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Black History Month: a celebration, but also a stark reminder of change still needed

Our chief executive blogs on the stark reminders of the inequalities that exist within society, how they manifest in our sector and the work we're doing to create more access and greater opportunities.

12th November 2021

by Tim Hollingsworth
Chief executive, Sport England

Like many organisations committed to creating a more inclusive and diverse society – and particularly to tackle the challenges of racism and racial inequality – Sport England gave significant focus in October to Black History Month.    

During the period it was encouraging to see many positive and inspiring stories being told. It was an excellent platform to learn and discover more about the contributions Black people have made – especially in the sport and physical activity sector – over many generations. 

At Sport England, we used the month as a time for reflection and an opportunity to listen to the Black community and hear first-hand about the journey different groups have been on. 

I was especially grateful to the Black Swimming Association, who explained their work and set out their strategy in a powerful blog on our website. Their undertaking and activity is transforming lives, and reminds us of how investment and positive action in sport and physical activity makes a real difference to communities.  

However, as well as being a celebration, the month also provided a stark reminder of the inequalities that exist within society, and how they manifest in our sector. These challenges make it difficult for many Black people to enjoy the benefits associated with being active that lots of us take for granted.

Active Lives Adult Survey

Last month, we published our latest Active Lives Adult Survey report that provided further evidence of the impact coronavirus (Covid-19) has had on physical activity levels in England.   

It showed that everyone has been impacted in some way by the restrictions designed to stop the spread of the virus, but that certain groups and demographics have been hit harder than others.    

Unfortunately, but predictably, it showed that Black and other minority ethnic adults have been hit hardest. I urge you to read Lisa O’Keefe’s latest blog which looks at the numbers in detail and considers some of the reasons behind them. 

Since then, of course, we’ve had high profile and jarring reminders of the negative impact racism can have on the very fabric of sport.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club

The way Yorkshire County Cricket Club responded to Azeem Rafiq’s complaints, and then handled the wider challenges that followed, has been appalling. It is a positive move that Lord Kamlesh Patel has now taken over the Chair. He has started to right some of the wrongs, but clearly there is much more change and reform that must follow.

And no-one should underestimate the size of the task, especially regaining the trust of the communities and individuals impacted.    

The England and Wales Cricket Board has also, quite rightly, come out and said they will deal with the governance issues at the county. It’s important that – while due process must be followed – once completed they take swift, robust and appropriate action.   

As we are with all sports, we are currently in discussions with cricket about future investment from Sport England. The issues of inclusion, diversity and good governance were central to our recent updating of the Code for Sports Governance and will form a significant part of those discussions – including how we can help them as a national body make sure the strong focus on these issues can be effectively cascaded down to regional and county structures.  

Azeem Rafiq’s treatment makes the need for that more urgent than ever.

Combating racism and tackling inequalities is hugely important to us as an organisation.


The ECB was already creating change in cricket with the introduction of its County Governance Code, which sets high standards and has already seen change in the sport. And the Football Association (FA) has followed suit, with the County FA Governance Code now in place.

Only this week we saw the welcome expansion of their Football Leadership Diversity Code to cover the National League, the women’s pyramid and grassroots game. 

The FA should be commended for that, but football, as well as being in the vanguard for combatting discrimination, continues to be in the spotlight for highlighting how pervasive racist views and negative attitudes can be still.     

In early September, several players from the England men’s football team were racially abused while playing in a World Cup qualifier in Hungary. We supported The Football Association’s call for appropriate sanctions and I was pleased to see UEFA punish the Hungarians, who will now play one game behind closed doors while their governing body was also fined.  

Whether the punishment, which also included a fine, will be enough to change behaviour remains to be seen.  

Yet, the problem of racism is not confined to eastern Europe. The recent sentencing of individuals in this country who abused England’s players online following the penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the final of Euro 2020 demonstrates that we’ve still plenty of work to do to get our own house in order.  

Our work

Combating racism and tackling inequalities is hugely important to us as an organisation. I’ve previously written about the five UK Sports Councils coming together to publish the Tackling Racism and Racial Inequalities in Sport Review (TRARIIS). The findings of this important report are central to delivering our long-term strategy, Uniting the Movement.  

We’ve already created our Together Fund, that builds on our Tackling Inequalities Fund, which is investing £40 million to help culturally diverse communities and people from lower socio-economic groups.  

We will be publishing the next phase of our strategy, which will set out our renewed focus for creating more access and greater opportunities for these groups over the next three years, before Christmas.

This will detail how, together, we can fundamentally seek to tackle inequalities, level up access and use sport and physical activity to help create more resilient, inclusive and connected communities. 

We’ve perhaps seen more clearly than ever over recent months the need for this to receive immediate and priority attention.  

As chief executive, I recognise the responsibility we have at Sport England not just to be part of, but lead that change.  

We’re not there yet – and we still have much to learn, understand and challenge. But we have never been more determined to succeed.

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