Hayley Bennett, an award-winning Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant and campaigner who works with SportsAid, shares with us what accessibility and inclusion means to her and reflects on her own experiences of racism and exclusion….
"I have two passions in life, the first is all about creating an equal society as I am really motivated by justice. And my other passion is sport because of how it can bring people together.
"So, I first worked at Kick It Out for five years helping to diversify opportunities in football as there are a lot of issues there. My passion then took me outside of football to learn from other industries with a goal to bring what I learnt back into sport.
"Now, I work with a lot of sporting and corporate organisations to help develop their strategies for diversity and inclusion to increase awareness through programmes and initiatives. When I was younger, I faced a lot of exclusion as I grew up in an area that wasn't very diverse.
"My first experience of racism was when I was about five-years-old, and someone told me to get out of the school because I was black. That stuck with me and has followed me. I have since experienced a lot of other accounts of racism and it's evident that there is still so much to be done.
"That's really shaped my personal journey but also allowed me to build relationships within my working life. Young people experience a lot of exclusion and using sport is a great way to build those bridges and get to know people who you wouldn't necessarily socialise with.
"You don't really see people like me in leadership roles but my passion and knowledge for sport has allowed me to build rapport with big businesses. So, I've used sport as a vehicle in my life and work.
"For example, my main sport is football but because of issues that I've seen and experienced myself, I realised that it wasn't an inclusive space. As a woman of colour, I realised that there are so little inclusive spaces to access football in a way that is fun and inclusive so my friends and I decided to create a group that could do that.
"So, we created Nutmegs, a place to bring people together through various football events, working with clubs to create a space where people could play football and enjoy themselves.
"SportsAid came to be because they recognise that they have a responsibility to their athletes and the staff that they represent. There are so many issues within sport about a lack of accessibility and inclusion, how do they use their roles and positions to influence the rest of the sports centre and lead by example.
"So, I have worked with them to create opportunities for young and talented people to keep them in the sport, feel represented and don't feel the violent discrimination and exclusion that still goes on. We are creating an ambitious plan to help SportsAid lead in 40 areas over a period of time with the goal to use their influence to drive a change within the sports centre as well as internally.
"It's all about recruitment. Athletes don't always see themselves represented within sport and so don't join. But it's about getting that representation within leadership roles as well. So, I work with companies to help them create initiatives to diversify all of their team and not just the athletes. There's also still a lot of inappropriate language used within institutions, so I create awareness through training and resources to combat that.
"It all goes back to why SportsAid do what they do in supporting young athletes. The theme of accessibility and inclusion for SportsAid Week has come from the athletes which is so important because it's a big wake up call for the sporting world to realise.
"Athletes care about accessibility and inclusion and SportsAid Week can now showcase the work that's being done, what needs to happen next and the importance of this work. One of my goals in the sports sector is to create new initiatives that will really accelerate the pace of change.
"There’s just still so much to do and I really hope that SportsAid’s work can encourage people to create more inclusive spaces in their sports and clubs. I would love to see every stadium have adequate accessibility when it comes to events."
SportsAid Week 2023 is a dedicated week of fun and awareness-raising based around the theme of accessibility and inclusion. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk/our-work/sportsaid-week.