.

Sporting Equals, the DCMS-appointed charity to promote sport and physical activity in the BAME sector pioneered the first ever BAME Board leadership programme in partnership with the University of Leicester called the Leaderboard Academy in 2017-18.

It is a ready-made vehicle to equip BAME professionals and former athletes with the skills they need to be effective on boards and also to influence equality, diversity and inclusion in the boardrooms of sport.

The Leaderboard Academy has already shown its potential with over a third of all graduates taking up board positions in sport and business.

There are other programmes that should be adopted by NGBs. Surrey County Cricket Club have launched their own African Caribbean Engagement (ACE) programme. Aimed at getting young black people from the local area engaged with cricket, the programme will offer talented sports people with cricketing potential access to Level 3 England and Wales Cricket Board coaching, sports science and personal development education. The scheme has been fronted by Rainford-Brent who is the director of women’s cricket at Surrey County Cricket Club.

Lewis Hamilton’s plans to set up a commission in his name to increase diversity in motorsport is another project which will seek to make measurable and tangible change. His proposals to remove institutional barriers and encourage more young people from black backgrounds to secure work in the sport should be applauded. Hamilton continues to perform the Black Salute and continues to urge his fellow drivers to take the knee before every race of this season.

It is clearly a time for action and an awful shame that the death of George Floyd has served to further amplify inherent inequality and accusations of institutional racism in sport and the world.

Read this: Diversity dividend | 5 ways sports organisations can increase diversity and inclusion

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