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Nov 17, 2021

Why Intentional Cultural Shifts are the only way to Drive Racism out of Sport

Former Yorkshire Cricketer Azeem Rafiq isn’t the first person to be racially abused in a professional sporting place of work, and sadly won’t be the last. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, West Indies legend Michael Holden spoke powerfully about the abuse he had endured playing and still receives commentating on cricket in the UK. What Rafiq’s situation has shown is that the issue is not being addressed by the sport.

I have heard countless stories and experiences of the prejudices that Black, and other ethnically diverse people face in sport. AKD Solutions delivered the #TellYourStory research project. This was commissioned by UK Sport and the four home nations sports councils, and looked at the impact of race and racism on sporting journeys. So much talent and opportunity had been thwarted due to the negative impact of racism in sport, at all levels from grassroots to elite, from the locker room to the boardroom.

Many organisations see conflict, hide away from the truth, and thus perpetuate and reinforce the long standing feelings of mistrust of the organisation, and sports as a whole, by huge swathes of ethnically diverse communities. Refusal to see or address issues in a fair and transparent manner gives the impression that, “there is a problem but we don’t care”.

As a result of our research, we developed the ACE model of Leadership, an evolution of leadership for accelerated change. Built on the acceptance of conflict, truth and trust, ACE brings and uses Allyship, Challenge and Experimentation as drivers of leadership to bring change into organisations that is sustainable and effective.

I have witnessed the transformational effects of applying ACE and seen how sports organisations are leading change from boardroom to grassroots. London Marathon Events (LME) have embraced this model, acknowledged problems and are intentionally working to build trusting relationships with diverse organisations. LME are challenging themselves, individually and organisationally to do things differently, and allowing experimentation to bring about change. This is a cultural shift for them and the results are telling. It will take time but they are truly forging ahead to be the best events company in their sphere.

I chaired a panel discussion with five great ethnically diverse people from across the sporting landscape and big business.  Some had been on the journey and contributed to the #TellYourStory research, we conducted. Others had reached out to ask for assistance from AKD Solutions. The audience was fantastic, made up of people working in and around the sports and other industries, from grassroots through to C-Suite executive positions. The common denominator was the experiences of race and racism and the effects on people.  

What the panel shared was their experiences, their focus individually and organisationally and their takeaway actions and solutions to make things better. What was encouraging was the engagement of diverse people, ethnically, culturally, experiential, and much more.  Together in that space there was allyship, challenge and truths being spoken that enriched all who were present.  What it showed me was the power to change things when we all turn up and that although you may have felt alone at times, it certainly is not the case now.

I continue to work tirelessly to ensure that organisations are not on the wrong side of history; that they see and understand the beauty of having diverse places of work, where everyone is included and talent is able to thrive. Let’s hope that others are working just as tirelessly to be inclusive in every way they can.

by Ladi Ajayi, Head of Sport - AKD Solutions

Photo by Yogendra Singh on Unsplash