Role models, leadership, and using your platform 

22 Dec 2020

By: Sport Industry Group

The Sport Industry NextGen Diversity and Inclusion Working Group believes that a diverse and inclusive sport industry is better for business and better for society. The group currently is working on a number of initiatives covering research, direct action, and awareness.

To help maintain and increase awareness of the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in sport, the group is also producing a series of editorial features. This month, Alex Coulson, Managing Director, Sport Industry Group, reflects on some key concepts.

Role models, leadership, and using your platform – these three concepts have been thrust front and centre in 2020, dominating conversation. When I and the other members of the Sport Industry NextGen Diversity and Inclusion Working Group were discussing key themes for the year, these areas resonated most.

Before I begin, though, I would urge you all to read organisational psychologist and former NBA player John Amaechi’s insight and views on these concepts, and many other things, for a more expert and educated opinion than my own. But for now, I’m going to explore what we learnt as well as I can. 

First up, not knowing what to do or what to say doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. It can leave you feeling vulnerable, exposed to potential critique, but that feeling of potential personal discomfort is absolutely incomparable to the real issues at hand. And for transparency, I didn’t really want to write this, I had hoped another member of the group would volunteer to write this recap. I have no sense of authority or true knowledge – John Amaechi’s explanation of white privilege (below) is a must watch – writing this but I also believe we should stick to our working group objectives of keeping the conversation going, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Read Preeti Shetty’s thoughts on uncomfortable conversations here, while leadership expert, and a Coach of the Sport Industry NextGen programme, René Carayol posted on LinkedIn this week about this topic referring to ‘Courageous Conversations’ – I’d urge you to read that and much more of René’s work too.



To give some background, improving diversity and inclusion in the sport industry has always been a quietly stated aim of Sport Industry NextGen since its creation six years ago but it isn’t one that we have ever properly delivered on. Following the murder of George Floyd, the Sport Industry NextGen community came together to discuss what we could and should do given our network and potential influence in the industry. Why we had to wait for another black person to be murdered to do this is a different question and one that should be addressed. For now, though, the aim is to focus on doing something and not letting no action, be the action – no decision shouldn’t become the decision.

As a group we came together, benefitting greatly by hearing from two Coaches of the programme Chris Grant and Leon Mann, and then to share thoughts, questions, and ideas. This brings me to my second learning; that so many people have the best intentions but not always the ability to back them up. We had nearly 80 Sport Industry NextGen Leaders on that first call, more than half of the whole group. This turned into an initial working group of 28, though regular attendees on that call have probably averaged about eight to ten people. We can be, and hopefully still are, effective at that number (and possibly more so) but it highlighted how so many factors hold people back. Whether that be difficulty prioritising commitments, a lack of understanding of how they could help, or fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. The core members that have been the regular contributors to the working group have shared in a determination to do what they can, an openness to admit they may not know what to aim for or how to achieve it, but a consistent willingness to try.

We focused on three areas of commitment and action: a) awareness – consistently keeping the conversation current, hence the need to write this piece, b) research – a survey is in market designed to both gather data and deliberately create meaningful, and maybe uncomfortable, conversations within organisations across the sector, and c) to play our part in creating meaningful pathways into the sector – heavily inspired by the trailblazing work of others such as Leon Mann and BCOMs – (more news to follow on our plans in the new year).

So, my third learning is probably just how much more is needed by us all. More learning, more conversation, and more action. John Amaechi has a widely known quote about sport stars using their platform saying that the only choice they have in being a role model is whether to be a good or a bad one. This applies to us all, we all have an influence and position of responsibility of some level. As Amaechi also says “Being a role model is a choice made for us by others. Our own choice is whether or not we embrace this role.” This year I have been inspired by the role models of the Sport Industry NextGen Coaches René Carayol, Chris Grant, and Leon Mann, plus many other experts such as John Amaechi, and core members of the Sport Industry NextGen Diversity and Inclusion Working Group. I have been guided by their leadership, and I am eager to make even more of our collective and respective platforms.

“Being a role model is a choice made for us by others. Our own choice is whether or not we embrace this role.” - John Amaechi

This isn’t a short-term solution and systemic racism will require long-term sustainable change, but small steps will eventually go a long way. Chris Grant said something in an interview recently that really resonated with me, “…a really good example of leadership, someone using the position that they are in and the power that they have, to make their own statement in a meaningful way, and I think that’s what we all need to do.” I wholeheartedly agree, and I hope you do too.  

Read the previous pieces in this series from the Sport Industry NextGen Diversity and Inclusion Working Group:

What's in a name: Why "BAME" can be problematic

Recommended Reading: Black History Month

Q&A: James Rogers-Oben on Diversity, Leadership and Creating Opportunities