Select Committee on a National Plan for Sport and Recreation
Corrected oral evidence: National Plan for Sport and Recreation
Wednesday 13 January 2021
Members present: Lord Willis of Knaresborough (The Chair); Lord Addington; Baroness Blower; Baroness Brady; Baroness Grey-Thompson; Lord Hayward; Lord Knight of Weymouth; Lord Krebs; Baroness Morris of Yardley; Lord Moynihan; Baroness Sater; Lord Snape.
Evidence Session No. 6 Virtual Proceeding Questions 40 - 46
I: Matt Hughes, Chief Sports Reporter, the Daily Mail; Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, Sports Reporter, Channel 4 News; Anna Kessel, Women’s Sports Editor, the Telegraph.
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and webcast on www.parliamentlive.tv.
Matt Hughes, Jordan Jarrett-Bryan and Anna Kessel.
Q40 The Chair: I move seamlessly on to our second panel of sports and recreation journalists, because I see them all here. Welcome to Matt Hughes, chief sports reporter for the Daily Mail; welcome to Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, the sports reporter for Channel 4 News; and welcome to Anna Kessel, the women’s sports editor of the Telegraph. Thank you all very much indeed for joining us today. Thank you for listening in to the end of the first session.
I start with quite a broad question. I will address it to you first, Jordan. What is the role of the media and journalists in sport and recreation? What should the role of the media be beyond simply reporting on games, results and the politics of high-profile sports and sporting events? Does it have a broader role? Do you, as journalists, have a broader role? Jordan, could you start there?
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: Good afternoon, everybody. I think the role is determined by the person that you are working or reporting for. It will alter, I always feel, depending on who your audience is and who you are reporting to and for.
The role, as I see it, is to find the stories that are of most interest to the wider public. I think the role is to ask the uncomfortable questions that are sometimes not asked. I work for an organisation that has a badge of honour in having reporters who get kicked out of press conferences because we dare to ask the questions at times that may not be those that want to be answered.
Especially in grim times like now, the role, to a lesser degree, is to try to find the stories that make people feel good about that industry, and in this case sport as well. When I am out there reporting, looking for stories, researching and bringing those stories to the masses, at times I think, “Okay, it’s a grim time right now. Are there stories that can uplift the nation?” As journalists, I would not go as far as saying that we have a duty of service, but where we can offer stories, articles and reports that can make the nation feel a certain way, that is a role that I take quite seriously at times as well. But, fundamentally, our role is to find the stories that the public want and need to hear about.
Matt Hughes: I think Jordan put it very well at the end there. We have to tell the stories both that the public want but also maybe that they do not know they want—the stories that need to be told. Part of the role of all media, including sports media, is to hold government to account, hold governing bodies to account and hold football clubs to account. As well as all the exciting sport that we are privileged to watch, there will be a lot going on behind the scenes that people do not know about, some of which may be unacceptable, illegal or breaking the rules or laws of those particular sports organisations. It is our job to shine a light on that, expose it and, in some instances, try to bring about change.
Anna Kessel: I think the sports media has long thought that it has a particular role. I hope that in recent years it has started to question that role and who defined that role. From my point of view, it is a very narrow definition. It is mostly driven by men’s sport. It is driven mostly by white men, who tend to be the editors of sports newsrooms. Hence, we have seen very little coverage of women’s sport in particular. It was not long ago that we were looking at just 2% of newspaper coverage being dedicated to women’s sport, which is just unbelievable. Most women even today, when they pick up a newspaper’s sports section, do not see themselves in that sports section. A newspaper’s sports section and even TV’s sports coverage, much as it has improved, does not represent society.
Who is to say which sports, for example, should be reported on? Yes, football is the national game, but sports like rugby, for example, which may not be as widely played as basketball or gymnastics, get a disproportionate amount of coverage. Rugby league, I am sure, would complain that it gets less coverage than rugby union. It is a very subjective definition of what the sports media is.
The Chair: Anna, do you or somebody higher in the organisation decide which sports you should report on, so they define that sort of narrowness that you have just talked about?
Anna Kessel: In the Telegraph, creating a women’s sports department and me being appointed has very much helped to change the direction of the Telegraph’s coverage, certainly. It is really important who is in that newsroom: who is making those ultimate decisions about what will be on the front page of the sports section, how many words will be dedicated to an amazing female athlete who has just brought about a great achievement, as opposed to 50 words in the “News in Brief” at the bottom of the page, if that.
The Chair: Was Keep Kids Active a decision that was made at an editorial or journalist level?
Anna Kessel: It was made by the head of the sports department, Adam Sills, who has very much pushed the participation narrative. We also ran a big Girls, Inspired campaign before the pandemic, which looked at the school gender sports gap, which is huge. I am sure that we will talk more about that. Adam Sills is very committed to the participation and recreational side of sport being part of the narrative of the sports section.
