My daughter gave me a wonderful book for Christmas called ‘If I could tell you just one thing…’ It is by Richard Reed and it is a rich selection of encounters with remarkable people in which they give their best piece of advice. As Richard says in its introduction ‘it covers the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions’ and has contributions from ‘presidents and popstars, entrepreneurs and artists, celebrities and survivors’. I am only a quarter of the way into the book at the moment but I am already inspired by some of the advice. One of the early pieces that I have been struck by is that of Harry Belafonte Kingsman. For those not familiar with him, he is the 89 year old Grammy award-winning singer and a leader of the American Civil Rights Movement. His life has been remarkable and amongst other things he became the mentor of Martin Luther King. Harry’s advice is very simple:
‘Discover the joy of embracing diversity. When people become more open to the unusual, to the radical to the ‘other’ we become more nourished as a species… We must recapture the profound benefits of seeing the joy in our collective diversity not the fear’.
Strong stuff for my first blog of 2017! But this did get me to reflect on how I behave towards people, how I approach ‘difference’ and it got me thinking about my own prejudices and behaviours, and asking myself, can I do better? I also thought about us as an organisation. We have so many things to be proud of and in lots of ways we demonstrably embrace diversity. Our commitment to reaching out to more and more disability groups, our initiatives to work with children and young people and to bring together individuals with different levels of functionality, our work to encourage more girls and women to become involved and our commitment to supporting the LGBT and transgender community, these are all things we can feel good about. We also have lots of inspirational people of our own – people who in their own small way make a big difference. I am proud of Ayaz who does so much in the Muslim community, and Mandip in the Sikh community; I am proud to see Andy Barrow and Steve Brown making such a success of their work with the Youth Sports Trust and in schools, colleges and in the media; of Justin who has done so much in communities overseas; and how great it was to see Mike Spence get just recognition in the new year’s honours for his community and school work, quietly pursued over so many years. So yes I think we can be proud of how we as an organisation promote and embrace diversity. That is not to be complacent as I am sure we can do more; we are already looking at how we can encourage more girls and women into our sport and how we can better engage with the full spectrum of ethnic groups. Ultimately though it is for each and every one of us to live the vision and values that we together agreed are important for us as a sport. Key among these is a commitment to create supportive, inclusive, wheelchair rugby communities where we look after one another no matter what our background. As we start a new year it is worth us all pausing for a moment and thinking about the small things we can do to ensure we remain an open, welcoming sport.
Before I close, I want to thank the many individuals who have who have contacted me and others in our organisation to offer their support as we deal with the UK Sport decision not to fund us for Tokyo. I remain dismayed and profoundly upset by this decision. Our medal potential is clear to see and the decision denies opportunities for individuals who have overcome incredible personal challenges and had set their sights on representing GB. I am also surprised and disappointed by the wall of silence from some organisations who should be supporting the case for not disenfranchising our disability group. These are the very organisations who are quick to jump on the back of the wheelchair rugby profile when it is seen to be to their wider advantage. Wheelchair rugby is, and always has been one of the highlights of any Paralympic games. C4 made a particular case to me personally for it to be included in their Rio promotional film. ITV covered the BT WWRC15 event. And the BBC has just decided to use it as one of its new indents between programmes – there is a reason for this – wheelchair rugby is great entertainment!
Throughout the Christmas and new year period I have been working with a number of people to ensure that in one way or another we find the means to retain a competitive national squad. I am grateful for the huge amount of support we have, especially from the general public, the rugby community, large parts of the media, our ambassador Mike Brown, the Chairman of UK Athletics, from the Spinal Injuries Association and from our legal partners at Hogan Lovells whose solicitor Tim Reid is helping us with our representation to the UK Sport Board. Please keep your eyes on our website for news of how you also can help support the #saveGBWR campaign.