Conference tackles sports media’s lack of diversity

©Yifan Chen

The lack of diversity within British sports media attracted some of the top names in sports journalism to a conference at the LCC.

The Black Collective Of Media in Sport (BCOMS) held its inaugural D for Diversity conference at the Elephant & Castle college to confront the challenges facing members of ethnic minorities when it comes to breaking into the mainstream media.

BCOMS founder Leon Mann told Artefact he hopes to raise awareness about the current disparity in the media – particularly in sports writing and broadcasting: “People like Lenny Henry are raising really important debates about underrepresentation in the wider media. I’m keen to ensure that the situation in the sports media isn’t an afterthought.

“We have quite serious issues that need to be addressed with action. Working collaboratively across the industry we can achieve greater diversity, but urgency is lacking. I hope this conference helps to generate that,” Mann said.

With only one black UK writer at this summer’s FIFA World Cup and one black presenter who did not play sports at a professional level, the lack of diversity within sports media is painfully obvious.

Responsibility

Mann is keen to push for change: “Progress around this issue has been painfully slow and no-one seems to be able to explain why. In my view, there has never been a urgency to address this. That must change, and we all have a responsibility to contribute.

“We have quite serious issues that need to be addressed with action. Working collaboratively across the industry we can achieve greater diversity, but urgency is lacking.” Leon Mann

“Sports media needs to recognise there is a problem, openly discuss how we address it then commit to a plan with targets. This is not as issue people should approach as something good to do. It has got to be seen as a must.”

Mirror writer Darren Lewis, a speaker at the conference, agreed that the problem is there for people to see but he believes that more opportunities are emerging for young journalists from ethnic minorities.

“The newspaper industry has a problem with diversity, there are not enough black writers, but there has never been a better time to be black and aspiring,” he said.

“For example, my newspaper is running a bursary for young black writers who want to get into the industry. Organisations are more receptive to black football writers. The pool of talent is there and we just need to tap into that.”

Lewis’ colleague at the Mirror, chief football writer Martin Lipton, reiterated Mann’s view that change is essential if the media are to be more representative of the population, and called for changes within the recruitment process. “If you drew a picture of a national newspaper sports reporter, he would be white, middle class and  middle aged,” he said.

Positive discrimination

“There’s nothing in sports journalism that reflects the society we are in. People are hiring mirrors of themselves, and that’s how it’s always been. The right people need to get the job, irrespective of their background. Sometimes positive discrimination is essential, and right now it is needed to change my industry.”

One company that came under fire for its hiring process over the last 15 months was BT Sport. Simon Green, head of the channel, spoke at the conference and admitted a lack of diversity in its on-air talent, blaming time pressures in the run-up to its launch – a reason some of the audience found unacceptable.

“We don’t have the kind of diversity that BT has as a whole, and we need to be looking at ourselves very seriously,” Green said.

“It’s difficult to emphasise the speed at which BT Sport had to launch. There was never any meeting that I had to discuss ethnic diversity of on-screen talent other than once we launched, we may have to steer it differently. We haven’t steered it in a positive discrimination way since that moment. If we had two years to plan, that may have been different. Maybe hands up from a BT Sport point of view, it was purely a timing issue.”

“There’s nothing in sports journalism that reflects the society we are in.” Martin Lipton

ITV football commentator Clive Tyldesley told the conference that an ‘old boys club’ culture in sports broadcasting still remains, and called for barriers to be broken down for people from different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

He also suggested that too many employment opportunities for people currently working in TV sports broadcasting had come through family or friends in the industry.

“This discriminates against all kinds of people. I think social and economic diversity is more important than race, or gender or sexual orientation. For instance, there aren’t many parents around that can afford accommodation in central London for three months for their children to work for no money [on internships]. This limits the opportunities available, which is a real problem.”

With sports broadcasting figures from the likes of the BBC and Sky Sports News also in attendance, Mann believes the conference could be the push that the sports media need to recognise there is a problem and start dealing with these issues. He also thanked the LCC for hosting the event and its willingness to help spread awareness of the issues raised.

“I’m thrilled the conference took place at the LCC,” Mann added. “It’s based in one of the most diverse areas in the country and attracts students from a range of backgrounds. If the sports media can work with colleges such as this with a genuine commitment to diversity, this can only help the sports media become more representative.”

Listen to some of the speakers at the conference.