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UK Athletics president Gardener says British Bobsleigh ignored overtures to address racism

Jason Gardener, president of UK Athletics and a former Olympic gold medallist, has described how the British Bobsleigh & Skeleton Association ignored an approach from him to address allegations of racism within the organisation ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Speaking during The Diversity Dividend, a webinar organised by SportBusiness to examine questions of diversity and inclusion in the sports business, Gardener said the sport could have saved itself millions in lost funding if it had accepted his overtures.

The former sprinter’s comments refer to the crisis faced by the national association after British Bobsleigh head coach Lee Johnston is alleged to have said “black drivers do not make good bobsleigh drivers”.

Gardener, who also serves as a consultant for the City Football Group, as managing director of technology firm DC- Sport, and has also competed in the sport of bobsleigh, said he approached the association chairman at the time, Christopher Rodrigues, to offer his help. He believed the lack of a response was evidence of the way some sports organisations ignore black and ethnic minority (BAME) candidates.

“The board was very much an elderly white board. On the competing side there was a lot of diversity – a lot of black guys and girls competing – [but] there were issues about the leadership, decision-making and racism.

“Here I was presenting a solution to potentially resolve the sport’s challenges going into the Winter Olympic Games. The chairman said he was really thankful for me coming to visit him and he would get back to me. I never heard back from him.

“The team went on to the Winter Games with lots of disruption – and I know what a disrupted programme going into a major competition can bring, and that’s nothing – and they came back with no medals and they lost multi-millions of pounds of lottery public funding. And there I was, I tick all the right boxes and I genuinely believe I could do a job…”

Gardener said he hoped an ongoing review of the UK’s Code for Sports Governance would address the under-representation of BAME candidates in sports organisations and make it mandatory for sports to comply with the code to access public funding.

“There are lots of sports that are very diverse on the lower level – the playing field – and it’s only right to have that transfer of experience and knowledge making decisions for the sports. I believe by having a more diverse board you’re going to be able to serve a sport and the people that operate in it in a much better way.”

The Diversity Dividend webinar will be available to view as a video on the SportBusiness website soon.