• Param Barodia

Why Representation In Sports Matters

Asian-American tennis star Kristie Ahn has recently announced her retirement in a social media post full of emotion and appreciation for the people who have been important throughout her career. Included among these were Michael Chang and Michelle Kwan, icons of their time and figures who have maintained their legend status through to the current day. For Kristie Ahn, it is difficult to undersell the importance of the stars that came before and opened the door for ethnic minority stars to flourish on the world stage. Trailblazers are still active today too, with stars like Lewis Hamilton and Naomi Osaka continuing to bring social issues to the fore of sports.

The issue of representation in sports has now become deeply linked to wider social issues, as seen with Osaka’s fierce activism regarding police brutality and anti-Asian violence in the United States. Over time, the issues have become intertwined to a point where it is now difficult to separate them at all. The stances taken by the stars have also encouraged sports’ regulatory and officiating bodies to take their own action. This has included tennis bodies postponing all matches for a day after the shooting of Jacob Blake by American police in August 2020, on the back of Osaka’s actions. Hamilton has also been key in the Mercedes F1 team changing their livery to black from silver to represent the Black Lives Matter movement. Motorsport has also been influenced in the #WeRaceAsOne campaign which was part of the sport’s wider focus on diversity, inclusion, and sustainability. The world’s most popular sport has been a similar story, with Manchester United and England star Marcus Rashford receiving many awards and an MBE for his work to fight food poverty and support underprivileged children across the UK.

This representation matters because all representation matters. People are influenced by what they see on their screens, and having a plethora of minority role models only serves to give young people more paths to follow. Every sportsperson who is the first in a group to do what they do is breaking down barriers for everyone they represent. Bringing more talent to each sport only serves to make the sporting world a more representative and competitive space to be in. It is almost hard to imagine some sports now without the multitude of cultures that enjoy it on a global scale, and that’s exactly where we want to get with all sports.

Sport has long been seen as a representation of the society we live in, and as society has developed the sporting world has changed with it. We remember the memory of the athletes who came before us and broke down the barriers while working to break down the barriers for the next generations. The representation issues extend off the pitch and track and into the boardrooms. As Deloitte’s report on Black representation in sports shows, only 3% of board members in football identify as black, in comparison to some 30% of players. As far as some sports have come, we still have a long way to go when it comes to leadership in the backroom. Sports media is another aspect that remains dominated by males and white people, according to a 2021 survey by ESPN.

Initiatives are already working to remedy the issue, organisations like Sporting Equals and Deloitte with their Black Action Plan. Sportspeople like Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, and Jofra Archer are key in furthering the representation of minority groups through their activism. It is through collaboration with these key people in the sports and activists on the sidelines that we will be able to resolve the problem of representation in sports