Today marks one year since the Prime Minister declared a national lockdown to battle the coronavirus that was sweeping through the country.
Twelve months on there is much that is different about our lives. This morning I was given a stark reminder of this as I addressed over 500 delegates at the Sporting Equals State of the Sector Conference – from my own bedroom.
Such a radical shift in working practice shows that the pandemic has disrupted our lives in a way that none of us ever expected. It has presented challenges too to both our personal health and wellbeing and the stability of the sport and physical activity sector.
But it also continues to present us with an opportunity to change. Both what we do, and perhaps more importantly, how we do it.
That’s how we feel at Sport England, and why our new strategy sets out our desire to use this period as a reset moment – to recover, but also to reinvent.
Of course, it’s not just the pandemic that’s had a seismic impact on society and our lives over the past year.
We’ve seen various events that have also put the challenges and inequalities that exist within our society into the spotlight, especially those concerning race and ethnicity.
The sport and physical sector, in particular, has had to shine a mirror up to itself and what we've seen has not been particularly flattering.
Sport and physical activity has too often continued to feel the ugly force of racism, whether it be within sporting organisations, stadiums or on social media, and there have also been occasions where our leaders in the sector have let us down.
We’ve since set out a number of key commitments and changes, including a new target of doubling the proportion of our staff from an ethnically diverse background over the next five years, and have appointed our first director of equality, diversity and inclusion.
Externally, alongside UK Sport, we’re conducting a wide-ranging review of the Code for Sports Governance. It will ensure opportunities to progress across the sport sector are open to all - from athletes to administrators, to board members.
Since its launch five years ago, the Code has been successful in relation to improving gender equality, with women now accounting for more than 40% of board members across our funded bodies, and this review will ensure greater representation of ethnically diverse backgrounds in leadership positions.
This will build on the work we’re already doing with Perrett Lever to find board-ready candidates for sports bodies – and from the latest batch of nearly 40 appointments, 65% were candidates from ethnically diverse communities.
We’re determined our new strategy will be above all a revolution of the how – how we engage, how we invest, how we collaborate.
I’d also like to highlight a very significant and ambitious piece of work with UK Sport and the sports councils of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It involves two complementary pieces of work - the first research bringing together existing data on race and ethnicity in sport to identify gaps and make recommendations on where action is most needed.
The second is a concerted, honest attempt to hear from those most impacted, and understand the lived experiences of racial inequalities and racism in sport by offering people a safe space to tell their stories.
Both strands are nearing completion and I look forward to sharing the outcomes in the coming months.
It’s not just racial inequality that we must address, however, it’s all inequality.
Over the past six years, our groundbreaking This Girl Can campaign has helped women of all shapes, sizes, abilities and backgrounds to tackle the emotional barriers that can stop them exercising.
We’re also continuing our work to address the inequalities faced by disabled people, including developing partnerships with a wide variety of organisations who can help us address these issues, whether that is working with Mencap to deliver the Round the World Challenge or supporting ukactive to make the leisure sector more inclusive and accessible.
To tackle these inequalities, we must ensure that we continue to be innovative, adapt and shape our approach in light of challenges we face and most importantly, listen to those who experience it and trust those closest to it.
Our Tackling Inequalities Fund - which forms part of our wider £271.5 million support package to help the sport and physical activity sector through the ongoing coronavirus crisis – epitomises just that approach.
The fund was created directly to reduce the negative impact of coronavirus and the widening of the stubborn and worrying inequalities in sport and physical activity that were present before it struck.
We’ve used £20m of National Lottery money to invest in trusted partner organisations to help us to get closer to communities and reach those previously unserved by more traditional delivery structures.
We’re also focused right now on creating opportunity. Our fantastic emerging partnership with the University of East London is focused on supporting the development of talented athletes from ethnically diverse backgrounds who might previously have been excluded from sports’ pathways.
I’m also delighted we're supporting Surrey County Cricket Club’s ACE Programme that is geared to getting more young people from Afro-Caribbean communities into cricket. If you haven’t seen ACE’s recently released video of their work, you can check it out here – it’s brilliant.
Those two examples demonstrate how we’re looking to work with as many groups as possible to solve these problems. We know we can’t do it on our own. We will work with networks, partners and communities across the country to bring real change.
Our new 10-year strategy - Uniting the Movement – seeks to set out for us all a common purpose. The knowledge that playing sport and being physically active can have a profound positive impact on individuals' lives and on our communities. That when we move, we are stronger.
Our mission must be to enable everyone – regardless of their circumstances – to benefit and that to achieve that we need to overcome the stubborn inequalities that have prevented such opportunity for too many.
We’re determined our strategy will be above all a revolution of the how – how we engage, how we invest, how we collaborate.
Tackling the inequalities, from the pitch to the boardroom, will not be a swift or easy task.
But though we will not solve all the issues that underpin these inequalities overnight, we are determined to not just play our part. but lead the charge.