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Black representation in sport

The need for change

One of the unique properties of sports is that its social impact far outweighs its (significant) economic impact. Recent months have highlighted the seismic ability that an athlete, club or governing body can have in being a catalyst for societal change.

The sport industry’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement has epitomised this, with matches around the world beginning with sports stars kneeling in support – powerfully demonstrating that rival teams are united against racism - with last weekend's social media boycott another example of the industry coming together in an act of defiance. Meanwhile, off the pitch, governing bodies are beginning to rethink their approaches to racism and discrimination, which previously failed to eradicate these issues.

While on pitches, courts and playing fields the fight against racism in sport continues to make headlines, the experiences and issues facing Black people behind the scenes and in the industry’s boardrooms also needs to be addressed.

Underrepresentation in sport

The lack of diversity at the top impacts the average person and their ability to feel included and welcome in this sector

- Arun Kang, CEO of Sporting Equals

The issue of underrepresentation within the industry’s boardrooms and executive suites is damning given the contribution made in many sports by Black athletes.

Wafula Strike is the only Black board member among major sports in the UK representing UK Athletics and only 3% of board members identify as Black across the 130 Sport England and UK Sport funded bodies.

In contrast, around 30% of professional players of the UK’s most popular sport, football, are Black.

There is a worrying lack of representation in decision-making positions across all areas away from the pitch.

The impact of this is significant. There is so much to be gained when bringing together different viewpoints in a team across gender, culture, social classes as well as ethnic backgrounds.

Having different experiences and perspectives within a team enriches its overall ability, providing a broader skillset to draw from. A less diverse team will likely suffer from significantly overlapping skills and perspectives that may leave it blind to optimal solutions, approaches and delivery options, limiting its ability to achieve its goals.

What’s more, subconscious bias or homophily often inadvertently leads boards to hire like-minded individuals. Boards with two or more ethnically diverse directors are twice as likely to rate diversity as a high priority in comparison to boards with no ethnically diverse directors.1

Further, it was found that when filling open board seats (Director level), boards on average considered 0.2 ethnically diverse candidates per vacancy and 2.9 in total on average. Boards with two or more ethnically diverse directors considered an average of 1.0 candidates per vacancy and 3.9 in total.2

This trend then perpetuates, discouraging and diluting the incentives of Black individuals trying to break down these barriers. Having proudly managed to enter the industry, I’m passionate about trying to push this agenda forward and create more opportunities for diverse individuals to experience working in the industry many of us love.

The need for change

This is a time to speak on these subjects, speak on injustice, especially in my field

- Raheem Sterling, Manchester City

Throughout my career, I have been part of predominately white male teams and while these teams have been supportive, inclusive and have encouraged me to reach my goals, many friends and my industry colleagues have not had such positive experiences.

The accounts that Black athletes and the few Black board members have shared in recent months, outlining the challenges faced and obstacles in achieving their goals, have been stirring. It struck me that as a young Black man in the industry, I am not alone in finding it hugely demoralising at times to see few people that look like me in senior positions within the industry.

The saying goes that you can’t be what you can’t see. While this is not a phrase I subscribe to, it is likely a feeling and part of the thought process of many who are speculatively looking to build a career in sport. As a result of this, as well as a lack of opportunities available for many people from ethnically diverse backgrounds looking to get into sport, the industry has a very limited talent pool to recruit from.

However, recent events have shown promising signs of inspiring overdue change. With inclusion top of mind for many organisations, now is the opportune time to continue this positive momentum to provide greater opportunities and inspiration that will encourage more Black people to begin a career in sport.

The sooner this issue is addressed, the sooner the industry will be able to reap the rewards that diversity offers. There is evidence that diversity itself sets in motion a virtuous cycle which enables diversity to flourish, as well as the benefits that come with it to grow.

What to do?


Working with Sporting Equals and engaging in discussions with other governing bodies and sport stakeholders has shown there is a real desire across the industry to even the playing field. There have been some promising signs of change driven by events in recent years. At Deloitte for instance, our Black Action Plan has launched with a list of five commitments, based on inclusion and driving meaningful change, but we still have a long way to go – similar to most organisations across society.

What’s clear is that no individual, club, body or business will overcome this alone. This is, and should only be, the beginning. Actual and tangible progress on inclusion is essential to avoid a false dawn. We must work together to understand the barriers standing in the way of progress, ensuring that individuals from every background and ethnicity are equally courted and supported to begin a career in the industry. Additionally, the industry must foster an inclusive culture for professionals at every stage of their career, while raising the profile of role models from diverse backgrounds for individuals to aspire to, and to be inspired by.

While ethically this is the right thing to do, increased inclusivity and diversity has also been shown to positively impact profitability, showcasing the commercial rationale for action too. Ultimately, the power of sport, the audiences and world-class athletes it serves, and its ability to stir such passion, excitement and aspiration for communities and fans across the world provides a tremendous platform to be a leading light on this issue.


1 Source: Harvard Business Review
2 Source: Harvard Business Review

This article is authored by Theo Ajadi, Consultant, Sports Business Group, Deloitte LLP.

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