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Ethnicity and culture matters in English sport

Muslim girls playing tennis
Copyrights: Sport England

Ethnicity and culture matters in English sport

Key findings from the Actives Lives Survey show that policy-makers and practitioners need to carefully assess their policies for BAME communities.

On 27 January 2020 Sport England launched its latest and most ambitious report on Ethnicity and Culture Matters in Sport. Based on evidence from two years of the Sport England Active Lives Survey the Strategic Lead for Research and Analysis, Andrew Spiers and his team worked with Professor of Equality and Diversity in Sport and Education Kevin Hylton to communicate the key findings to stakeholders to invigorate sport for all Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in England.

Ethnicity and culture matters

The process for us in the writing of Ethnicity and Culture Matters in Sport was dialogic and critical. It was agreed that the statistics would need to do more than ‘speak for themselves’. This would ensure that Sport England and its partners in sport would comprehend the fundamentals of the evidence base and potential ways the report could be used to contribute to thoughtful action.

We ensured that social justice, ‘race’ and its intersections, racism, and the sporting environment were part of a holistic approach to the individual, community and institutional factors that influence participation in sport and physical activity. Kevin underpinned his approach to his conversations with Andrew with his application of Critical Race Theory which is a framework that has been used to critically examine ‘Race’ and Sport over many years. Andrew worked with this team to carefully represent the strategic aspirations of Sport England.

The report, Ethnicity and Culture Matters in Sport, emphasised the necessity for influencers in sport to carefully assess their policies for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. In light of the BAME projected census growth expanding from 20.2% of the population in 2011 to 39.2% in 2051, these diverse populations require concerted consideration as we shift further into the 21st Century.

Compounding these population growth statistics is a matter of geography. Over 50% of England’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic population live in three cities: London, Greater Birmingham, and Greater Manchester. Issues of policy, strategy and resourcing locally and nationally need to contemplate this spread and how the historical inequalities concerning a range of diverse communities can best be resourced.

Sport England believes that everyone should feel able to engage in sport and physical activity. Yet, BAME populations are more likely to miss out on the physical and mental wellbeing, individual, social, community and economic development that accrue from the benefits of sporting inclusion. We ensured that Sport England’s approach to this project incorporated an explicit integration of the ‘everyday’ place of ‘race’ and racism in the lives of BAME populations in England. Given the significance of ‘race’ and racism in all of our lives it would be remiss to ignore its lived reality.

Only focusing on the barriers and motivations of the individual will not enable a full enough understanding of where the current issues and potential solutions really exist.

Active Lives data enabled Sport England to demonstrate where populations were over or under-represented in sports and physical activities and how this contributed to the overall picture of inequality. In doing this it is clear to see in the report how significant the variables and intersections of ‘race’, ethnicity, culture, gender, class, and disability delineate levels of participation from the norm. These associations are subtle in some cases and stunning in others, yet we cannot afford to be colour blind nor race neutral in how we plan our sport provision, nationally, regionally or locally. In addition, the Active Lives Children and Young People data that focuses on 5-16 year olds demonstrates crucial insights of under and over-representation that policymakers and practitioners in sport need to further understand from their own vantage points.

By looking at how certain factors operate together, we can start building a more detailed understanding of under-served groups, and identify where the challenges for the sector really exist.

Article by Professor Kevin Hylton, Professor Emeritus of Equality and Diversity in Sport and Education at Leeds Beckett University, and Andrew Spiers, Strategic Lead for Research and Analysis, Sport England.


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Kevin Hylton, Andrew Spiers


Tuesday, March 17, 2020 - 14:30