This browser is not actively supported anymore. For the best passle experience, we strongly recommend you upgrade your browser.
Skip to main content
United Kingdom | EN-GB

Add a bookmark to get started

| 9 minutes read

Tackling racism and racial inequality in sport – analysis of ‘Let’s not go back to normal’ panel discussion

On Wednesday, 31 March 2021, following Race Equality Week 2021, BT hosted a live panel discussion exploring racial inequality and racism in sport. The panel consisted of: former professional footballer Anton Ferdinand; former English rugby union player Ugo Monye and CEO of Green Park; and Co-founder of Race Equality Matters, Raj Tulsiani.

The panel discussed a number of topics surrounding race in sport and what more can and needs to be done by key institutions in the sports industry to tackle racial inequality and racism. The panellists were joined by a number of key speakers who joined the discussion at different points to share their perspectives. These included: Yvonne Thompson (founder of WinTrade Global Network); Simon Green (MD of BT Sport); Ama Afrifa-Tchie (Head of People Wellbeing & Equity at Mental Health First Aid England); Baroness Helena Morrissey (Founder of ‘30% Club’); Paul Cleal (Equality Advisor to the Board of the Premier League); Jackie Beer (Global D&I Director at BT); Francesca Jus-Burke (Trustee of Diversity UK and Love Rowing); and Sanjay Patel (MD at England and Wales Cricket Board). A full recording of the panel discussion is here.

The conversation began with a quickfire round, during which the panellists were asked to comment on statements read out by presenter Clare Balding and state whether they considered these statements to be true or false.

“It is clear from statements made by organisations that they are taking race inequality seriously”

Raj Tulsiani was vocal in his contention that organisations are not taking race and equality seriously. Tulsiani outlined the three stages which occur within organisations when they attempt to address racial inequality: firstly, panic, sometimes in the form of social media blackouts; secondly, signing up to charters and announcing plans to deal with the issue (which is usually seen in more progressive organisations); and thirdly comes a lack of trust in the process from experiences of organisations not changing in a meaningful way. It was also highlighted that race is one area organisations have the least amount of confidence about addressing, beaten only by transgender issues.

“Walking off the pitch will make no difference”

The panellists agreed that walking off the pitch after being racially abused is a big statement for the players doing it, but that this can have a much more meaningful impact if sports institutions and referees explicitly support such decisions. The panellists considered that it is not the players’ responsibility to carry the burden, but rather that this is an institutional issue that should be addressed from the top down in collaboration with players.

“It’s just banter”

The panellists also considered the statement that racial abuse is “just banter”. Ugo Monye was vocal in his assertion that such a statement from a perpetrator is selfish. Where someone is a victim of racist behaviour, there is no need for that person to justify their offence. Rather, the perpetrator must accept that what they have done has caused offence, and they should take responsibility for that.

“Adverts, marketing and websites often reflect the diversity of an organisation”

Tulsiani highlighted that marketing campaigns from companies suggesting a commitment to diversity do not reflect the predominantly white boards of those companies. Tulsiani stated that such companies are using website slogans and marketing campaigns to present a commitment to diversity rather than actually implementing meaningful institutional changes to meet these aims.

“There is no need for sports to get involved with Race Equality Week”

When considering whether sport should get involved with Race Equality Week, there was consensus from the panel that sport is a microcosm of society, which has a disproportionate effect on society. As such, sport should be a catalyst for positive change in social mobility and be involved with such movements. Anton Ferdinand pointed to the importance of players taking the knee due to its effect of sparking conversation, which is key in educating people on the topic of race.

The panellists agreed that institutions can never do enough to tackle racism and racial inequality and that these issues need to be recognised by such institutions and not ignored as they have been in the past.

For the remainder of the discussion, the panellists and speakers were asked to consider three questions:

1. What can broadcasters do to make a bigger impact on tackling race inequality?

Ferdinand pointed to the unique position in which broadcasters find themselves due to their ability to control a person’s narrative and how they are perceived when they are presented on screen. Ferdinand called for broadcasters to use their platform to call out the right people when instances of racial abuse occur. Simon Green acknowledged that broadcasters can make a big difference to ensure that such instances are taken seriously and are acted upon by the institutions in a position to impact this. Green commented on the impact of on-screen messaging promoted by BT in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, despite receiving some negative feedback on this messaging. Green made the point that BT Sport has been relatively progressive from a diversity and inclusion perspective and referenced various initiatives such as apprenticeship schemes being undertaken by the broadcaster to encourage people from ethnic minority backgrounds to get into broadcasting. Green also mentioned that BT intends to set specific targets to address issues with racial inequality within the organisation. Although, it was recognised that the majority of decision-makers within broadcasting organisations, BT included, are white, and progress is not being made as quickly as many people want and expect.

While the panellists acknowledged that BT Sport is making great progress from a diversity perspective, there was a call from the panel for (a) more defined protection within organisations, such as BT, for whistleblowers and (b) a safe space for people working at these organisations to call out racist behaviour. There was also a call from the panel for broadcasters to be vocal in their support for steps taken by players to take a stand against racism in sport, such as walking off the pitch and boycotting social media when players are subject to racial abuse online. Green expressed a commitment from BT not to underestimate the responsibility of broadcasters to use their platform to create a more diverse industry and to recognise how they have to change in order to achieve this.

