Celebrate the Commonwealth Games and the Lionesses. Then fight for real diversity | Anne Wafula strike

When you’re a minority, it’s easy to feel like your world has shrunk. That’s how I’ve felt as a disabled woman over the years. But sport was fundamental to opening up the world to me again.

I first discovered the error while watching the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester. Watching TV on that day 20 years ago of female para athletes racing in wheelchairs inspired me as a young mother newly arriving in the UK from Kenya to join a gym. From there I started training as a para-athlete, which has given me access to opportunities I could never have imagined as a disabled girl in Kenya.

As I watched the Lionesses secure their historic win this month, I was reminded of the electrifying power of sport and its potential to act as a life-changing springboard for marginalized groups.

But seeing the lack of diversity in the Lioness team got me thinking about the true nature of meaningful participation. Undoubtedly, the Lionnesses’ victory was a step towards taking women in sport more seriously. But which women? The team’s 11 starting players and five of the substitutes were white. While 43% of players in the men’s Premier League are black, in its female equivalent – the women’s Super League – that figure is just 10%. What is clear is that more needs to be done to better represent marginalized groups in sport.

Great strides have been made in redesigning how athletes should look – and this is evident in the current Commonwealth Games, which for the first time have more medals awarded to women than to men. However, according to a report commissioned by the Black Footballers Partnership, only 1.6% of board, executive and ownership positions in football are held by Black people, and 4.4% of executive positions normally held by ex-players are by occupied by black employees. We need quality training, investment and commitment from leaders and investors to ensure participation is not just an exercise in ticking boxes – and that the sport is open to anyone who wants to get involved from the grassroots.

This process begins with a clear understanding of how sport and physical activity are linked to our values ​​as a society, such as: B. Access to health and education; Equal rights; and even peace and security. These are values ​​that should be available to everyone, but if you have a disability, are a woman, or come from a heterogeneous or low-income area, the odds are slim.

Disabled children have difficulty going to playgrounds or participating in meaningful physical education classes. Minority women face the added challenge of gaining access to safe spaces, despite increasing urgency to implement better safety policies that ensure a duty of care for all athletes. And that should also apply to coaches and supervisors. To improve representation in sport, we need to address a systemic lack of investment in marginalized groups that all too often translates into a lack of opportunity and a diminished voice in society.

Anne Wafula strike at home.
Anne Wafula strike at home. Photo: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Ultimately, we need to understand that physical activity is a non-negotiable requirement for a healthy life. It is vital that we democratize sport so that everyone, regardless of race, gender, location, socioeconomic background, physical ability or educational needs, can experience its benefits without facing obstacles or abuse.

We need to name exclusion and reduced participation in sport when we see it, and a lack of diverse representation for what it is: discrimination. This is not only a problem for sports institutions, but should also be a matter of serious concern all governments that genuinely believe in equal and democratic values.

The good news for the Commonwealth countries is that we have the benefit of a shared value system that has historically helped us fight powerful and destructive ideologies like apartheid and led us to unite to fight climate change fight. I believe we can once again use the strength of these shared values ​​to work together to make sport fully representative of the society in which we live.

Progress is being made in the right direction. Ahead of this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, ministers have pledged to use sport to protect the human rights of LGBTQ athletes and to increase investment in sport projects aimed at improved health, gender equality and promoting sustainable development. It’s a start, but there’s more to do. It would be foolish to underestimate the power sport has to transform lives.

Anne Wafula Strike MBE is a Paralympic wheelchair user

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