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Blog: It’s time for action on diversity participation gap

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Posted 11th February 2020

Kathryn Mudge, who leads on some of our place-based work across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, blogs about the recently published ‘Sport For All’ research from Sport England. 

The exciting and ground-breaking ‘Sport For All’ document published recently by Sport England provides a level of data which we have not seen collated before.

It shows clear evidence of a participation gap between those with white skin and those from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background. It’s something that many in the sector have been aware of, however the research raises awareness of this fact and makes it very hard to ignore. This data is a great step forward; however, we need to see action.

We need to be open and honest – sport is currently not offering the same opportunities for all, and we all have an important role to change this.

During our consultation in the Burngreave area of Sheffield, a group of young people were asked what activities they currently do or would like to do. “Well, we don’t take part in the white sports. You know, the privileged sports like swimming or tennis. We just do football and basketball.”

This was hard to hear for me personally, someone who deeply values sport and the role it plays in peoples lives. However, we have to understand that in society there are those who experience privilege, and those who do not.

In talking to residents across the communities we work with, there is a feeling of frustration that not all sport is actually ‘for all’, and that opportunities to take part in some activities is only for those from privileged backgrounds or for those with white skin.  This is based not only from perception, but sadly also from experience. While sport can try its best to be inclusive, unfortunately, providing a one-size fits all model of activity only excluded people.

The report appears to show that certain ethnic groups feel able to take part in some activities rather than others. I am confident this is about how comfortable, included and represented they feel in that sport. Assumptions and societal norms are created, which contributes towards dividing activities into categories; activities for those who have, and activities for those who have not.

Different ethnicities become ‘linked’ and associated with certain sports, such as the Chinese population and badminton/ table tennis; Black and Black British population with basketball. This could be attributed to the power of roles models and social norms, or be a question of opportunity.

From experience of working in communities across South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, I would suggest this is both about opportunity and about the people who are delivering these opportunities. People look to those who look like them to be inspired and motivated.

There is an undeniable link between inactivity and poverty and ethnicity and poverty. This research helps to clearly identify that.

“People from Black, Asian, & Minority Ethnic backgrounds are seven times more likely to live in an urban area than someone from a White ethnic background. These geographical factors can contribute to, and perpetuate, some of the socioeconomic, social cohesion and social mobility issues that influence a person’s ability to engage in sport and physical activity.” Source: Sport For All, Sport England, 2020

The report goes on to analyse the impact of socio-economic group on activity levels. You are far more likely to be inactive if you are classified as from a ‘Low-Social Grade’. Those from a diverse background and a ‘low-social grade’ are even less likely to be active. This is both powerful and stark. In my opinion it is important we address this inequality, not only in ethnicity but also for those with low incomes.

The report goes on to explore the drivers and motivations in why a person may be active or inactive. Sport England have adopted a ‘COM-B- Model of behaviour change, identifying that there are many factors which influence behaviour. But by and large these can be grouped into; Capability, Opportunity, Motivation. There is now clear recognition that people living in our poorest communities are not receiving the same opportunities.

“Inactive adults from Black, Asian (exc. Chinese), White Other, Chinese, Mixed backgrounds and people from Other ethnic groups are less likely to strongly agree they have the OPPORTUNITY to be physically active.” Source: Sport For All, Sport England, 2020

Empathy and Understanding gap

There is currently a gap between local people, and particularly local people from a diverse community, and decision makers.

Social norms need to change. We need local role models who feel comfortable to challenge stereotypes and create safe and accessible opportunities to activities such as walking for leisure, cycling and swimming.

Parachuting initiatives and programmes into communities is not the answer. We need to work alongside the leaders in our communities to firstly understand what is important to people living there, and then involve the community in creating more opportunities.

Working in a place-based way enables the sport sector to fully understand how communities differ and ultimately understand the values of each community. This can then reduce the apparent empathy gap and create the perfect environment of the co-production of community activity plans.

Quite simply, the community decide how best to create opportunities and then deliver these themselves.

Follow Kathryn on Twitter @mudge_kathryn

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