Creating a truly anti-racist culture in sport – with Tara Dillon, CEO at CIMSPA

It can be easy to think that sport is one of the most egalitarian parts of our society – focused purely on talent and performance rather than ethnicity or background. Sadly, last year’s Tackling Racism and Racial Inequality in Sport Review revealed that racism and inequality are still very much present within sport (and beyond).

We still have a major challenge to address in sport

The nature of the problem may have moved on from overt racism to more subtle forms of inequality, conscious and unconscious bias, and microaggression, but we still have a major challenge to address in sport, as we do in society as a whole.

Over the past few years, we have observed that the sport and physical activity workforce – from grassroots volunteers and coaches through to elite coaches, administrators, stakeholders, funding bodies, and leaders – have begun to understand that they each play a crucial role in moving this agenda forward.

“We need to work hard collectively to ensure that people of all ethnicities feel welcomed in every sport, are given opportunities to develop their careers and access to the top jobs.”

It is not enough for individuals to simply be “not racist”

Anti-racist practices require clear commitment at all levels and CIMSPA is striving to ensure that our practices go beyond HR compliance and that our core institutional structures reflect our commitment to continuous professional excellence and a growth mindset.

I think one of the big misconceptions is that people think that being “not racist” themselves, along with the presence of a few non-white faces in the workplace, means that all is well. Creating a truly anti-racist culture means examining our own understanding of all the forms of racism and racial biases that may exist (however overt, subtle, or subconscious they may be), and continually working to challenge and eradicate them.

It is not enough for individuals within an organisation or sector to simply be “not racist”. Creating an anti-racist culture means proactively working together with people from all ethnicities to build new systems that are truly inclusive and egalitarian. Anti-racist cultures are systemic and at the core of all that we are and promote within CIMSPA itself, so that it may have a wider impact on the broader sport and physical activity sector.

“Being anti-racist means not only challenging racism, racial prejudice, the exclusion and oppression of diverse ethnic communities, but also creating safe spaces, diversifying the workforce through inclusive strategies, and the removal of bias at all levels through active participation and action.”

Another misconception is that organisations are incapable of providing safe spaces for dialogue and interface with diverse communities. This stems from years of historical exclusion from the conversation around race equity. We at CIMSPA in contrast, advocate that equity of every protected characteristic – and beyond – is everyone’s responsibility. Collectively, we all agree that racism is unacceptable and how we empower our workforce to challenge this culture is the metric by which we measure ourselves. We are, after all, only as strong as our weakest member.

Critical changes to lead the path towards racial equity

Data is vital for providing an objective understanding of how we are performing in this area.

As the professional development body for sport and physical activity, we have committed to collecting more data on the ethnic diversity of our members and using that to inform our future policies and campaigns. We also regularly collect and publish data on CIMSPA’s own performance against our Equality and Diversity targets.

What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting to think about how to tackle racial equity?

“Not being racist” isn’t enough. We all need to closely examine our own behaviours and perspectives, to understand how we can embed anti-racism into the workplace and promote a fairer, more equitable society for all. If we are the ones who have created the inequities systemically, then it should be us, who work to eradicate these inequities. It is simply not enough to ask diverse communities to right our wrongs. Reformation through collaboration is paramount to this.

The TRARIIS report highlighted that coaches can have a powerful and lasting influence on the people they work with, especially young people. Sadly, this influence can sometimes be a negative one, with some coaches displaying various levels of conscious and unconscious racism. These acts – even if unintentional – can have a lasting impact on a participant’s experience and enjoyment of sport, and on their wider self-confidence and sense of worth.

“I would love to see a more diverse and representative workforce. One that brings a wealth of talent from untapped and historically marginalised communities. I would love to see sector engagement that embraces and attempts to understand diverse cultural nuances and a sector that learns and evolves through listening.”

There is also evidence in the report of coaches themselves feeling excluded, and having their career opportunities limited because of their race. We must do more to ensure that people of all ethnicities feel welcomed in every sport and are given opportunities to develop their careers and access senior leadership roles.

Visibility is also key: diverse communities have to be able to see others who look, sound, and represent them, within positions of influence. Without this, we cannot create a culture of inclusivity and excellence based on collective experiences. Expertise also needs to be accessed from within these diverse communities to effect honest and experiential change.

Final thoughts

It is not enough for individuals within an organisation or sector to simply be “not racist”. Creating an anti-racist culture means proactively working together with people from all ethnicities to build new systems that are truly inclusive and egalitarian. Anti-racist culture needs to be systemic and at the core of all that we are and promote within CIMSPA itself, so that it may have a wider impact on the broader sport and physical activity sector.

Diversity, inclusion and equity has been an important focus of ours for some time but, like many organisations, we still need to do more to increase the representation of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, especially in senior roles. As the professional development body for the sector, it’s important that we lead the way in advancing racial equality. If we are better, the sector and beyond will be better.


By Tara Dillon, CEO of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity.

Tara began her career in sport and physical activity as a lifeguard in her local centre back in 1987, whilst studying. Having gained hands-on experience within local authority leisure, various management positions followed until in March 2001, she was appointed as Contracts Manager at DC Leisure Management. After six years with DCLM, Tara accepted the role of Executive Director of IQL-UK Ltd where she remained until her CIMSPA appointment in 2015.

Tara has a passion for the sport and physical activity sector which drives her to constantly aim for improvements across the industry. Tara is at the forefront of CIMSPA’s work, delivering initiatives that professionalise the workforce and enhance the career prospects of those working in sport, leisure and fitness.

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