The Chair: Matt, can I ask that same question to you, because clearly the Daily Mail also has a particular interest in hearing a broader community agenda in terms of sport. How has that come about?
Matt Hughes: The Daily Mail launched a Save Grassroots Sport monthly pull-out in November after the second national lockdown, which, as the Telegraph rightly highlighted, really impacted on children’s sport in particular, despite schools being open at that stage. Our sports editor, Marc Padgett, decided, presumably in consultation with the editor of the paper, that we wanted to tell those stories of grass-roots sport in a way that the confines of space in a daily sports section trying to fit in all the news and match reports did not facilitate. We managed to produce this monthly supplement of 16 pages, telling stories across the country and across a variety of sports. The next one will be out on 26 January, I think. That is quite timely, because it chimes with Sport England’s latest report on participation numbers, which I am afraid I expect will make quite grim reading for obvious reasons, given the last year.
The Chair: Matt, in terms of the televised audience, do you have the same editorial controls put on you as to which sport events you can cover? Is there any freedom at all, other than commercial contracts?
Matt Hughes: Personally, I am very lucky in my role. I have complete freedom to write and pursue whichever stories interest me. They obviously have to interest the sports editor of the paper generally.
In terms of what we cover, men’s football will naturally dominate. It is the biggest sport in the world, but over the last few years there has been a recognition that we need to cover other sports more widely. All newspapers to some degree, some more than others, have done that. Where there is a story to be told, it will be told.
The scandal of abuse in gymnastics, which made headlines earlier this year, was told on television. ITV did a great job on it. It was followed up in all the newspapers, because it was a shocking story that needed to be exposed. I think we will pursue stories that expose things across the range. A huge variety of stories get in the newspapers on a daily basis about race, diversity and bullying. There are not many uplifting stories about the inspirational deeds of sportspeople, but they will be covered.
The Chair: I can fully understand that, but, in reality, what people see on the television, and what sports they see on television, usually influences which sports they want to participate in and which sports they want to watch. Yet getting into minority sports is as difficult now as it was five or 10 years ago. Jordan, is that because of editorial control or commercial control, or is that journalism?
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: I think it is a little bit of all three. Where I work at Channel 4, we have committed to the last two Paralympic Games. We are the official Paralympic broadcaster. That will be seen by many as a minority sport. I disagree with that, but that is a separate thing.
Our remit with sport is to try to cover the sports that are not being covered on a mass scale. If Andy Murray wins Wimbledon, if Anthony Joshua gets all five belts, or if Leicester wins the Premier League, of course we are going to cover those stories. But at Channel 4 we try to go a little bit against the grain and make sure that, as you mentioned, we highlight and promote the stories and the sports that are popular in their own circles. Okay, they are not Premier League popular, they are not Formula One popular, but there are hundreds and thousands of people competing in this particular sport.
I always try at Channel 4 to look for those stories, and the sports that have interesting stories within them, and tell those stories. Probably more so than my colleagues at Sky or at the BBC, I have less pressure to focus on the big football stories or the big rugby stories, because my editors at Channel 4 News allow me the freedom to go and seek out those smaller minority sports and, therefore, to try to shape the national interest in those particular sports.
As you say, the media are very, very powerful, and what people see tends to drive what people will end up going to do. If you give people lots of football, football, football all the time, then football will dominate. If you tell people, “There is this other sport over here that’s really popular in this part of the country”, you then raise the profile of that sport by doing the job of promoting that sport. That is journalism for me. It is trying to find those nuggets of great stories within those interesting and possibly niche sports which the public and the nation might not know about.
I try to stay away from the big stories that everyone knows about and try to find the smaller nuggets of stories within the smaller sports.
Q41 Baroness Sater: Welcome, everyone, and thank you for being here today. Covid has obviously been and will continue to be challenging. What impact has the pandemic had on the recreation and sport sector? What are the medium to long-term implications from this impact?
Adding to that, when we came out of the last lockdown, what did we learn from that and how do you think we could do more to get ourselves back on the road to recovery in getting sports and recreation back out there?
Also, are there any clubs or sports that have fared better? What do you think made them more resilient during this process? That is to everyone, but perhaps Anna could start.
Anna Kessel: The impact of Covid on women and girls has been absolutely disproportionate. I think it has exposed the existing gender gap that has long been in sport for over 100 years. It has exposed and worsened those inequalities.
A very simple example is that, when all sport stopped, men’s Premier League football returned after three months. Women’s domestic football had to wait another three months—so double the time. We saw that repeated across the national sports. Netball, of course, has still not returned at all, because it suffers disproportionately being an indoor sport. In particular, when we are looking at the grass-roots side of things, indoor sports often seem to be female sports. Gymnastics, netball, ice-skating and swimming are very much female populated. Some of those sports have been absent even from the elite end.
We saw the likes of Elise Christie tweeting over the summer that when others were accessing elite facilities she could still not train as an Olympic athlete on her ice rink, because ice rinks were deemed a dangerous Covid spreader, although one coach told us that an ice rink was no more dangerous than a Tesco cheese aisle.
