Response to Azeem Rafiq’s Evidence Session with the DCMS Select Committee

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Following the evidence Azeem Rafiq gave to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee on the 16th November 2021, there has been an outpouring of support, solidarity and sympathy for Azeem – and rightly so. However, one thing of note is the fact that Azeem's experience is not an isolated one, his horrific treatment has been met with shock and appal throughout the British South Asian community and beyond.

The institutional racism that has been identified runs deeply through the sport and physical activity sector from professional clubs to national organisations. Azeem himself went on record to say that he would not want his children engaging in cricket and would also understand why other British South Asian parents would not want their children engaging in sport. The message that is being reinforced yet again for British South Asians here is, the sport sector is not for you, it is not safe or welcoming and we do not respect you.

The length of time it took for Azeem's experience to be recognised reinforces the deeply entrenched and flawed processes and policies that allow for sport and physical activity clubs and organisations to perpetuate racist behaviours without accountability. Now that the sector and government have finally realised the extent of his experiences, we at Sporting Equals wonder how they plan to rectify this, how will Azeem's experiences be used to safeguard future generations of British South Asians? How many largescale instances of racism are necessary to be raised on a national or global scale before the sport and physical activity sector in the UK truly reflect on the lack of focus and tangible actions they commit to rectifying issues of racism in sport?

We are all well aware of the data and trends which we consistently highlight, starting with a broad look 40% of ethnically diverse participants said their experiences of local sport or leisure clubs had been a negative one in terms of the customer service received, compared to just 14% of white British (Sport and Recreation Alliance, May 2018). This is a broad landscape highlighting how even at a community participation and service user level there is white privilege and behaviours that perpetuate exclusion of ethnically diverse communities in sport.

When reviewing who dictates the policies and practices that create and propagate this unwelcome and unsafe environment it will come as no surprise that Sport England's Diversity In Sport Governance Annual Survey (2018/19) found 64% of sport funded bodies had no ethnically diverse members at all. While there was only 5% ethnically diverse board members identified across Sport England and UK Sport-funded bodies. (Diversity In Sport Governance Report - Inclusive Boards 2018/19). This highlights a very clear picture, leadership is not only lacking diversity but lacking empathy and in cases such as Yorkshire County Cricket Club and others they are prolonging institutionally racist practices which exclude and victimise members of ethnically diverse communities.

In 2017, South Asians made up one third of the recreational playing base in cricket, only 4.2% of First-Class County cricket team players were South Asian (Engaging South Asian communities with cricket, An ECB Consultation Document 2017). This clearly highlights a severe issue between community engagement in the sport and elite talent, where previously sports have insisted the talent pool/interest/ability is not present, with the testimony of Azeem Rafiq we feel it is hard to believe that without further probing and introspection as to is this a talent issue or a racial discrimination issue? Indeed, this is not simply limited to cricket, South Asians are often overlooked across the sport and physical activity sector when looking at elite talent.

Hockey and football are some of the sports with high participation and latent demand from South Asians at a community and grassroot level but where are the role models and national representation? Football in particular is the most participated sport for South Asians yet there are only 12 professional footballers present at an elite level, as indicated by the Professional Footballers' Association records. Similarly, hockey is a major sport for South Asians yet the most prominent and viable role models at a national level were featured in the 1988 Team GB Olympic gold medal winning team. How can it be that these sports have such saturated talent at a grassroot level and yet the representation at elite level is nominal at best?

When reflecting on the sombre fact that 83% of ethnically diverse communities had encountered racism in the sport sector (Sporting Equals, Racism in Sport Survey, July 2020) we can see clearly how deeply entrenched the institutional racism in sport is.This highlights the overt and covert instances of racism ethnically diverse communities face throughout their engagement in sport and physical activity. These experiences have been echoed in the Tell Your Story Report by AKD Solutions (April 2021) which was commissioned by the UK Home Sports Councils to reflect on the true lived experiences of ethnically diverse communities within the UK sport and physical activity sector. Focussing specifically on South Asian communities they are consistently one of the least active groups in England with 34% of the community carrying out less than 30 minutes of exercise a week (Sport England Active Lives Adult Survey, May 2019/20). This connects back to the issue that British South Asian communities feel excluded from a racial standpoint, and they feel unwelcome and unsafe to engage in sport and physical activity. The institutional racism which is rife in the sector focusses specifically on the culture of an organisation, its policies, processes, unwritten practices, and behaviour of the workforce which creates this exclusionary environment.

We hope that with the support of the DCMS Select Committee and the wider sector we can now take time for introspection and admit there is a significant amount of work to be done to solve issues of racism in sport. Sporting Equals will continue to advocate for solutions, and support the communities we serve and seek to advocate for greater racial equity within the sport and physical activity sector, hoping that the time for statements followed by inaction or lack of tangible actions will be buried and instead we can cultivate a spirit of meaningful commitment towards the race equality agenda.

Arun Kang OBE, Chief Executive – Sporting Equals