England Hockey are to review their talent identification programme and how young people access the sport after receiving a second letter in three weeks which reported experiences of racism and raised serious concerns over the sport’s lack of diversity.
In a letter to England Hockey, a group of nine clubs described an “endemic race issue” in what is described as “an elitist sport” that is “dominated at the top level in particular by those lucky enough to come through the private school system”.
It follows an open letter last month from a group of 15 black, Asian and minority ethnic players, who said that they felt “disenfranchised and disengaged” due to the lack of diversity within the national governing body.
The letter said that many of the players had “deep rooted experiences” of racism and had “suffered on the hockey pitch on Saturday afternoons, clubhouses and committee rooms up and down the country”. It said that “these experiences range from racial slurs, to perceived officiating bias and also the feeling of exclusion in clubhouses after games”.
The letter from the nine clubs reported that players had suffered overt and casual racism from other players, coaches and management but were reluctant to come forward out of concern that it could hinder their selection chances.
Research undertaken by UK Sport and Sport England last year found that BAME people accounted for just 5.2 per cent of board members across 130 publicly funded organisations. There are no BAME members on the board or senior management team of England Hockey and, at the Rio Olympics, there was just one non-white player in the combined men’s and women’s squads.
Gurmej Singh Pawar, the chairman of Barford Tigers, told The Guardian that the letter from nine clubs was an attempt to “improve and rectify a system and culture that is both outdated and unrepresentative of modern-day Britain”.
England Hockey has accepted the need to review its structures and practices and, after setting up a diversity and inclusion working group last year, is currently creating a long-term strategy that will be aimed at all areas of the sport, from attracting young players to its administration.
“The most recent step has been to create an external advisory group, utilising the skills and experience of people from a range of backgrounds within the sport,” said a spokesperson.
“One of the key objectives of the external group is to share and ascertain the facts around diversity and inclusion within our sport, so we can create a strategy based on first-hand evidence as opposed to perception or assumption." It is understood that England Hockey are in the process of communicating with members of that advisory group ahead of a first meeting in the coming weeks. England Hockey have also urged anyone involved within hockey to directly report any specific incidents.
UK Sport has also urged any player with specific experiences or concerns to contact England Hockey or the British Athletes Commission.