We saw Paralympic athletes suffering disproportionately simply because of the distancing rules on Covid. They were not properly thought through for the disabled community. For example, the paracanoeist Emma Wiggs needed specific help to access one of her kayaks, which involved assistance that she could not get because of the Covid rules. At the grass-roots end, we heard about wheelchair users not being able to access their local leisure facilities, even though able-bodied users were able to go and have a swim.
Every single way you look at it, it is really damaging. The Government’s policy on the definition of “elite” sport being able to return has been particularly problematic for women and girls, because for so many of them their sport does not fall into the elite bracket, or not easily. For example, the Telegraph broke a story late last year about football academies. Boys’ football academies were operating, yet their female peers—sometimes even within the same building—and friends were having to stay at home and not play football. It is absolutely ludicrous.
It has been very damaging. We saw in the elite league of women’s rugby, the Premier 15s, that, although they are not properly professional in the sense that many of them work at other jobs, they are treated as an elite league and have been able to return. However, they are not afforded testing. Players are going out on to the pitch. They have adjusted the rules. They are the first sport to change their rules in response to Covid. They are being sent out on to the pitch, and there is a concern about the duty of care for those players. How safe is it for them to be on a pitch without any kind of testing—going into scrums, for example? So, yes, it is very damaging.
We are expecting another announcement this week about the Women’s FA Cup. You may have seen that at the moment the Cup is suspended, because it is not seen as an elite competition, which in itself is laughable. There is no testing provision. The FA is considering drawing lots and possibly tossing a coin to see which women’s teams progress into the next round. So, yes, it is deeply problematic.
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: I have three quick points on that. The first answer is obviously money. We have seen and heard about a number of football, rugby, cricket, boxing and gymnastic clubs that are either on the brink or, if not, have gone under. Financially, it has been terminal for so many clubs across many sports. Some of these sports and clubs are not even necessarily in the lower echelons of their sport, if you like. They are clubs that are financially quite stable, and they have struggled. So the easy answer as to the effects of Covid on sport and recreation is financial.
The second one—and I am glad that Anna mentioned it—is disabled sports. It is an area that I work in. There are some great examples that Anna has named there of people who have really struggled to maintain competing and training in the disability sports world. Obviously, this was meant to be the Paralympic year. Unlike the Olympians, Paralympians do not get a fraction of the money that the Olympians get, so financially it has been very tricky for most of those guys, many of whom I know, to keep going. They have found that support has not been there financially for themselves.
I am an ambassador for a charity called Path to Success. It works with young girls who are trying to be Paralympians. They are disabled athletes who are female. Studies show that the funding and the money that men and boys get in disability sport is different from what the females get for the same sport. The charity works to try to support those female athletes in achieving their dreams of getting to the next Paralympic cycle. Covid has had a massive impact on all Paralympians, but in the studies we have found that it is worse for women.
The third thing it has done is to make sport ask itself some questions about sustainability. We are seeing now, in particular, the amount of money sloshing around in football, and in the men’s game in particular. It is available to the women but it is just not being given to the women, but that is a separate thing.
Obviously, pandemics are not very regular, but, if this happens again, how do we sustain our sport? How do we sustain our business? How do we sustain our club? It is making a lot of sports across the industry think about how they plan to sustain themselves in the event that something as drastic as a global pandemic should happen. You cannot just buy yourselves out of this. We are seeing a contradiction in football, in particular. On one side, you are seeing clubs still spending £80 million on football players. On the other side, you are seeing clubs going out of business. In an industry of sport that has billions of pounds, that just seems wrong on so many levels.
On a wider level, there are a lot of questions being asked within all the different sports about how we are going to have a business model going forward now that means that we are not relying on money month to month and year to year.
The Chair: Thank you. Matt?
Matt Hughes: Obviously, it has had a pretty devastating impact as a whole, as Anna and Jordan have highlighted. I have spoken in great detail about the gender inequality of the impact, which has clearly been significant. But it is not just gender inequality. There is clear inequality based on social class and wealth.
If you live in a nice area with a park near you, you are more likely to go running and cycling. If you were sporty anyway and were used to playing football or rugby, you probably have the motivation to take up running or do a HIIT class or something at home, and encourage your children and family to do the same.
Sport England found that there were three million adults who were less active in the first lockdown in March. I imagine those figures will be even starker now in the third lockdown given the limiting factors of the weather. It is likely to be the people in poorer areas who are the least active.
In terms of the leisure industry, private gyms and leisure centres have been massively hit by enforced closures. People in the industry tell me that it is government and local authority gyms and swimming-pools that will be most unlikely ever to reopen. Again, they tend to be used by people in poorer communities, so, sadly, the impact is likely to be felt by people doing less activity who need it the most.
