Sports stars including Dina Asher-Smith, Lewis Hamilton, Maggie Alphonsi and David Beckham have put their names to a letter calling for greater diversity across the UK sports media, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The letter has been sent to all leading broadcast and print outlets across the country, including the Guardian, by the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BComs), a non-profit organisation that for over a decade has been working towards increasing the historically low number of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds who work in the industry.
There is frustration within BComs at the lack of progress made on this issue and given the largely positive response to Black Lives Matter, it is felt from those involved that now is the time to make a concerted push towards securing genuine and long-standing change.
A seven-point plan is presented in the letter, which has also been backed by Jesse Lingard, Yaya Touré, Jermain Defoe, Denise Lewis and Christine Ohuruogu, and Guardian columnists Ugo Monye and Eni Aluko. A number of journalists not involved with BComs have also signed up, including the BBC presenter Gabby Logan and TalkSport host Laura Woods.
“These last few weeks have brought an exhausting and overwhelming sense of frustration, grief and sadness, following the violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Aubrey. Although these incidents occurred in the USA, the systemic racism that enables tragedies like this to occur also exists in the UK,” reads the letter.
“The role of the sports media is highly influential in shaping our views, and a sports media that lacks diversity is not fit for purpose. We believe now is the time to hold the industry to account to ensure that the sector is truly inclusive from top to bottom.”
Included in the seven-point plan is a call for all media outlets to establish external task forces dedicated to “reviewing, monitoring and challenging” their diversity aims, run compulsory unconscious and conscious bias training programmes for senior management using black facilitators, and ensure all BAME staff, including long-standing freelancers, are able to develop and enhance their career at their respective workplaces.
The numbers around the lack of diversity in the UK sports media are stark, as seen in BComs’ most up-to-date statistics, which are based on journalists who covered major sporting events in 2018, namely the World Cup, Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Wimbledon, the Commonwealth Games and the inaugural multi-sport European Championships, for the major national newspaper titles and broadcasting networks. Of the 338 who did, only 32 (9.4%) came from a BAME background. Of those 32, only five did not have an association with professional sport, while no BAME women filled any of the 109 newspaper roles and only one black writer, of either gender, attended the World Cup.
There is a general acceptance within the industry that things need to change but that has been the case for some time yet little progress is ever made. That was even the case after Raheem Sterling made this a live issue in December 2018 after posting a message on Instagram in which the Manchester City and England winger accused certain publications of helping to “fuel racism” in this country.
“We at BComs have been actively beating the drum about the greater need for diversity in the sports media for more than 10 years. It is wholly unacceptable that we have been having these conversations with you all, and your predecessors, with little to no change in some cases,” continues BComs’ letter. “Many of you have shown solidarity and support to the Black Lives Matter movement and we see this as a junction which could change the course of the industry. We hope you do too.”
A spokesperson for Guardian News & Media said: “We welcome the call from BComs for more rapid change and better diversity across sports media, and would like to meet with BComs to discuss these plans in detail.
“Last year GNM published our first report on pay and ethnicity – which showed that while we have made some progress, we also have much to do. We have set goals to improve representation at all levels and in all departments, and to reduce our pay gap over the long term. It is essential that our employees, just like our journalism, reflect the audiences and communities we serve. We will look at any suggestions from BComs and others on how the Guardian can contribute to positive change across the news industry.”