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Time for change – and action – on racial inequality

Ahead of a sector-wide conference on racism in sport, our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth outlines our ongoing work to confront racial disparities.

26th February 2024

by Tim Hollingsworth
Chief executive, Sport England

This Friday, alongside my sports council CEO colleagues and a host of other speakers, I will be contributing to ‘Time for Action: Tackling Racism in Sport’ – a conference that is both timely and significant for the sport and physical activity sector.

It’s more than two years since the four home nation sport councils and UK Sport published the findings and recommendations of our Tackling Racism and Racial Inequality in Sport (TRARIIS) review

It gave an unprecedented picture of the reality of racism across the sporting landscape and its impact on participation and success. While I believe we have made progress in addressing some of the deep-rooted issues that it unearthed, I know there is still much work to do and this week’s event in Leicester gives us the chance to come together to drive things forward. 

I’ll be joining hundreds of other attendees from the sporting system – both in person and online – to speak about Sport England’s ongoing work in this area and to listen to others about what else can be done to drive real change.  

I’m looking forward to hearing examples of good practice and discussing some of the obstacles our partners are facing in implementing the necessary changes to become anti-racist.

I also expect to hear from those frustrated by the pace of change and can understand their impatience. For me, a key element of the conference is recognising that warm words and positive intent are no longer sufficient – we need tangible actions to back them up. 

I hope therefore that the decision-makers who’ll be in attendance come away from the event with extra clarity about our TRARIIS commitments and the practical tools to empower them to take action in their organisations.

This is not a challenge that can be taken on in isolation – it needs commitment from across our sector if we are sincere and serious in our desire to impact. 

What Sport England has done 

Tackling racism and racial inequality remains a hugely important area of work for us. It’s central to our Uniting the Movement strategy and its commitment to tackling inequalities in sport, of which race inequality remains prevalent. 

To that end, here is a flavour of the recent work we have been doing: 

Increasing diversity in leadership 

We will be investing up to £5 million over five years into our Leading the Movement programme to support current and emerging leaders to address inequalities in their role. 

We will specifically be supporting emerging leaders from more diverse backgrounds, with the aim of developing and retaining leaders from under-represented groups.  

While we know there is more to be done in supporting recruitment into CEO and board roles, we consider leaders to be at every level: anyone who can bring about the cultural and structural changes we need is a leader. 

We have also extended our partnership with recruitment specialists Perrett Laver for 12 months to continue developing our network of talented and diverse board candidates for our funded organisations. 

We currently have 318 members, of whom 63 have been appointed to board positions, and more than 50% of the network is from a culturally diverse background. 

And we continue to work closely with our equality partner Sporting Equals to address racial bias, discrimination and lack of representation.  

We support their Leaderboard Academy, a unique programme designed to equip culturally diverse individuals with exceptional skills to influence and promote equality, diversity and inclusion in sport, whether in a leadership or board-related capacity.  

It aims to achieve fairer representation of minority groups in sports leadership and we are now on our second cohort of candidates.  

Diversifying the talent pool 

We have extended our funding of the East London Sport Talent Pathway, which seeks to diversify the regional and national talent pool in sport. 

With our additional investment, the innovative pathway has been able to expand its engagement with local clubs and schools.  

These collaborations have fostered a deeper understanding and appreciation of the diverse backgrounds and experiences that our athletes bring.  

Working with trusted organisations 

We continue to invest in a range of organisations such as the Black Swimming Association and Muslim Sports Foundation, which brings us closer to understanding and meeting the needs of people from culturally diverse communities who wish to take part in sport and physical activity.   

Crucially we have committed to continuing to work with the TRARIIS Advisory Group, a small cohort of trusted experts with the lived experience to help us make the right choices and decisions.

This has included their working with us to co-design the Sport England and UK Sport anti-racist Inclusion by Design framework, which will begin to roll out across our work and investments in 2024.  

Leading by example 

Our internal Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan is currently being updated for 2024 and we will publish this in the next few weeks. 

The externally commissioned Race Code Governance Review was completed last year. It provided valuable insights that we have discussed and our actions are in progress.

A key element of the conference is recognising that warm words and positive intent are no longer sufficient – we need tangible actions to back them up.

I’m encouraged that there is a shared desire and determination in our sector to bring about the changes we all want to see.

Our investment requires targeted action to make the sporting system much more representative, from the workforce and grassroots sport to talent pathways and elite performance. 

And if we are to achieve Uniting the Movement’s core aim of eradicating inequalities in sport and physical activity, it’s important we listen to and learn from each other. 

Combatting racism is everyone’s responsibility and now is the time for sector collectively to drive action.

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