Again, that is shown in the impact on schools and school closures. Twenty per cent of children only do any activity at school. When schools are closed, it is likely that they will not be doing anything. The key to any national recovery for sport is making sport more of a priority for schools. They are obviously beset by all sorts of challenges at the moment. They need to get the kids up to speed with maths and English, but sport should not be forgotten. It should be made a core part of the curriculum in a way that, as a parent of three young kids, it frankly is not at the moment.
Lord Addington: I was applauding the comment about it being a class-based factor. If you come from a bad area where you have less individual access, people do not go for a walk around industrial estates. Open-water swimming does not happen in a polluted canal. You do not go on a bike ride if you know that you are going to get hit by a bus when you go into a turning.
These groups have always had more problems. Things like boxing and basketball do reach them but do not get good support. I just want to say that I applauded that comment and think it is something that this committee should pay more attention to in the future.
Q42 Lord Snape: I have a general question to the three of you. What about the Government’s response to the pandemic? Do you think it was the right one? How many marks out of 10 would you give them? What, if anything, do you think they could have done differently.
Anna Kessel: I have already mentioned the elite sport categorising, which is really problematic for women and girls, and does not seem to have taken into account the different situation that they are in due to historical barriers and so on.
I do not think that physical activity has been prioritised in the lockdowns. In Scotland, children under 12 are allowed to continue playing outdoor grass-roots sport. The stats on children’s lack of activity now is very disturbing. Before the lockdown we already knew that children were not active enough. Less than half were doing 60 minutes’ physical activity a day. In the first lockdown that dropped down to 20% who were meeting that target.
It is all very well having Joe Wicks—I love Joe Wicks, and thank you very much for dressing up in a kangaroo suit, and helping with that and entertaining us—but for most children doing press-ups and sit-ups is not suitable. We already know that children have trouble engaging in PE, particularly girls and those hard-to-reach groups. They are not going to want to do press-ups and sit-ups. There are lots of homes that do not have access to broadband. We have seen that conversation play out across the media in recent days on home schooling. A lot of homes simply do not have the physical space to exercise.
There are many challenges here. Government policy and thinking that people can just go out for a walk or a run does not address things like physical literacy. For a grown-up to go out and do a walk, a run or a cycle is fine. That ticks over your level of health and activity, but children are not learning any physical literacy in that setting.
There are single-parent families, for example. There are mothers at home who may themselves not have had good relationships with exercising. They are then left to lead that physical activity, but they might not have the confidence to do it. You have women having to exercise outdoors. First of all, they have to find the time to do it. If they are mothers, that is very difficult. We already know that women have five hours’ less leisure time per week, and that was before the pandemic even hit. Now they are going to be even more time poor. If they do get the time to go outside, outside of work hours, they are going out in the dark and there are all the safety concerns.
Every single way you look at it, there are so many barriers to people being active. I just feel that the Government have not prioritised this as an area, which is very worrying, because health is at the heart of this whole crisis. Physical activity is surely a key part of the recovery.
Matt Hughes: I disagree with Anna slightly on the way the Government have handled elite sport, simply because, without elite sport returning as quickly as was deemed safe, the rest of the sporting ecosystem would just collapse. It is very easy to say that these football clubs just want to make money, but that money does trickle down and pay for many of the facilities that you discussed in your first session.
I think the Government did work well and quickly with the three major sports in this country—football, cricket and rugby—to get them back as safely as possible and to preserve the value of those broadcast contracts, which, although it might not feel like it, are integral to the sporting wealth and health of the entire nation.
I have found myself very fortunate every day, being a sports nut. I feel sorry for the people who are not because, frankly, there is nothing else to talk about apart from sport and Covid. That is all we have. We cannot go out; we cannot meet or see people. Thankfully, sport is playing, certainly now, a role in improving certain people’s—not everyone’s—mental health, which is vital.
I agree with Anna about the Government’s tardiness in prioritising the exercise and health of children. I struggle to understand some of the mixed messaging about children’s sport during the November lockdown when schools were still fully open, as were many businesses, and yet children could not go and play even small-sided, two-on-two games of football in the park. Again, now, the messaging has been quite muddy about what exercising is permitted, how local it has to be and whether kids can have any one-on-one coaching sessions for those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it.
As I said earlier, prioritising children’s sport primarily through schools has to be at the heart of the recovery, because that is where you will access most children. Hopefully, soon, they will be back in school. As the Telegraph has highlighted in the last couple of days, there should be a focus on getting those school facilities open before and after, especially in the winter and the cold weather, to try to give as many people as possible the opportunity to exercise.
The Chair: Jordan, do you have anything to add there?
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: Yes, not too much. Briefly, in terms of a mark out of 10, I would probably give them a six for their response to sport. My bigger issue is their response outside sport, for the sake of this call. I do not think their response was awful. We are in the realms of there not really being a right alternative. It is a case of the lesser of the two bad options. I would give the Government some slight slack. I do not often give them that much slack, but I would give them a little bit of slack in the sense that if they had had an opposite approach it still would have been bad but maybe not as bad.
