D for Diversity or Delusion?
It would be wrong to deny progress is being made when it comes to diversity within the sports media.
According to data shared at the third annual D Word conference on minority ethnic, female and disabled representation in the industry, things are slowly changing.
Since 2016, there has been an 8.9% increase in the number of women working in UK sports journalism; this number includes a 1.95% rise in females from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. However, overall BAME representation has actually decreased by 0.1%.
Sports journalism remains an overwhelming white, male business, so the question that really needed answering at the latest D Word event was: are we deluding ourselves about the pace of that progress, or even the genuine will to see things change when it comes to recruitment and progression?
When we will get a sports media that truly reflects the UK’s multicultural society and its gender balance, and gives disabled people more career opportunities?
The D Word conference is organised by the Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS) which aims to promote BAME, gender and disability equality across sports journalism in print, online, on TV and radio.
Held at the BT Sport studios in East London, the event attracts big hitters from the industry, all keen to show they take the issue of representation within it seriously.
‘BAME TV sports pundits? Sure. BAME presenters, producers, editors and production staff? Far less likely. Why do these roles seem less accessible to non-white, female and disabled candidates?’
This year’s cast list included Simon Green, head of BT Sport, Shaun Custis, sports chief at The Sun, Stephen Lyle, head of Sport Channel 4, and Steve Smith, director of content, production and operation at Sky Sports, plus others important figures from BBC Sport, The Guardian and ITV.
However, the impressive roll call only serves to underline that most of the people in senior positions in the sports media still tend to be white and male.
A series of workshops took place, with titles such as ‘Finding Solutions’, ‘Thinking Global’, ‘Going Digital’ and ‘Moving Forward’ during which many interesting and viable ideas were put forward.
However, this being the third D Word conference, many people were starting to get very upset about the lack of progress that had been made; a reminder to those at the top that frustrations are growing.
The casual observer, particularly those watching sport on TV, might wonder exactly what the problem is; after all, non-white, non-male faces aren’t in short supply in front of the camera.
However, that’s a problem in itself. For example, black people in the sports media with no professional sports background remain very thin on the ground. BAME TV sports pundits? Sure. BAME presenters, producers, editors and production staff? Far less likely. Why do these roles seem less accessible to non-white, female and disabled candidates?
There were many more stats highlighted at the D Word conference to underline this disparity of opportunity.
Just three journalists sent to cover the 2018 Fifa World Cup by UK national newspapers were from BAME backgrounds, and only three were female. There was only one black British sportswriter out of around 60+ at the tournament
On a wider scale, only a handful of the 338 roles covering the FIFA World Cup, Winter Olympics and Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, Wimbledon and the inaugural European Championships in broadcast and written media were filled by BAME journalists.
There wasn’t a single woman from a BAME background involved in any of the written coverage of the major events looked at by BCOMS in 2018 across the national newspapers.
The D Word conference is an event where leading figures from journalism, sport and academia take part in a collective debate on the future of the sports media and the opportunities to create a more diverse industry as it evolves to meet new consumer trends.
This would be fine, but the same debate is still being had third time around, and for some things aren’t changing rapidly enough – hence some of the frustrations on show.
‘Many of those heads of sport who spoke at the D Word conference about the positive steps already taken are deluding themselves when the stats show very little has changed’
However it wasn’t all doom and gloom at the conference. It was announed that London Sport and BCOMS have a new partnership to ‘support young BAME Londoners to forge careers in sport journalism’.
Leon Mann, the founder of BCOMS, said: “The sports media has a serious problem with under-representation, and BCOMS is committed to playing a role in changing that.
“The partnership with London Sport is highly significant for us, as this support allows our network to deliver some very practical outcomes, while helping to provide the industry with some new diverse talent.
“We cannot wait to work with the young people and see them thrive at the [next] London Youth Games and beyond.”
The partnership will identify aspiring sports journalists under the age of 25 and from diverse backgrounds who will receive training and mentoring from the BCOMS network.
This isn’t just a UK-based problem, though. In America, many reports have been published on sports media diversity. According to one from 2017, 85% of the sports editors, 76% of assistant sports editors, 80% of the columnists, 82% of the reporters and nearly 78% of copy editors and designers are white.
At least in the UK, organisations such a BCOMS and London Sport are working towards a more diverse sports media industry.
However, I believe the way that many of those heads of sport who spoke at the D Word conference about the positive steps already taken are deluding themselves when the stats show very little has changed.
A new approach is needed in which senior sports media bosses look more closely at their recruiting processes and seek to avoid simply perpetuating the mainly white, mostly male teams they currently have in place.
This can only start from accepting that currently they are failing to back up their well-intentioned pledges about making the business more diverse.
The D Word conference is undoubtedly good for diversity as it highlights the tensions between the progress made (some) and still needed (plenty) in the sports media industry.
Will some of those tensions have been addressed by the time the next D Word events takes place?