23 June 2020
Black Lives Matter and Paralympic parity
by Hannah Dines
As disabled athletes many of us have felt the sharp edge of a certain type of discrimination in society. Paralympic sport - its very name even - is built on a battle for parity, we should be the equality experts. Yet elite Para sport is so white, with 20 athletes identifying as BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) out of team of 264 at Rio 2016. The first stage is admitting we have a problem. Such a lack of diversity is a loss for us all.
As the British Paralympic Association itself acknowledged last week: “We need to ensure that there are equal and fair opportunities for all disabled athletes. That means a far higher number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic participants taking part in grassroots sport, competitive sport and elite sport”.
Karé Adenegan is only 19. She has been running one of the world’s first Instagram Live series on Race and Disability. Little literature, academic work or writing exists on experiences of being a black, disabled athlete and Karé has dedicated a significant amount of time trying to change this.
Karé and Kadeena Cox discuss the issues on IGTV
“I haven’t really experienced racism in sport so that’s what makes me want to talk to other people through the livestreams I’ve been doing, it’s just about being able to discuss these things and understand that everybody’s experiences are different and individual” she adds that she find it quite difficult to know whether the experiences she has had as a female black disabled athlete are because of racism, sexism or ableism.
We are both keen to see more black and ethnic minority athletes have experiences in sport like Karé, without the racism and with the success - winning gold in the women’s T34 100m at the London Anniversary Games in 2018 and breaking the World Record and winning silver at the 2019 Para-athletics World Championships. Karé began wheelchair racing early and continued in the sport to represent Great Britain at the Paralympic Games at just 15. “I didn’t really see a lot of people that looked like me competing but that didn’t fully discourage me. It’s really important that we get more BAME Para athletes out there and hopefully that’ll help other young aspiring athletes to come onto the team”.
Adenegan collects BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year 2018
Teenage girls have a huge drop-out rate from sport, double that of boys. It’s even higher for those of ethnic minority backgrounds. Karé didn’t and that has paid off for British Athletics. A significant barrier for beginner athletes with disabilities is that they must buy specialised, expensive sports equipment to be able to access sport in the first place, often with the help of disability equipment grants. When I google, it’s tough to find any specifically for Black athletes and I feel that might be a good place to start.
I think if we can support athletes from different backgrounds financially as well, it might help to bring more black athletes into Para sport.
Karé puts it like this: “I think we’ve also got to understand the financial barriers for example there will be some BAME communities where the finance of para sport will be really difficult to fund. I think if we can support athletes from different backgrounds financially as well, it might help to bring more black athletes into Para sport”.
We discuss the few individuals we know who hold positions of power within Sport management - there’s Anne Wafula Strike who sits on the board of the British Paralympic Association and UK Athletics who joined Karé in one Instagram Live and Paula Dunn, Para athletics Head Coach.
Paula became Head Coach after London 2012, the first female ever to do so. She is also the only Black team leader I am aware of in the whole of Para sport. Karé, speaking on Para athletics and its diversity says “if I compare the team that we had in London 2012 to the team we had in Rio there is definitely an increase in diversity. I’ve always felt comfortable in British Athletics”.
Karé on the track in Rio
The importance of key Black individuals in positions of power within sport is clear, as well as role models like Karé, but the pressure on singular individuals to be the change is also evident. “We shouldn’t just accept a few BAME athletes in a team, or one BAME board member we should actually pursue it until there are more athletes from different ethnic backgrounds representing Great Britain” she says.
I ask her if a support system within sport specifically for Black athletes who can push equality and diversity issues would be useful. “British Athletics are starting discussions around supporting BAME athletes and there are support groups being set up. It’s good to have that network where you can discuss these issues and just learn and grow through discussion. Within that there needs to be a space for disabled athletes to have those same discussions but also talk about our own unique experiences which will be a bit different to those of black non-disabled athletes.”
I hope other National Governing Bodies will take note of the efforts within British Athletics and of Karé’s experiences. As always after speaking to Karé I feel immense pride that we have such an incredible human within the Paralympic community.
Karé has saved her Instagram Live series so anyone can watch them back: @kareadenegan
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