Anna has articulated really well the failings on women in sport. We have also alluded to disabled athletes and how they could have been helped a bit better. Generally, I think the Government have done a good job, alongside the Premier League and elite football in the men’s game anyway. I could not foresee any sport coming back until now. I thought the whole of 2020 would be a write-off for sport, so the fact that it came back in July, I think it was, was a massive surprise to me. We have seen no major incidents, in terms of fallouts of footballers anyway, through Covid.
Generally, the Government have not done too badly. There are a few things here and there that they could have done better, but generally six out of 10 is what I would give them.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We move on to Baroness Blower and return to grass-roots sport.
Q43 Baroness Blower: In response to the last question in connection with elite sport, Matt said that there is a trickle-down effect. My question is: do you think that the sports and sports governing bodies at the elite level do enough to support grass-roots sport—and recreation, for that matter? Can you give any particularly good or bad examples of where this happens?
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: I think it could be better. At the elite level of governing bodies of all the different sports, I think a lot more could be done. I think there still is no realisation of the importance of grass-roots sport. We have a decent grass-roots programme across many of our sports in this country, but someone on that last call, or this call, mentioned other countries’ approach to participation versus medals. I always find that kind of discussion interesting, because it says a lot about the nation that you are. If you want your nation to be taking part in sport, come the Olympics you might be fifteenth in the medal table. The opposite is that you are in the top three every year, but everyone else in the country below the elite is not healthy, fit and active.
I always think that more could be done. If we take football as the main sport in this country, I think the FA and the Premier League do a lot. They spend a lot of money on ensuring that there are football pitches across the UK. More money could be spent on coaches and education. Not everybody wants to be Marcus Rashford. Not everybody wants to be Mo Farrah. Some people just want to kick a ball because they enjoy kicking a ball. I still do not think there is quite that understanding that taking part in sport does not necessarily mean, “I want to be at Wimbledon next year”. I would like to see all the sports do a little more, from the top down, in supporting personnel—coaches—at grass-roots level, but also areas of land where kids can go for free and take part in a sport that they are passionate about.
Anna Kessel: There are some really good examples of work that sports governing bodies have done at grass-roots level. I am particularly thinking of women and girls. For example, the FA’s Wildcats scheme was set up to get girls playing football from the age of five. That has transformed the grass-roots picture for girls playing football, which for most of my life has been seen very much as taboo.
Netball, building on the great success of the Commonwealth gold medal, the World Cup and launching the Back to Netball scheme, which got over 100,000 women playing netball again, has been really positive from an adult perspective.
The RFU worked on its Inner Warrior campaign. That got around 20,000 adult women playing rugby, which is fantastic. This Girl Can is absolutely phenomenal. It was launched five years ago. They claim to have got over three million women more active and along the way busted a lot of taboos. There were adverts where there were visible tampon strings and talking about menstruation. They were examining the different barriers to women and talking about women getting sweaty, and that that should not be an obstacle.
Crucially, so much of the messaging to women and girls about being active is very much, “This is a way to lose weight and to look good”. The message that we want to get across, and which I think boys and men get across and have absorbed most of their lives, is that sport and physical activity is fun.
The Chair: It is fun.
Anna Kessel: Exactly, and that is what will keep you going, because if you are going just because you want your bottom to look different it will never look different. I have to be honest—not everyone has an amazing bum. It is just life or it is to do with your genes. It is really important that we need women and girls to understand those messages.
Where I think they can improve—and this is where the Government come in—is that we have to target younger and younger age groups. It is great that Wildcats starts at five years old, but we have to work together with schools. A family sending their daughters to an extra-curricular activity that is operated outside the school, such as Wildcats, involves finance and the ability to take the child to that activity. There are not that many of these Wildcats clubs, so it might involve a bit of travel.
An activity often has to overcome cultural and social ideas about what it is appropriate for girls to do. My eldest daughter is only nine. When she started school, when she was four years old, she went into the playground and the first thing she was told by the boys was, “Girls can’t play football”. This is at a really lovely, gender-equal inner London school. It was the first time, at four years old, that she had ever encountered sexism.
There is so much importance in that experience. Boys are taking up the majority of the physical playground space playing football. Girls are pushed to the margins of the physical space. What message does that give young girls about what they can and cannot do in the world, and about how much space they can take up? Never mind if they want to become professional footballers or not; what sense of importance and self-identity does that message give?
I really want sports governing bodies, the Government and the Department of Education to work together much more effectively.
The Chair: Thank you very much indeed. Did you want to come back on that, Baroness Blower?
Baroness Blower: Just to give Matt the opportunity to say something. He mentioned trickle-down in his previous answer. The question is: does he actually think that elite sports are doing enough to support grass roots?
The Chair: I am sorry, Matt. I completely ignored you there. It was nothing personal.
