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Sports journalists break down barriers

students at UEL

Project encourages students to fight against discrimination

By Martin Voller

Discrimination comes in various forms and is something we all experience in our lives, but it is not something we have to stand for.

That is the message from University of East London (UEL) Sports Journalism Programme Leader Dr Carrie Dunn. In 2015, Dr Dunn tackled the issue of discrimination by starting Breaking Down Barriers, a civic engagement project which considers barriers and discrimination in sports and sports journalism and how these can be overcome.

With the help of Kick It Out, an anti-discrimination charity for football, Dr Dunn and a handful of her students ran a series of workshops in local east London schools, discussing with 16-18 year olds the potential obstacles that someone who wants a career in sport might face which could prevent them reaching their career goals.

Long-standing accusations levelled at the journalism profession are that it is very middle class and excludes people of colour and women. Dr Dunn and her students were keen to encourage a more equal and diverse industry.

Dr Dunn explained, “Sport as we know it tends to be dominated by the same kinds of people generation after generation and I think that’s quite dull in terms of the voices that you start to hear.

“Just look at TV coverage: there's a panel of pundits that all look the same, who have all been professional footballers. I want something different. I can hear the same clichés being wheeled out by everybody. Let’s get some difference, some diversity into our industry. This is what we are trying to do with UEL's sports journalism programme.

She continued, “People don’t think of discrimination issues as something that can be challenged.

“When you try to present it as an obstacle that we can challenge, that we can talk about and that we can do something about, that seems to give students a new perspective on an industry which they do want to one day join.”

UEL sports journalism alumna Becca James, who works at Arsenal Football Club, played a pivotal role in the project.

Dr Dunn described Becca as a “prime example” of someone who has overcome obstacles. Becca was key to the success of the project, Dr Dunn said.

“Becca had just been offered the job at Arsenal when she was doing these workshops. She was talking about the barriers that she had faced and what she had done to overcome them. These included coming to university, taking on various work experiences, working with Kick It Out and leading the civic engagement project. All these things led Becca to where she is now. For the teenagers, having that real-life case study is really important.”

Dr Dunn and her group were pleased with what they achieved. They said the feedback they got from students and staff was “really positive”. They will now focus on expanding the project. Dr Dunn said she would like to roll the project out more broadly at the secondary school level and with younger children.

Dr Dunn said, “Maybe we can go in early before they start to form ambitions and present sport as an opportunity, as a sector where discriminations and prejudices are being challenged, which is fast changing and has technological developments all the time.

“It’s an exciting time to be involved in sport in whatever facet you want to be involved in it, and that's our plan," she said.