While diversity in athletics can be viewed as a positive thing on a global level, I sometimes wonder whether equality and embracing different cultures is being filtered down to club level, or smaller? I spoke with some Welsh athletes to get their take on it.
Newport-born athlete Josh Brown believes that diversity has broadened over the years but that there’s still work to be done.
“There’s not a lack of diversity in Welsh Athletics at senior level, and there are many black figures that have done well such as Christian Malcom, Jamie Baulch, Colin Jackson to set a good example,” he said. “It’s lower down where it’s a concern.”
The 25-year old has been taking part in athletics since he was 21, after he shifted the focus from his number one sport Rugby to running. Josh’s near-term goals are the commonwealth games, 100 metres, before he hopes to progress to a global stage and compete in the Olympics.
“I’m lucky to have been pushed by family and friends to go into athletics when I did, but talent needs to be recognised and pushed from a younger age, or you could miss the next Christian Malcom.”
This is most likely a school funding issue, he told Anna Vitality. “For me, a potential solution to having more diversity in athletics is for schools to arrange more visits and activity days with athletes from different backgrounds, especially in not so privileged areas. There’s so much talent, but we need role models to get to schools and teach kids how to get out there.”
Fellow runner, Amy Odunaiya, says Welsh Athletics is keen to keep the conversation going to raise awareness around equality and diversity in sport. “The organisation were also publicly supportive of BLM on socials and did a black history month special which showcased black athletes.”
Originally from North Wales, Amy got her first National vest at the age of 19. She is a regular second leg runner for the 4 x 100 metres senior women’s relay team and won gold in the 200 metre event at the Welsh Championships in 2018 and 2019.
While Amy feels the sentiment is there, she stresses that more can be done than posting hashtags.
“I’m not sure if there have been many workshops hosted by Welsh Athletcis or open/public discussions about equality in the sport,” she said.
“I [also] believe assumptions are present at a grass root level about athletes’ abilities and strengths based on people’s ethnicities or body type, due to unconscious biases.”
Diversity and equality is not all about race and culture, but gender, sexuality and disability too.
Paralympian, Julie Rogers, believes athletics – not just in Wales but on a national scale – has done well with integrating disability sport with able bodied athletes in training, competitions, as well as Olympic and Paralympic programmes.
“You’re not treated as precious and you’re seen as a level-playing athlete that trains just as hard,” the 22-year old told Anna Vitality.
Julie first competed at the volleyball team Paralympics in 2013. “People started to tell me that I should give sprinting a go as I had a lot of transferable skills – I’ve not looked back since.”
Since then, Julie has competed as a sprinter at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio and in the 2017 London Senior World Championships, and is now working toward her third Paralympic games in Tokyo 2021.
Albeit born in Bedford, Julie has lived in Cardiff for years and can see how things are changing across the Welsh Athletics. However, she thinks that, as an amputee, her disability might be more accepted than others.
“I know there’s discrimination against people with a lot more physical impairments than myself as a blade runner, but I do think athletics in general has a really healthy community, although there will always be different levels of acceptance across sports.”
“Things also don’t seem as integrated in other mainstream sports,” she added, pointing out that this is especially true for those sports that traditionally haven’t been as inclusive, such as rowing and cycling.
“There’s always room for improvement” she insisted. “There are steps to be taken towards more diversity and acceptance in the whole sporting world. And that comes with education, exposure, the right people educating. It’s not just about telling people what they need to accept, it’s about helping them to understand that someone’s race or disability or whatever it might be, doesn’t define them or the level they are as an athlete.”