On 22 November 2016, research by Leaderboard in conjunction with Sporting Equals (organisations that together seek to actively promote greater involvement in sport, physical activity and in sport leadership positions amongst persons from the black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) community) revealed that 90% of sport governing bodies in the UK have no individuals from BAME backgrounds in senior leadership positions.
The statistics were compiled on the basis of data provided by 68 national governing bodies (NGBs). That data also revealed that persons from a BAME background occupied:
- Four % of the available 601 board positions (26);
- One Chief Executive position; and
- One Chairman position.
A report published by the same bodies in 2013 on the basis of data provided by 45 NGBs revealed that persons from a BAME background occupied:
- Three % of the available 441 board positions (14);
- Two Chief Executive positions (down from three in 2012); and
- One Chairman position (down from three in 2012).
Against a background that shows that 18% of UK sports participants and 14% of the UK population are of a BAME background, it is clear that sport in the UK has a diversity problem in its leadership that must be addressed.
It is not only the raw data that points to an industry wide problem. Comments emerging from the BAME community show there is an underlying feeling amongst sporting participants and stakeholders that not enough is being done to tackle the issue of underrepresentation.
In response to Leaderboard/Sporting Equals’ research, Christine Ohuruogu MBE, the former Olympic and World 400m champion, suggested that persons of a BAME background are concerned that they ‘…won’t be welcomed, won’t be valued… They are expressing concern that it is a world not open for them’. UK Sport and Sport England’s recently launched Code for Sport Governance in the UK was openly criticised by the Chairman of Kick it Out (a football equality and inclusion organisation) for seemingly prioritising women over other minorities in only prescribing mandatory percentages for women on boards and not BAME or other minority groups. Further, a 2015 report by the Sports People’s Think Tank which showed that only 4% of elite football coaching roles in England were held by BAME persons was described by former Reading striker Jason Roberts as showing ‘unconscious bias at best or possibly racism at worst’.
However shocking the statistics may be (and shocking they are), they may be the wakeup call that the sports industry needed. There are numerous academic reports that outline the business case for equality, diversity and inclusion. It is time for the UK sports industry to take heed of this and make the necessary changes to increase diversity in its leadership. Some positive moves are already being seen. Sport England has reportedly marked a ‘six-figure investment’ fund to address the issue of BAME underrepresentation in the UK sports industry. Further, Sporting Equals’ Leaderboard programme runs a mentoring programme for those BAME persons seeking to find board positions and offers guidance and advice to NGBs in respect of diversity in their organisations.
Sport is not the only industry to suffer from a dearth of representatives of the BAME community in the UK. However, sport is an industry currently undergoing a consolidative and self-reflective period as it moves from its amateur beginnings into a much more commercial, sophisticated and professional era. In particular, NGBs (and the industry as a whole) are facing (and must meet) heightened expectations of the standards of governance they must exhibit. This author would argue that now, more than ever, is the time for the sporting industry to embrace the rich diversity of its participants, fans and stakeholders and to use its increasing economic clout to push through the necessary changes that will ensure that statistics such as those unveiled this week are not a part of its future. As Leaderboard puts it ‘Diversity isn’t just good business value, it’s good business’.