Ex-professional boxer amongst those who have given evidence of racial inequalities within sport in Sheffield

Representatives and experts from the sports industry, including an ex-professional boxer, have given evidence of racial disparities in Sheffield at the city’s Race Equality Commission sport and culture hearing.

By Lisa Wong
Thursday, 29th July 2021, 2:34 pm

The commission is looking into the nature, extent, causes and impacts of racial disparities in Sheffield making recommendations for tackling these issues in a report to be published at the end of the 12-month project.

In the final week of hearings, commissioners have been hearing from people and groups which have submitted evidence in relation to the Sport and Culture category, with the hearing on July 27 focusing on sport.

Sheffield-born Johnny Nelson, a Sky Sports boxing pundit of more than 20 years and an ex-world champion boxer, said: “If it wasn't for my brother, I wouldn't have met Brendan Ingle.”

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Boxer Johnny Nelson celebrates his victory over his Italian opponent Vincenzo Cantatore

He explained how he admired boxing greats like Muhammad Ali, however, he thought it “not attainable” having such figures as role models, and instead turned to his elder brother and step father, who were “real people that made a difference to me directly”.

Brendan Ingle MBE helped produce numerous world, European, British and commonwealth champions at Ingle Gym based at Wincobank, which has been described as multicultural and brings people from all backgrounds in Sheffield together.

Johnny told how attending Ingle Gym “was where my education began”, and where he gained self belief and learned to deal with abuse from ‘ignorant people’.

He explained: “When you get in the box, it’s not your problem, it’s their problem. Ignorance affects your game. They’re not just words, they come into practice. Teaching from Brendan enabled me to deal with it.”

Johnny believes boxing is important, as it includes people from many areas, and he wants to build on that idea, to benefit future generations.

He said: “Brendan Ingle helped thousands - that was his core job.

“My intention is to create an academy, in association with Ingle Gym, to create the same thing. It’s not about creating superstars.”

Despite Johnny’s own experience and knowledge, no one has approached him for his expertise, and he has asked why.

He said: “Do they have no inspiring ideas? Are they ignorant? Arrogant? Why wouldn’t you use what you’ve got? Why wouldn't you make the most of the talent on your doorstep?”

Suggesting how improvements could be made in Sheffield, Johnny said that big companies need to do more, not just for the reason of ticking boxes.

He said: “The only time I see a black face is when they’re running, boxing, or getting arrested.”

Johnny believes there are accessible sports facilities in the city but there could be improvements.

Using the English Institute Of Sport Sheffield as an example, he said people “need to know it’s available to everyone and not just elite athletes”.

He told how racism is perhaps being addressed more today, but that social media companies and media outlets are still showing ignorance.

Johnny said: “You cannot tell me that when they [social media companies] see certain words, they can't do anything about it. It’s down to money and ignorance. I’m not buying that nothing can be done about it.”

He believes that key factors in tackling issues surrounding racism are about education and everyone calling it out, not just those who have to face it.

Johnny added: “Saying nothing is the same as saying something bad. It’s in the same category.”

Independent board member of Sport England and chair of the Talent Inclusion Advisory Group, Chris Grant, told how there was a “big problem” in sport regarding racism and racial inequalities, but it was something that is “not new” and there are “deep inequalities based on background”.

He highlighted leadership and talent as being two areas required for making a difference.

Using the Olympics as an example in relation to talent and the notion of the “apartheid going on in sports”, he explained: “A third to a half of the sports have never had an athlete competing for us who is not white.”

Chris told how data collected prior to the pandemic, showed that 11.1 percent of all adults playing football were of South Asian heritage and census data for the same period showed that 6.5 percent of the UK population were of South Asian heritage.

He said: “That’s important. It blows the stereotype out of the water.”

Chris told how “you see everyone playing football” in London but in professional football, 10 out of 3000 footballers are South Asian.

He believes avenues need to be created for people to get involved with a full range of sports.

For example, having infrastructures in cities, places where facilities are available and involving people who are already engaged with communities.

He highlighted the link between deprivation and physical activity in Sheffield and added that intersectionality was “really important” to consider.

Marcus Brameld, head of community at SWFC Community Foundation, told how the club had built “good links in a lot of communities” and ensured that coaches “make sure racism is stamped out”.

The club highlighted that online abuse was becoming “more prevalent” on the club’s social media pages however.

Simon Hyacinth, co-chief executive officer of Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD), told how there was “increasing participation from minority backgrounds”, but there was “still quite a lot of work to do”.

He agreed that online abuse was a problem, as people “can do and say what you want without accountability”.

Simon believes that sport can be used as a tool for positive change.

He said: “Sport has the potential to influence people in many ways.”

SWFC and FURD are keen to work together more closely, however, timing and resources are said to be limiting factors.

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