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Profile: Sporting Equals chief executives Arun Kang talks about the need for more diversity at board level

CEO, Sporting Equals

Published in Sports Management Sep 2016 issue 126
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Arun Kang, CEO, Sporting Equals
Arun Kang, CEO, Sporting Equals

Does British sport have a race problem? On the face of it, most people would probably say ‘no’. Anthony Joshua, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Amir Khan and Mo Farah are among the most celebrated and recognised athletes in the country, while nine out of the 23 players (39 per cent) in England’s Euro 2016 squad came from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME).

However, away from elite sport, other statistics tell a different story. According to equality body Sporting Equals, only three per cent of board members at national governing body (NGB) level are from ethnic minority backgrounds – compared to the 13 per cent national average – while the number of BAME individuals taking part in grassroots sport is proportionally lower than their white counterparts.

Matchmaking
To try and make headway on the former point, Sporting Equals is putting together a checklist which provides advice on ways to engage with people from diverse background, and how to advertise jobs to the widest spectrum of individuals. The document will be distributed to interested governing bodies in the autumn. The Birmingham-based organisation – headed up by chief executive Arun Kang – has been active in this space already, hosting a Leaderboard event in the House of Lords in 2014 which presented the damning findings around the number of BAME people in executive and board positions within NGBs.

The event will take place again later this year, and will be the second time Sporting Equals has held court in parliament in 2016 after staging an event in March to raise the awareness around the challenges faced by BAME communities in the sport sector, organised in part by former sports minister Helen Grant and ex-England footballer Sol Campbell.

Talking to Sports Management Kang reveals that the upcoming event will be more of a “matchmaking” setting, in which BAME professionals – lawyers, medical professionals and accountants etc – who have an interest in becoming sport administrators will be introduced to “the appropriate sports bodies”.He does, however, admit that there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed to improve the diversity on the boards of NGBs, with extensive work going on alongside Sporting Equals’ programme of networking and brokering events.

Sustained approach
Firstly, Kang explains that there is a need to “upskill” some potential candidates to foster a “better understanding of how the sports sector works”, and that the organisation was exploring the possibility of creating a development-type training scheme which involved mentoring and shadowing within NGBs. He adds that Sporting Equals will be showcasing a number of such pilots during its autumn event.

Kang also states the need for a “more sustained approach” from NGBs in their quest to shake up their boards – something they will need to do to comply with the government’s UK Sport Governance Code, which has board diversity at its heart.

One recommendation made by Sporting Equals is to make use of the number of “ethnic media outlets” in the UK to showcase positions and make the case for sport. He points to a “huge network of Chinese TV channels, Asian magazines and The Voice newspaper” as fertile ground for building a rapport with communities.

“A good example is the Islam Channel,” says Kang. “It’s always looking for content, and it would be a good idea for an organisation wanting, for example, Asian women to apply for board positions to go on one of the shows and be interviewed and advertise off the back of that.

“If they just advertise and expect people to come rushing to sport, they’re not despite the fact that a lot of professional Asian women would love to get involved in sport. It has to be sustained.

“They can’t just put one advert out and say ‘we didn’t get any interest’, but that’s the experience I’ve had with some organisations.”

untapped markets
Another key part of Sporting Equals’ mission is to open doors to grassroots sport for more people from more backgrounds, helping organisations shift their way of thinking and introduce them to cultural sensitivities.

“Sport needs to understand that it has to change the offer for specific communities,” says Kang. “Demographics have changed, society has changed.”

Sporting Equals encouraged West Bromwich Albion Football Club to engage with a local Sikh temple with “30,000 footfall a week”. Members of that community now regularly use the club’s sports facilities, and take part in a number of other activities on a regular basis.

Kang makes the point that if sport can engage people in such large numbers, NGBs should be looking at the business case rather than just the moral case for reaching for ethnic communities.

“There are untapped commercial markets out there – if NGBs and organisations can engage with 30,000 BAME people in a Sikh temple, then I’d be surprised if local Asian businesses wouldn’t want to be part of it,” he says. “We’re talking about about billions of pounds worth of business that sport just hasn’t engaged yet.”

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