Matt Hughes: That is all right; it is easily done. I think the major sports do a lot, but they could always do more. Given the money in elite sport, they can almost never do enough from the public’s point of view and in the perception of the armchair fan or enthusiast. Football, cricket and rugby invest a lot and have a lot of innovative programmes, whether it be funding pitches or the Premier League’s great programme Reading Stars, getting football-based books into schools to improve literacy.
The ECB has done a lot of work on trying to reach communities that, for various reasons, have given up on cricket over the last 20 years. They have a south Asian action plan and a great programme called All Stars for five to eight year-old boys and girls, which my children have all done, where they send out free bats and stumps and free coaching in the summer. I hope that will return later this year.
The major sports do a lot. Anecdotally, [Inaudible.] there was very little coaching. You just went and played at the park, and that was that. The facilities and coaching have improved immeasurably over the last 20 or 30 years. The bigger issue is probably for the smaller sports, which are far less resourced. They have an ongoing debate about whether to spend their money on targeting medals at the Olympics or boosting participation. The dial seems to be swinging back towards participation at the moment, partly as a result of the various bullying scandals that have been highlighted in many sports. That will be a constant challenge, because, frankly, they do not generate the money that the major sports do. They rely on government subsidy. They have to be very careful and targeted about how they spend their limited resource.
The Chair: Jordan, did you want to add anything?
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: I had my go.
Q44 The Chair: It is interesting that none of the three of you mentioned Sport England and the excellent job it is doing. Do you want to comment on whether in fact it is the most effective organisation to deliver to grass roots the sorts of resources in the sorts of amounts to make the very excellent comments you have made effective?
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: I will show it a little bit of love. I know a few people who are beneficiaries of the funding that Sport England puts in. I have a couple of friends in the north who are able to take part in its sports. One is gymnastics, and I think the other is tennis. They would not be able to do that at their level in their part of the country if it was not for big pots of funding from the likes of Sport England. So, yes, I can testify from friends I have, who have kids, that that money trickles down to enable them to take part in the sport. So, yes, there is a bit of love for Sport England.
Matt Hughes: I think it has had a good crisis, in so far as anyone has. It has been very active and agile in promoting lots of digital output to try to get people to do stuff and to be active at home. It is also charged with dispersing the Government’s sports winter rescue fund, which, although it came in for criticism, I actually thought was fairly sensible. A few sports such as boxing felt marginalised and omitted, but as it turns out—I do not know if the Government knew this was coming—you cannot do boxing now anyway for obvious reasons because of the lockdown. It is a close-contact indoor sport. The funding that it set aside basically to offset a lot of gate receipts for sports such as rugby and horseracing in the winter was pretty sensible and will keep those sports alive.
The Chair: Anna, do you feel that Sport England is the right organisation to spread the money down to grass roots?
Anna Kessel: I know that it has come in for criticism in recent years. It is obviously under new leadership with Tim Hollingsworth. As I have said before about This Girl Can, which is absolutely fantastic and has had a measurable impact that has been really important for women and girls, the work it does on monitoring activity levels has been absolutely crucial, particularly in this pandemic. I believe that it is launching another Active Lives survey this week. Without it, we would not really know how badly the pandemic was affecting all sorts of different parts of the demographic. Those surveys are very detailed and specific about particular parts of urban places, particular ethnicities and communities and particular age groups, and the myriad ways in which they are affected. Yes, in my view it has been quite helpful.
Q45 Baroness Grey-Thompson: Good afternoon, everybody. I will start off by declaring an interest in that I am a trustee of the Commonwealth Sport Foundation.
It will not surprise any of you, considering my background, that I am very interested in diversity and inclusion. It has been great to hear you talk about diversity of participation and participants, which is cool.
I will start with Matt. At the beginning, you said that the role of the media could be about challenging national governing bodies. Do you see it as the role of the media to challenge governing bodies on their own internal diversity and inclusion or, potentially, sponsors about their attitude towards human rights? How much further can the media go? This question is to all of you. What more can be done to improve and change the diversity of the media, as well as those in sport?
You have all talked about the massive challenges of the pandemic. Undoubtedly, there are, but have any positive things come out of the pandemic in the way you can cover sport or talk about different stories that normally you would have had a massive fight to get online or on air? Are there any good things that have come out of where we are now that you would not want to dial back on whenever we are able to play sport again?
Matt Hughes: From a personal point of view, I found the first lockdown really invigorating, just because there was no sport on, so it was a big challenge to try to fill a newspaper and tell lots of stories. Frankly, the sports industry was basically going up in flames, so there was a lot to write about and lots to talk about. It was a fascinating period, and that is still going on, really. There will be a lot of structural gains and huge financial implications.
If we look at what is happening in rugby at the moment with the Lions tour potentially being off and club games being suspended, most sports will have to totally start from scratch in many respects. It will be a fascinating period to cover.
