Comment: British sport whiter than white - but that's not a good thing

A lack of black and Asian administrators has again raised the question: why? Alan Hubbard reports
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The Independent Online

Football's image of being largely a whites-only preserve off the field has drawn a deserved indictment in the newly published report by the Independent Football Commission, but the rest of sport cannot afford to feel smug. An across-the-board examination of sports organisations, from major to minor, reveals a shocking lack of representation at administrative and management level by those ethnic minorities whose presence on the playing field has proliferated in recent years.

Of the 28 Olympic sports, only one has a non-white chairman. And, ironically, he is White. Densign White, 43, a three-time Olympian and a politics graduate from Wolverhampton, heads the British Judo Association, but he is a lone black figure in the crowded arena of British sports government.

Attend any annual conference of the CCPR, the old Central Council of Physical Recreation, who consider themselves the "parliament" of some 250 UK sporting bodies, and you can count the number of black or Asian faces on one hand.

Nor are there any black staff employed at top level in the two Government-backed sports quangos (UK Sport and Sport England), the CCPR or the British Olympic Association. Nor, indeed, in any of the leading sports organisations running football, cricket, rugby and tennis, nor in the core executive team of the London 2012 Olympic bid. Even UK Athletics, with a massive number of black competitors, have only one relatively senior black staff member, the ex-sprinter Paula Dunn, a development officer, among their 120 employees.

So football is by no means alone in needing to shake up its strategies towards achieving racial equality in its executive structure, and eradicate the perceived institutional racism that minority groups believe still exists.

That is certainly the view of several senior black sports figures, especially the former world karate champion Geoff Thompson, a past long-serving council member of Sport England, and ex-footballer Garth Crooks, the BBC presenter who sits on the Government-funded body and helped draw up the report. Thompson, 46, who runs the much-acclaimed Youth Charter for Sport, believes the Government must take a firmer line. "There has to be a coherent policy driven by the Government via the Department of Culture, Media and Sport delivered to the 'Royal Family' of sport - by that I mean the leading quangos and the major sports bodies. There was such a concerted attempt under the sports ministries of Tony Banks and Kate Hoey to promote the cause of racial equality at administrative level in sport, but things have gone quiet. Little has been done since the CCPR held a conference with the theme "Sporting Equals" a few years back and the impact of that document, sadly, in my view seems to have gone off the boil. The equity and inclusion factor needs to be looked at in the structure of all sport, not just football.

"It is all very well having black role models, but the kids ought to be encouraged rather than discouraged to follow them and also to make a career out of sport once they have finished playing. This should be a priority for governing bodies. I would like to see them reporting three or four times a year to the DCMS about the measures they are taking, with their grants dependent on this."

All the sports organisations contacted vehemently deny any bias against employing black or Asian staff members at senior level. There is, they argue, a lack of suitable applicants from ethnic minorities. But Thompson says: "I am flabbergasted that there is no senior black presence on the administrative side of most sports bodies. Sport England actually had two first-class black sports administrators in the former athlete Lorna Booth and Pat Fairclough, who for many years ran women's basketball here, but they went in the redundancy purge.

"One of the biggest benchmarks is going to be this year's Olympics. We should be looking to compare with the last Games the number from the ethnic minorities who are part of the team - and I don't mean competitors, but support staff and coaches. That will be the key to see if there has been real progress. How many black administrators will there be in Athens? How many were there with the Rugby World Cup team in Sydney? I suspect nothing will really change until we get a firm lead from the Government and the DCMS."

Crooks, who maintains that the system is riddled with fear of change, says Thompson has got it "spot on". "If you ask whether governing bodies of sport are any different to football in this respect the answer is probably no. Our report shows that between 70 and 80 per cent of black players want to be coaches, but the recruitment is about one per cent. The current generation are turning away from coaching, management or committee work and saying it is not for them. But you have to ask whether sport has the structure and mechanism in place that concentrates on developing equity and diversity off the field. There is no doubt the quality of candidate is there."

As Thompson says: "Sport reflects society, and clearly we still have a hell of a long way to go."