By Rod Gilmour
A group of BAME players have written an open letter to England Hockey expressing disappointment at the lack of representation at the top of the game.
Addressing the letter to EH chairman Royston Hoggarth and to the wider board, Sajjad Rashid outlined grievances on behalf of 14 players which claimed that skilled BAME athletes have felt “disenfranchised and disengaged” for decades due to the lack of diversity within the national governing body.
Rashid met Hoggarth four years ago where he highlighted an “engaging dialogue” over diversity. However in the intervening years Rashid and others had noted that “EH has not been successful in progressing minority representation at the top.”
Last year, research undertaken by UK Sport and Sport England found that BAME people accounted for just 5.2 per cent of board members across 130 publicly funded organisations. England Hockey has no BAME members on its board.
As part of its diversity action plan, England Hockey aims to “achieve a more diverse Board by attracting BAME candidates with the right skills and experience” in the medium term, as well as to have a diverse representation at all levels by 2024 in the long term.
However, the letter outlined that there is currently “little transparency from EH on diversity demographics of the people it employs, interviews or asks to represent the country on the pitch.
“As an example, are current EH employed coaching and playing support staff representative of the BAME community? This is not just an issue for EH but many Clubs too. Like other major sports in the UK, not having representation from BAME backgrounds as coaches at the top level, discourages selection of players at the national and international level from BAME backgrounds.
“Without broad representation of role models in the sport, there is little to attract new and junior players from BAME backgrounds to the game.”
Further challenging the board on racial inequality, the letter stated that the “opportunity is here now for the Board to be at the forefront of change in the sport” in order to promote inclusion from the top to the grass roots which, they feel, has under representation.
“This lack of diversity, which has been there for decades has potentially contributed to players from BAME backgrounds feeling disenfranchised and disengaged,” wrote Rashid. “The limited number of skilled players from BAME backgrounds to have made it to the international level for the Men’s team should be seen as a disappointment in English hockey.
“This is much deeper and has not only led to a lack of inclusion all the way down the hockey ladder but worse, through fueling feelings of exclusion for some from BAME backgrounds.”
The letter highlighted that of the 15 players, many had “deep rooted experiences” of racism within the sport “suffered on the hockey pitch on Saturday afternoons, Clubhouses and Committee rooms up and down the country. These experiences range from racial slurs, to perceived officiating bias and also the feeling of exclusion in Clubhouses after games.”
The letter also recommended for EH to engage directly with members of the BAME hockey community, past and present. It continued: “By EH recognising and understanding the feelings of discrimination only then can the path forward be established. Please take the opportunity to reflect and really truly commit to diversity and inclusion changes from the top to the bottom with positive action.”
On Monday, UK Sport and Sport England confirmed that the first joint review of the Code for Sports Governance will be undertaken effective immediately.
The key factor of the review will be the make-up of governance boards, with chief operating officer Simon Morton stressing the need for sporting organisations to be reflective of society.
Morton said: “We are particularly mindful of the need to ensure that boards are reflective of society across the UK. We’ve seen the power of the Code to effect positive change to the gender balance of sports boards, and its right that we consider how this approach can be broadened.”
In a statement confirming the imminent review, UK Sport and Sport England factored three key areas that will be focused on.
A review of elements of the Code – including those that focus on “the boards of sporting organisations, aimed at ensuring greater representation of those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds, those with a disability or long-term health condition, and female representation” – will be undertaken, as well as a check on governance best practice from when the Code was launched three years ago.