Francesca Jus-Burke brought a different perspective and called for broadcasters to do more to broadcast a broader range of sports, showcasing more people from diverse backgrounds competing in stereotypically ‘white’ sports such as rowing, so as to encourage more ethnic minorities to engage with these sports. Jus-Burke highlighted that widely broadcasted rowing events such as the Oxbridge boat race and the Henley Royal Regatta do not reflect the realities and diversity of rowing in the UK. Such events imply that rowing is a sport only associated with wealthy white people based in the South-East of England when, in reality, sports such as coastal rowing and indoor rowing are accessible by a much larger proportion of the British population. Jus-Burke called for broadcasters, such as BT, to use their platform to broadcast everything that is available so that the sports and sports participants we see on our screens better reflect the reality of the sporting landscape across the UK.


75% of ethnic minority employees have suffered racism in the workplace.

95% of ethnic minorities have seen others face micro-aggressions.

100% of ethnic minorities think that allies are needed to address racial inequality.

2. How can leaders and organisations move from words to taking meaningful actions?

Building on this, the next part of the discussion then turned to how leaders and organisations can take meaningful actions when addressing racial inequality. The panel unanimously acknowledged the notion that people, whether the public or the workforce, want to see actual change rather than sometimes ineffective action plans and reports, as these can be viewed as merely tick-box exercises whilst not actually addressing the issue itself. However, it was highlighted that robust protocols are needed across the industry to guide the direction of travel. Paul Cleal OBE recognised the Premier League’s (“PL”) status as a key player in driving change in the industry. In view of this, it is clear that the PL are leading the movement, through initiatives such as their No Room for Racism Action Plan. The commitments, launched in March 2019, aim to create more opportunities for ethnic minority groups in football and eradicate racial prejudice, which has been closely co-ordinated with the principles of The Football Leadership Diversity Code. The PL is taking a six-pronged approach to its commitments to address the key areas of racial inequality in its sport. For example, it defines an executive pathway that focuses on increasing diversity in leadership positions in all areas and creating a workforce that reflects the diversity of the industry and communities. To achieve this, the PL will create new pathways for people from underrepresented groups into Executive and Board roles in the League, clubs and related organisations. By 2026, the PL aims to have 18 percent of staff from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background with a target of 30 percent by 2031.

The PL are also taking action that is more easily transferable to many other industries and sectors. For example, this action includes education of fans, children and young people, making reporting of abusive and discriminatory behaviour easier and more effective and improving enforcement and the effectiveness of sanctions (whether offences occur in stadiums or online). The PL will continue to take action against online discriminatory abuse, supporting players, managers and their families and urging social media companies to take greater proactive interventions. This is coupled with the Online Harms Bill that will be introduced in 2021, as further detailed in Tom Herbert’s previous article: Social media and hate crime: are the UK and EU becoming any safer? and outlined in the Queen’s speech on 11 May 2021. In summary, the Bill proposes to impose a duty of care on companies that allow users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online to protect users against online harm. Companies would be mandated to have appropriate systems and processes in place and would be overseen by an independent regulator.

In parallel, Jackie Beer from BT Sport detailed how the events surrounding the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests were a catalyst for change at BT. In line with this, a programme of work was launched. This has included gathering data on the workforce, conducting a pay gap audit, educating every individual at BT (including the CEO), creating a dialogue with ethnic minority colleagues, undertaking racial awareness training, and overall, empowering ethnic minority colleagues to excel. This path of movement aligns with a petition that, in June 2020, passed 100,000 signatures, calling for the introduction of mandatory ethnicity pay gap reporting. In addition, this non-exhaustive list of criteria for positive change in the workplace is reinforced by a letter sent by Legal & General Investment Management (“LGIM”) to all FTSE 100 companies on 2 October 2020. LGIM is the UK’s biggest fund manager with a 2-3% stake in nearly every FTSE 100 listed company, and it warned firms that there will be “voting and investment consequences” for companies that fail to diversify their senior leadership team by 2022.

3. How can managers and leaders become more comfortable to have conversations about race?

To conclude on the various points raised, the discussion turned to the relationship between managers, leaders and the general workforce. According to surveys undertaken by Race Equality Matters and as detailed above, 75% of people from ethnic minorities experience racism in the workplace. Ama Afrifa-Tchie outlined that a good relationship between leaders and the general population centres on communication (especially with ethnic minorities), and crucially, holding senior management accountable. It was also highlighted that conversations about race do not have to start, and education does not have to be delivered, by people who are themselves from ethnic minorities. Companies should encourage a focus on conversations with empathy. To echo this, Dr Yvonne Thompson stated that companies lock out anywhere between 15-35% of profitability by not having diverse race and gender in the workplace. In her view, quotas are needed to meet targets and keep movement on track. However, this point was opposed by Raj Tulsiani, who reiterated that quotas do not address the underlying issues correctly.


In summary, a variety of interesting topics were covered during the discussion, with an array of insightful viewpoints on how racial inequality and racism should be addressed. From this, it is clear that tackling racial inequality in a specific workplace, industry, or community requires a synergy of holistic actions that may comprise of, but are not limited to, policies, protocols and action plans. However, these approaches are destined to fail if they do not involve listening to the people themselves, creating a dialogue that appreciates the nuances of each individual and a way to channel this into an inclusive environment that creates a sense of belonging to ensure that everyone can excel, no matter their background.


sport, diversity, equality