Densign White Statement on BAME Leadership in Sport

When reflecting on the fact that “64% of sport funded bodies had no BAME Board members at all in 2018” (Diversity in Sport Governance Annual Survey 2018/19, Inclusive Boards) we can clearly see an issue of representation which stems back to the lack of equality of opportunity in a sector that has a history of systemic racism.  

This challenge of gaining senior level roles goes across the board for BAME communities and is something that I have witnessed throughout my career. Reaching a position of power and influence as the Chair of British Judo, was very much an uphill battle. 

Upon retiring as a Gold Commonwealth Games athlete for Judo, I was approached to join the board of directors for British Judo, being a Black male in this role, I  really wanted to revolutionise the sports sector to make it more inclusive for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. I was met often with hostility and remarks such as,


“We've done it like this for 20 years, why change it? Don't rock the boat.”   


At one point I withdrew from the board for British Judo after witnessing a clear issue of nepotism and while I tried to lobby for equality it led to conflict and so I withdrew. Then the opportunity arose to run for Chair of British Judo, against the then current Chair. I ran for the position, won by the highest turnout to date and became the first ever Black Chair for a non-governmental body in sport, this was a proud moment for me as I felt finally, I could make change.  

I am aware that I am an anomaly, people who look like me do not normally get to sit in these positions at this level and that is an issue. There is truly a wide gulf between how Black and White people see things, we see things through different lenses, and we all need to see the same picture or else this unbalanced systemic racism will continue indefinitely.

People are uncomfortable with change, it is often met with pushback and you gain more enemies than progress. You don't want to speak about racism and discrimination publicly as it leads to being an outcast. Whereas now, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a platform and diverse community who are finally ready to hear the truth that all of us in the Black community have lived through. 

The only way forward is to recognise the disparity, build effective allyships and have more individuals and organisations put their privilege on the line to support and uplift black communities – particularly for attaining leadership roles. By aligning with charities such as Sporting Equals you are giving power and support to people who identify with these struggles and have resolves to these problems. 

I truly hope that this recent realisation of the lethal impact of systemic racism will be the last and we will see tangible results from the public outcry. I would encourage everyone to become an advocate for anti-racism and support programmes and schemes that aid in resolving the issue of underrepresentation for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnics at a leadership level.  - Densign White, Former Chair British Judo, Chair Sporting Equals and CEO of IMMAF.