• Sporting Equals found that only 3% of board members are black
  • ‘No amount of positive messaging can hide lack of opportunities’

    All publicly funded sports organisations in Britain should have at least 20% black and minority ethnic representation on their boards in order to tackle systemic racism and bias, according to the UK’s leading charity for racial equality and diversity in sport.

    Arun Kang, the chief executive of Sporting Equals, urged the government to update the Code for Sport Governance to tackle the problem after its researchers found that only 3% of board members of national governing bodies are black and 64% of funded national governing bodies have no BAME board members.

    Kang said that while the positive messages in recent days from sports organisations had been welcome, the fact the Football Association, Rugby Football Union, England and Wales Cricket Board, Lawn Tennis Association, England Golf, UK Athletics and British Cycling had one black board member between them showed the need for much firmer action.

    “No amount of positive messaging can hide the lack of opportunities for BAME in senior management, coaching, talent or board leadership,” said Kang. “That is how you can gauge if an organisation is truly inclusive. The underlying issue here is systemic racism and bias towards BAME communities, be it conscious or unconscious. There is a lot of learning and unlearning needed within society in order to achieve an egalitarian landscape, both in boardrooms and in day-to-day life.

    “We feel that all sporting boards in the UK should reasonably reach at least a target of 20% BAME representation in their boards. Without the insight of those communities, there is nobody there to represent their views, highlight the challenges and barriers BAME communities experience or implement the appropriate interventions for real social impact.”

    The sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, has said he will review the Code for Sport Governance to decide whether boards should have a target for BAME representation.

    In 2018, Sporting Equals created the LeaderBoard Academy to equip BAME individuals with the leadership, governance skills and connections to be able to access board-level roles in sport, and Kang said he was encouraged one-third of graduates had found board roles within six months of graduating but much more needed to be done.

    “With potentially 95% of senior management and board members being white, we truly wonder how even at a basic physical activity level BAME viewpoints are acknowledged or taken into consideration.

    “The lack of diversity at the top impacts the average person and their ability to feel included and welcome in this sector,” he added. “40% of BAME participants said their experiences of local sport or leisure clubs had been a negative one in terms of the customer service received, compared to just 14% of white British.

    “But we know there are capable, qualified and passionate BAME individuals out there who could build up pivotal empathy, networks and solutions to remedy the issue of inequality in sport. These voices and views have been long ignored and we need to come together now as a wholly representative sector that is truly diverse and inclusive.”

    Some of the challenges black board members faced were highlighted by Densign White, the current chair of Sporting Equals, who said that when he was a director at British Judo he had wanted to revolutionise the sports sector to make it more inclusive for BAME communities. However, he said he was often met “with hostility and remarks such as: ‘We’ve done it like this for 20 years, why change it? Don’t rock the boat’”.

    White, who later became chair of British Judo, said: “I am aware I am an anomaly. People who look like me do not normally get to sit in these positions at this level and that is an issue. There is truly a wide gulf between how black and white people see things. We see things through different lenses, and we all need to see the same picture or else this unbalanced systemic racism will continue indefinitely. People are uncomfortable with change, it is often met with pushback and you gain more enemies than progress.