Skip to content

Coming together to discuss how we tackle inequalities

We met with community organisations, athletes, politicians and governing bodies to search for solutions to tackle inequalities in the sport and physical activity sector.

10th June 2022

More than 100 people attended yesterday's ‘Closing the Gap: Inequality in Sport and Physical Activity’ event that was co-hosted by us and Greater Manchester Moving. 

The event – a follow up to 2020’s Sport for All? Conference – explored approaches to tackling inequalities and racism within sport and physical activity and was held at Manchester People’s History Museum. 

The day featured a range of hackathon-style workshops, panel discussions and keynote speeches available to watch via a live-stream for those not in the room.  

A group of people attending our Closing the Gap conference in Manchester

Conversations centred around the sharing of lived experiences of inequality in sport and physical activity, the search for solutions and how to bring about positive change. 

Cricketer and anti-racism campaigner Azeem Rafiq spoke powerfully in a conversation with host for the day, former Olympic sprinter and broadcaster Jeanette Kwakye. 

Azeem said:  "People are incredibly fearful of getting things wrong but I want to say to them, no one's got the magic wand.  

"If we try and work together and across society, we're going to leave it in a better place. We have the biggest opportunity we've ever seen in a lifetime to change things. 

"I hope in the future cricket will be an example of how you can turn things around. Cricket can be a welcoming place for everyone, and everyone can learn from that." 

“If we try and work together and across society, we're going to leave it in a better place. We have the biggest opportunity we've ever seen in a lifetime to change things."

Azeem Rafiq

Cricketer and anti-racism campaigner

Earlier in the day Jeanette introduced to the stage fellow former Olympian and our chair, Chris Boardman, as well as our director of equality, diversity and inclusion, Viveen Taylor, and Manchester City council leader Bev Craig for a question and answer session. 

Chris said: "Sports are now quite rightly asking questions about why there's less inclusion of culturally diverse communities and listening to the people affected.  

"Sport England is perfectly placed to be able to further the role that sport can play in empowering people. There is so much work already being done to tackle inequalities by brilliant grassroots organisations already.  

"I’m delighted to be joined here today by so many change makers determined to make sport available to all, to have these discussions together and see how we can bring about positive change.” 

Viveen said: "In 2019 we launched the Sport for All? Report which revealed some of the barriers affecting people from culturally diverse communities. Since then, we have launched our new strategy Uniting the Movement and our work has a laser focus on tackling inequalities.

"Today we're all here to continue those conversations to find out what actions we can all commit to in order to ensure that more people in their communities will be able to engage. None of the speakers today will say they have the answers. However, there’s a willingness to accept, listen and to be accountable. We’ll ask ourselves: ‘What more can we do to eliminate exclusion and improve inclusion?’  

"We have to shift the dial on long-term inequalities and make being active feel like the norm for people who for too often have not felt listened to or heard. We're here to listen and learn. Let's not just stand around the gap, let's work together to collectively close the gap."

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, also took part in a panel discussion entitled ‘Local learning and local actions’, discussing on how solutions to issues can vary from place to place, and highlighting the importance of listening to people at a local level. 

He said: "The question we’ve got to ask ourselves now is why participation is lower amongst some of our minority communities and what are we going to do to change it. 

"I think part of it is that sometimes sport can be too intimidating. Sometimes it’s perception rather than reality but we’ve got to deal with that perception.  

"We also need to think about marketing and messaging. The benefits to mental health on physical activity is immediate. You can lift your mood in this moment, this hour.  

"I think we need to rethink our messaging and make that an appealing message that people will respond to. We’ll be working with Sport England to think about how we can engage underrepresented groups at every level." 

“I think part of it is that sometimes sport can be too intimidating. Sometimes it’s perception rather than reality but we’ve got to deal with that perception."

Andy Burnham

Greater Manchester Mayor

Also present in Manchester were representatives from organisations such as Sported, UK Sport, StreetGames, the Activity Alliance, Muslim Sports Foundation and numerous national governing bodies, who all took part in the workshops throughout the day. 

The day concluded with a speech from our chief executive Tim Hollingsworth, speaking about our commitment to tackling inequalities. 

"Today has been an important conversation for all of us. The role that I am privileged to play at Sport England, has led to two strong realisations", he said. 

"Increasingly post-pandemic, of course, the funding that we can provide matters. But what’s also important is this opportunity we have to convene, bring together and create space for conversation.  

"In those spaces we can understand and learn from the people who have lived in the communities that we now recognise need the most support and face the most barriers to playing sport and staying active.

"We're evolving now into a sector that understands the power of the stories and experiences, and what we can learn from each other. That consequently leads to trusting one another.  

"As we continue to deliver on our commitment to tackling inequality, accountability is an important part of that. When we do invest, we look for the behaviours, and the change we want to see, and we hold ourselves accountable too."  

The next steps will be for us to press ahead with engaging directly with equality groups to help surface the issues that are important to audiences that we know need our help and support the most, this will include audiences with a protected characteristic.  

We will report back later in the year on what we heard and what we will do as a result.  


Sign up to our newsletter

You can find out exactly how we'll look after your personal data, but rest assured we’ll only use it to make sure you receive our newsletter, to understand how you interact with our newsletter, and to provide administrative information about our newsletter.