Sport stars appeal for more to be done to attract diverse young talent

Sports stars have been speaking at the Include Summit promoting diversity in sport Credit: ITV News

Sports stars have used a conference promoting diversity and inclusion to call for more to be done to make it easier for people from underprivileged and underrepresented backgrounds to play and compete at all levels.

The Include Summit is aiming to get one million young people from such backgrounds into sport and delegates from all over the country have gathered to discuss ways to increase participation from people from all backgrounds.

One of the issues delegates have been discussing is what more needs doing to ensure that men's and women's sport is treated equally. Only last month the American women's football team won a long legal battle for equal pay. One of those on stage discussing the issue was the hockey player Sarah Evans who has represented both England and Great Britain who said: "It's for little girls to see that's a career option for them. My parents just instilled in me that I could but for so many, they don't see people that look like them on TV and are aspiring to be the top of their game so I think now the more we can make strides forward in this area, we're only going to inspire more children and the next generation."

Watch more from the hockey player Sarah Evans:

Tackling racism within sport is another of the issues discussed at the summit. Recent research for the London Lions basketball questioned people from ethnic minority backgrounds about their access to sport:

The footballer Anton Ferdinand knows what it is like to hear racist abuse in the stands while playing and shared his views on what needs to change: "Why is the onus on the players to walk off the pitch? As a player you're so emotionally involved in it that your first thought is not to allow them to feel like they've beaten you by walking off the pitch. It's important that the FA, the Premier League, different leagues have delegates at the games, that if there is any racism they should be the ones that make the game abandon."

Watch more of our interview with Anton Ferdinand:

Delegates also heard from the former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq. It is now 18 months since an investigation was started by Yorkshire County Cricket Club after he first accused the club of being "institutionally racist".

He told ITV News that he still believes cricket needs to do more to tackle the problem: "Everything I've heard is that the rest of the game feels like the issue is not as big as it's being made out to be and there seems to be a lot more sympathy out there within the game for the perpetrators, as opposed to the people that have suffered over a long time."

Watch more of our interview with former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq:

A countdown clock outside the venue for the summit shows the number of days to go until the Commonwealth Games Credit: ITV News

Delegates gathered for the event in Birmingham which will host the Commonwealth Games later this summer, aiming to be the most inclusive games ever with more women's medals available than men's for the first time and para events taking place alongside those for competitors without disabilities.

The paralympic runner Richard Whitehead MBE, who competes wearing prosthetic legs, was at the event to explain why it is so important to ensure people with disabilities have better access to sport: "Sport shouldn't be for able-bodied participants and disabled people. It should be an inclusive environment and what that looks like is that inclusion is at the heart of participation. It's really important that young people have that positive experience."

Watch more from our interview with Richard Whitehead MBE:

Another theme that has been explored is how to make sport more accessible for people from LGBT+ backgrounds and to what extent toxic masculinity can be a barrier for some people to getting involved.

Among the current sporting stars at the event was the swimmer Michael Gunning who has been sharing his experiences as an openly gay athlete, but admitting he sometimes questions how he should be seen to behave. He told ITV News: "You always look to different role medals. For me, Michael Phelps, Adam Peaty, you look at those amazing athletes that have won gold and you think, how can I be more like them? For me, I've got to be happy, I've got to be expressionistic and I think it almost makes you question, should I be changing who I am, especially at competitions. Should I try to be more masculine and to walk in a certain way but that's not me and that's not how I perform best."

Watch more from our interview with Michael Gunning:

Many at the conference acknowledge that these are at times difficult and uncomfortable conversations to have but they are conversations that need to take place.