Throughout history, some of the most memorable boycotts and protests have come from sportspeople competing at the highest level. Picture Tommie Smith and John Carlos, hands above their heads in the Black Power Salute on the podium at the 1968 Mexico Olympics; Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem in the NFL; or Muhammad Ali refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.
Why are sporting boycotts so memorable? No one sums this up better than Nelson Mandela in his words “Sport has the power to change the world, it has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does…it is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers.” When our sporting heroes make a stand and use their platforms to advocate for change, people stop and take notice.
As a history graduate who argued sport’s influence on the abolition of Apartheid, I studied many human rights and equality issues throughout history, but when it came to my own sporting career, I had my head down and simply tried every day to be the best athlete I could be.
That was until the pandemic hit. It had been all too easy for me, with white privilege, to focus on my performance and not have to face barriers and micro-aggressions on a daily basis purely due to the colour of my skin.
It was during this time that I realised I could, and should be doing more to help make sport, and in turn society, more inclusive.
My sport hockey is very white dominated and has a huge number of barriers to success for many marginalised groups. As a senior international player and role model, I wanted to be able to use my platform to inspire change. For so long I had gone through the system focusing on myself and my team, and hadn’t dared to challenge or question the National Governing Body on the way in which the sport is run.
But I realised then that we are all more than ‘just’ athletes, and when we are passionate about something, we should make our voices heard and push for change.
As a GB women’s squad, we believed that collectively we could make a difference. We wanted to educate ourselves first, getting equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) experts in to deliver workshops and talks to us. We then came up with the Stick It to Racism campaign, demonstrating that we do not condone discrimination of any kind. During the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games we took the knee, and our captain also wore a rainbow captain’s armband for the first time at an Olympics. Our sport is listening and making ED&I a priority, changing the talent development system and looking at ways to break down barriers to success. However, this is only the beginning.
I believe as athletes and role models, we have a duty to the next generation, and I have always wanted to ‘leave the shirt in a better place’.
I enjoy mentoring young aspiring hockey players, and giving support to those who face barriers to success. I have benefited hugely from the power of sport, and I’m passionate about allowing everyone the opportunity to be the best that they can be. If we all can do something, however small, to stand up for what we believe in, the effects can be immense.
Many athletes have spoken about how having interests outside of their sport can actually help with their performances and mental health whilst competing, and in turn help them with their identity and purpose when retiring from sport. I fully support this, and for me, having these interests and advocating for change whilst I was playing, has hugely helped me transition away from sport. I am proud of my sporting career, but I am more proud of standing up for what I believe in and helping to make sport a more inclusive environment for all. We are all not ‘just’ athletes, and have many parts to our identities, and it is so important that we can understand that whilst we are still competing.