I agree that governance is part of the media’s role. It is an area that we are shining a light on more than in the past. There are stories that I have got into the newspaper in a prominent place about diversity at the FA and changes to the board at the RFU that, 10 years ago, no one would have had any interest in whatever. The range of stories that you find in the sports section now is far greater. It used to be just, “Man kicks ball”—and it was, as Anna has said, “Man kicks ball”. Now occasionally it is, “Woman throws a ball and scores a try”. There is a lot more scrutiny on what is going on in the boardroom, and this will continue.
Sport England is reviewing its governance code as we speak. I think it is going to publish new guidelines in February, which may result in all governing bodies having to have specific quotas for gender and race. That is a story that I will be monitoring very closely.
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: I have been banging on about representation and diversity in sports media for a few years now. Finally, I feel that we, being those who are not old white men, are being listened to and the importance of having a diverse sports media is being understood.
I always feel that the organisation and the industry should reflect the people who consume that thing. Sport is played by women; it is played by gay people; it is played by black people; it is played by disabled people. Where I work at Channel 4 News and talkSPORT, and the governing bodies themselves, should look like the sport they are serving.
I am looking with strong intent at the appointment of the FA. Football is our national game. This is a massive opportunity for the FA to really bring itself into the modern world with this appointment. I will caveat this by saying that it does not have to be a black person. It just has to be somebody who understands not only the game but the country, and what we want to be as a country through the prism of our national sport.
The FA has a lot of work to do to rid itself of the tag of an old boys’ club that just keeps appointing its mates every three, four or five years. The national football team shows that we are at a time when we have to have organisations and governing bodies that look like the sport they are putting on.
With regard to broadcasters, I would like the Government to make it compulsory now for sports broadcasters, sports institutions, sporting bodies and sports organisations to submit the data behind who holds senior roles in all these sports. I want that to happen now. I want to know the director roles across all the sports—the RFU, the FA, all the governing bodies—and I want to know what those people look like. I think I know what they look like, but I want the cold hard facts about what they look like and why those governing boards are not looking like the sports that they are putting on.
There are organisations such as BCOMS and—Anna will know—Women in Sport that are getting that data. They have made it their job to acquire that data. That is not their job; they have made it their job. I feel it is the job of the broadcasters, who are now talking about wanting to be more diverse. Yeah, we get it—Kick It Out, all this sort of stuff. Actually, accountability is not being followed up to show that as an organisation you understand the importance of diversity.
I have rambled on for so long that I have forgotten the other two questions that you asked.
The Chair: We will move to Anna while you get your breath back.
Anna Kessel: The thing with diversity is that if you have an undiverse organisation, it is simply not fit for purpose. If your sports media is not diverse and it does not reflect the population, you cannot adequately tell the stories that you need to tell. Dina Asher-Smith is a columnist for our paper, as well as being a phenomenal athlete. She is hugely insightful on this subject. The person who tells the story shapes the story. She has talked a lot about her experiences as a black female athlete being interviewed by a very non-diverse room of, as I understand it, mainly white men, not really connecting with or understanding the points that she is trying to make as an athlete, and the failings of that story.
We have seen Paralympic athletes talk about disability porn or inspiration porn, and not being taken seriously as athletes—everything being about their disability rather than their ability. There are huge shortcomings in the media narratives when it is not representative.
Similarly, of course, with governing bodies and the organisations that are running sport, we did a number of investigations last year at the Telegraph. Matt has mentioned that there will be some targets coming in, but a quarter of taxpayer-funded governing bodies were not meeting the gender targets. Those included the RFU and England Hockey. That is just to meet gender targets, where women are 51% of the population.
What is troubling about it is that, three years on from those targets being set, there have been no sanctions for those governing bodies to meet those targets. When you start to drill down into ethnicity, for example, just 3% of board members at taxpayer-funded bodies are black, and 64% of funded NGBs have no black or Asian board members at all. When we looked specifically at black women, just five black women out of 415 board places overall had positions on taxpayer-funded sports governing bodies. That is ridiculous when you think of the absolutely incredibly black British women who have represented our country, of which there are so many.
The situation is quite dire. It would be good if there was some kind of action or consequence for not joining the 21st century. In the previous session somebody talked about the FA finally appointing a specific D&I person. That is great news, but we are in 2021. How on earth was there somebody, by the way, who had to look after child safeguarding alongside D&I? Those should be two completely separate jobs, and they have only just made them two separate jobs. So there is a lot of catching up to do in the sports administrative structure.
I would like to respond quickly to Tanni’s question about positives in the pandemic, because I very much feel that there have been some. Athletes have been finding their voice and speaking out, such as on Black Lives Matter, which has been hugely influential and important. There is also the Gymnast Alliance, and it is the first time that we have seen gymnastics speak out against its treatment. The biggest stars of the sport, male and female, were united on that all the way down to grass roots. The implications of that are very important for a sport that very young children engage in across the country in all sorts of settings.
