British rowing legend Moe Sbihi MBE, an Olympic gold and two-time bronze medallist, shares with us what accessibility and inclusion means to him as he reflects on his sporting journey….
“Sport should be available to everybody and there shouldn’t be any barriers to participating. I was just a normal kid, 15-years-old, playing every single sport that my school would offer.
“I lived in an area where there were dozens of rowing clubs but nobody told me I would be a good rower until they came into my school, tested me and made the sport accessible to me.
“I always wonder where I’d be if that never happened - I wouldn’t be a rower, I wouldn’t be an Olympian or have an Olympic medal.
“My passion is to make that magic happen for more people. For people who feel those goals are unattainable, people for whom certain sports seem inaccessible.
“When I committed to trying rowing, I was told it was an elitist and that I’d feel excluded. The moment I set foot inside a rowing club, I found that was wrong.
“I had a great experience but most people don’t get past that perception, and never make it in. Inclusion is to make sport attainable and as open as possible so everybody can participate - no matter their age, identity, religion or race.
“That’s the core message of SportsAid Week. Sport is for everyone. Barriers to participation still exist but initiatives like SportsAid Week help us break those down, bit by bit.
“SportsAid help more young people to access what they need to chase their dreams. Breaking down financial barriers has never been more important when you look at the cost of living, and it’s the best way of keeping people involved.
“What I’m trying to do is help rowing open up its doors. Clubs like Fulham Reach Boat Club and London Youth Rowing are reaching inner-city schoolkids and giving them the chance to go out on the water.
“It’s not just London - these initiatives are happening in small towns and big cities across the country. That’s so important. Soon those clubs will produce a rower who goes on to become an Olympic champion and there’s nothing more powerful than that.
“The biggest thing is to show it can be done. You go through history - Jackie Robinson was the first African-American to play Major League Baseball. That opens up a young kid’s mind. It shows the younger, aspiring athlete that it can be done.
“The moment you have a renegade, a breakthrough who shows what’s available, people want to follow. I feel very proud to be the first Muslim athlete to carry the British flag into the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
“I ask myself, ‘why me, why has it taken this long?’ I still don’t feel worthy of the honour. Even in rowing there are more successful athletes than me who never had the opportunity. Mo Farah is Muslim and he never carried the flag, he's a lot more successful than me!
“The stars aligned for me and I loved having the honour of being the first. That is what inclusion means to me. But I feel like it shouldn’t have taken that long, and that’s what motivates me.”
SportsAid Week 2023 takes place from Monday 6 March to Sunday 12 March! Join us for a dedicated week of fun and awareness-raising based around theme of accessibility and inclusion. Please visit www.sportsaid.org.uk.