National Inclusion Week 2021: Why sport matters for all

Matthew Chilvers BBC Unsung Hero ()

Now in its 9th year, National Inclusion Week is a time to celebrate and promote the importance of inclusion in workplaces, communities and society as a whole.

With participants and volunteers at the heart of sport and recreation, our sector has a unique role to play in trying to engage with the widest and most diverse pool of talent.

We invited Alliance Youth Panel member, Matthew Chilvers to write a guest blog on why sport matters for all, touching on his own stories and experiences along the way.

As someone who has autism, I am incredibly passionate about making sport and recreation open and welcoming for everyone, be that out on the tennis court or up in the board room.

Since the age of 15 I have been volunteering as a coach at Desford Lawn Tennis Club, helping to run inclusive and general sessions.

In 2018 I was selected as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year’s Unsung Hero for the East Midlands for my work to encourage more people with disabilities to become involved in tennis and in 2019, I received the Diana Award for helping to change perceptions of disability sport.

“I get so much out of sport and I want others to have the same opportunities.”

One way I’m trying to make a difference is through the Sport and Recreation Alliance Youth Advisory Panel.

I have been a member since the Panel started in 2019 and am encouraged to share a young person’s perspective on getting more young people with disabilities active. So far, during my time on the Panel, I have:

  • Created mini campaigns that use sport to try and reduce knife crime, which have since been adopted by Bedfordshire Police
  • Introduced subgroups, including the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group which is focused on driving social change
  • Developed plans to reach disengaged groups in local communities, with the help of organisations such as Hindu Youth UK and the Muslim Youth Council
  • Met virtually with Sporting Equals, who promote ethnic diversity across sport and physical activity, to discuss the barriers ethnically diverse communities face when participating in sport and recreation

I was lucky enough to attend the annual Sport and Recreation Alliance Parliamentary Summer Reception in the House of Commons in 2019, where I spoke to MPs, members of the House of Lords and interested stakeholders.

A highlight was meeting retired international wheelchair racer and ukactive Chair Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson, who talked to me about increasing young people’s involvement in physical activity and some of the barriers young people with disabilities in sport face. 

Matt and Tom Watson ()

For me, National Inclusion Week is more important than ever this year, as it has been challenging to be active during this unprecedented health crisis. 

For disabled people, there has been a harmful effect on their activity levels, with research from the Activity Alliance showing that twice as many disabled people felt that the pandemic has reduced their ability to be active compared to non-disabled people.

The pandemic has also affected our mental health, which can be improved by being physically active. So, ensuring we are all active as much as possible is key.

If you would like to have a go at any sport, I recommend visiting the Active Partnerships website where you can find your local Active Partnership. This will have listings of sport activities in your local area.