Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
British Sport is a long way off from truly being equal to all. Sport is a universal language that connects people regardless of their background and has the potential to unite people from all over the world. It promotes a sense of belonging by bringing people together from all walks of life. In my lifetime, I have witnessed a number of incredible achievements by Black athletes. I watched Usain Bolt become the fastest man on the planet. I watched Serena Williams become one of the most successful tennis players in history. I watched Simone Manuel become the first Black female swimmer to win Olympic Gold. The list goes on. Their extraordinary accomplishments have brought joy, happiness and exhilaration to all sporting fans, and yet these athletes continue to be victims of racism, both on and off the field.
Sporting organisations have the power to provoke change to the long-standing institutional racism, which continues to be so prevalent within the sporting sphere. However, these organisations are consciously relinquishing any responsibility to evoke societal transformation. It is up to Sports Governing Bodies to capitalise on this, in an attempt to be more inclusive and diverse. For after all, it is the Sports Governing Bodies that are in control of any reformation to the structure and organisation of the sport that they govern.
They are accountable to all participants and subjected to regular scrutiny. Such organisations should uphold the highest standards of integrity by embedding values and promoting high moral standards, not only within the organisation but also in the wider environment. They should lead by example and welcome any opportunity to be transparent and open, explicitly demonstrating that they are actively anti-racist and support ALL athletes.
George Floyd’s murder has sparked protests all across the globe. People have been standing up and speaking out, determined to bring change. Many Sporting Bodies decided to remain silent, showing little or no support for the Black community. The silence has been deafening to athletes. The silence alienates an entire portion of the population and does nothing to bridge the gap to equality, nor is it very encouraging for athletes of all different backgrounds and ethnicities to join.
For over ten years I have been a competitive swimmer. I was fortunate enough to learn to swim at an early age, and quickly fell in love with being in the water. It pains me to admit that I have come across very few BAME competitive swimmers in my career. It is no secret that swimming is typically a ‘white person’ sport. The painful legacy of racial segregation and bitter political strife surrounds the history of swimming pools; a legacy helped to erect high barriers to swimming participation that remain in place today. The lack of representation in professional swimming has led to false beliefs surrounding people of colour, resulting in restricted performance and limited participation. All children should be able to aspire to achieve their dreams; without the fear of being singled out as “the Black one”. With the proper resources, support and dedication, all children can become strong, confident swimmers.
Swimming is not just a sport; it is a fundamental life skill and more should be done to raise awareness of the importance of having access to develop this skill. According to Sport England, 95% of Black adults and 80% of Black children do not swim. This needs to change. Sporting organisations must use their position of power to promote social cohesion, mutual respect, equality and tolerance. They must strive to create meaningful change and remove the barriers put in place by systemic racial inequality.