Esha Nayar: Role models, representation and basketball for all

Manchester Mystics' Esha Nayar shares her thoughts after attending the Sporting Equals, Peloton, Basketball England and England Netball 'on tour' event, which looked at the barriers people from diverse ethnic communities face when accessing sport and physical activity, and the need to create more role models. 

On Friday the 1st of December, Sporting Equals and its partners Peloton held an event that sought to celebrate underrepresented groups in sport, particularly those from South Asian and East Asian heritage.

The event took place at the Regal in London. The event was part of Peloton’s on tour campaign and allowed a number of their instructors to engage with some of Sporting Equals associate members, as well as the local community. Individuals from Asian backgrounds who are involved with basketball and netball were invited to attend.

The day consisted of sessions being run by coaches from each sport, followed by games. When asking Sporting Equals CEO Arun Kang OBE on why events like these are important he referred to the attendees and the positives of participating, ‘they’re all buzzing, the energy in the room shows what sport can do, it brings people together… sport isn’t just about healthy body but it’s also about healthy mind and that’s the sort of thing that we want to do more of, more community based events’.

Creating an inclusive environment for all

Celebrating and highlighting underrepresented groups within sport is important, especially for national governing bodies looking at moving towards more inclusive environments. The focus on basketball and netball were for similar reasons, Kang said that ‘netball is a big sport for us, we know that there’s a lot of the South Asian community involved’ and Sporting Equals National Partnership Manager Tim Masih said basketball was selected because of Sporting Equals relationship with Basketball England (BE), ‘basketball is such an untouched resource of South Asian and East Asian players, so I wanted to create an opportunity for people from that type of background to get involved and play the sport’.

The day started off with basketball drills followed by netball, led by coaches from these underrepresented groups. All attendees got involved with all the activities regardless of which sport it was.

The event opened the opportunity for individuals to try a new sport, as well as showcase their involvement within their own sport. The attendees of the event demonstrated that there are people from underrepresented groups involved with these sports, they just might not always be advertised.

BE was named Sports Organisation of the Year at the Sporting Equals Awards and it continues to work towards ensuring that every group feels seen within the organisation. By attending events like these and working with Sporting Equals, it reflects BE’s intentions of creating an inclusive environment for all. ‘I think the thing with basketball is you know the governing body is truly wanting to make a difference’, said Kang.

'You need representation at every level'

When looking at underrepresentation, there’s more to it than just the involvement of players. Kang described underrepresentation in all roles, ‘representation at every level, you need it. Board level so they can talk about the big issues, you also have representation falling towards coaches in particular, even officials are really important in all of these structures.’

When discussing the underrepresentation of Asian coaches in basketball, BE's Head of Talent and Performance Steve Bucknall stated that ‘it’s not for lack of trying. We’ve got Krumesh Patel who’s involved in basketball at the very highest level and we’ve supported him all the way through his journey’.

Charles Turrell, who is of East Asian heritage, led the basketball sessions at the event, he coaches CBL team NewVic Knights, London Youngbloods U14s and is a coach on the England Talent Programme. BE encourages people to get involved in coaching, the London Coaches Program seeks to develop those involved into coaches, a number of these also attended the event.

Members from the Cosmopolitan Roses Netball Academy attended, representing their sport at the event. The club aims to tackle underrepresentation of Asian girls in performance level netball. When speaking to a number of individuals who are a part of the club, a common point of discussion was the lack of Asians within the sport.

One lady that I spoke to stated that in elite level netball, South Asian females make up around 1% of the player base. Clubs in any sport that aim to encourage those from underrepresented groups to get involved are an extremely positive thing, not only can it help to increase representation, it exposes the sport to those who otherwise may have been hesitant to participate.

'Basketball is for everybody'

Role models are important for underrepresented groups, as it can help to encourage people to get involved. Role models can contribute to whether a person chooses to participate. When discussing participation barriers for those from underrepresented groups, Kang said, ‘I would say some of it is not seeing people who look like you at the top of the game’.

Having role models that you can relate to can also provide a more welcoming environment, when discussing how to encourage young people to get involved, Bucknall stated that, ‘role models do have a point of emphasis for kids to look at to say they want to become that person, be like that person or get involved in that sport, so role models and having people that they can relate to is always important’.

When a particular group isn’t seen much in a sport, it can produce the idea that it isn’t for them. Providing role models for underrepresented groups can be challenging due to low participation levels, which is why it’s important to highlight them as they come along.

The event succeeded in getting people from underrepresented communities involved in different sports, as well as highlighting those who are involved with the sport.

It put basketball on the map for those who haven’t played before, Steve Bucknall said, ‘basketball is for everybody there’s always a level you can find to play at’.

Basketball is a diverse sport and BE is actively seeking ways it can tackle underrepresentation. For other organisations who may not be as proactive as Basketball England, Kang says, ‘come and speak to Sporting Equals, we will broker relationships and get you into those communities, just like today and help build long term relationships’.

Masih shared his insight too, ‘I’d encourage all NGBs to complete our race equality survey and that provides the opportunity to actually look back and see how diverse your national governing body is, not just in terms of coaches but senior level positions and non-exec positions as well, taking that look internally, making small steps and taking the opportunity to reflect’.