There is also the Paralympic movement #NotAWitch, which that spoke about limb impairments and essentially took on Hollywood. That was fantastic to see. There was also the can-do attitude: “We’re in a pandemic, but let’s find a way round it”. We had the example of the golfer Liz Young, who was not able to play women’s golf because women’s golf was not going on. She said, “Right, we’ll do our own tournament. Everyone chip in 100 quid. Let’s just get it off the ground”. We wrote about it in the Telegraph. Justin Rose and his wife read the story and decided to sponsor an eight-event tournament, culminating in a great big event at Wentworth, which was wonderful.
You saw organic things happening, people taking initiatives and trying to create positives out of a difficult situation.
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: In 2020, there was definitely a shift by sports broadcasters in understanding diversity and bringing it through. My fear is that it is, to use the phrase, window dressing. There are a lot more Jordan Jarrett-Bryans. There are a lot more black presenters. There are a lot more black reporters. That is brilliant, needed and great, but I still want to know where the black directors, the black editors, and the black CEOs are who are running things and making decisions.
I also want to see an end to a lot of these diversity advisory roles that a lot of black people are called up for. They are often unpaid and they come with no power or influence. It is almost a tick-box exercise of, “We spoke to some black people to understand the importance of blah, blah, blah”. Those roles have to go. Pay us properly or forget about it. Do not pretend that you are trying to understand diversity by bringing in this new department that actually has no power or money behind it.
Finally, it is the role of people like me to hold governing bodies to account in any salacious or investigative journalism. I think the public now want more than just, “Marcus Rashford scored a phenomenal goal last night”, or whenever it was. They want to know if there is wrongdoing at Manchester United as well. We have the job of digging a bit deeper beyond the sporting moments and the action on the field of play.
Q46 Lord Knight of Weymouth: My question is about sports governing bodies and whether they are fit for purpose. I think we have probably already covered the diversity aspect and whether they are fit for purpose in that regard.
In what other ways are they fit or not fit for purpose? To whom and for what should they be held accountable? I am particularly interested in transparency. As an Arsenal fan, I have seen that business go private and the loss of reporting and transparency we have seen there. Is that a widespread problem in elite sport?
Matt Hughes: Yes, it is a problem. You mentioned Arsenal. I used to enjoy going to its AGM, which was pretty much the only time you heard people at the club speaking to directors. Stan Kroenke would never appear, and that does not happen.
There is a distinction to be made between the executive leadership teams of the governing bodies and the wider structure. A lot of these bodies—the FA, for example—are hamstrung by a constitution that is 150 years old, which invests a lot of power in the “blazers”, who can be a drag on change. The FA has managed to push through a lot of changes to become more streamlined, more open, more democratic and more diverse. Getting that message across to honourable hard-working and well-meaning people in the shires does not always happen.
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: I will not profess to be an expert on the wrongs and the goods of all the governing bodies across all sports in this country. I have mentioned that I think the FA is failing on race. The bigger area it is also failing in, which Anna might also mention, is women. I think its approach to women’s football is a scandal. The pathways and the transparency for the women’s game are really bad. It needs a lot more investigative journalism to expose why they are not doing what they should be doing on the governance of our game in this country.
I would use my minute also to show that a big issue is social media. The Government need to do a lot now to make sure that they hold a lot more of the social media platforms accountable for what is on their platform with regard to sporting stars. I am in a minority. I am one of probably only three people in the world who thinks that, if you cannot handle the abuse you are receiving, you should not be on it. Until Twitter can police itself or police what is on its platform, I think that the alternative right now if you are being racially abused, if a misogynistic message is being sent to you, or if there are vile comments from vile people is for you to protect your mental health and come off it. But I do think it is incumbent on government to make sure that Twitter polices that platform better so that we do not have to come off it if we are being abused. There were two answers in one there.
Anna Kessel: I would very much like to see Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson’s duty of care report acted on. I feel that that was a landmark moment in our industry and that it has not been properly taken forward. We have seen the devastation with regard to the Gymnast Alliance and the movement to expose gymnastics abuse. It continues today. There are stories of an eight year-old being tied to a high bar, for goodness’ sake. Children are locked in cupboards. This is really serious and very problematic. Within the setting of the pandemic and the short window when gymnastics was open again, parents were not allowed into gymnastics halls and could not see with their own eyes what was happening to their very young children. Those kinds of strands are so intensely problematic.
We should also loop at that loophole regarding 16 to 18 year-olds under the tutelage of coaches and banning relationships between them. That has not been closed and it is deeply disturbing. I would very much like to see the issue of abuse looked at by the Government.
The Chair: Thank you very much indeed to Anna, Matt and Jordan. I am sorry we have rushed to an end. We could have had another hour and we still had plenty to talk about. Thank you very much to the committee this afternoon. Thank you to you. You will get a chance to change anything that you feel has been misreported in the transcript. Again, I thank you very much indeed for your presence and I declare the meeting closed.
Jordan Jarrett-Bryan: Thank you very much.
Anna Kessel: Thank you.
Matt Hughes: Thank you, guys.