Negative customer service threatens BAME sports participation

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Four in ten (40%) of BAME participants endure negative experience in sport or physical activity setting, more than double that of white participants.

Over half of those from BAME communities would be more active if opportunities were easily accessible online.

People from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are twice as likely to have a negative customer service experience when taking part in physical activity, according to a survey by the Sport and Recreation Alliance.  Four in ten (40%) of BAME participants in the survey said their experiences of local sport or leisure clubs had been a negative one in terms of the customer service received. In comparison, just 14% of white British participants reported having the same experience. 


Over half (55%) of people from minority backgrounds also said if better information about local opportunities was available online, they would be more likely to participate or volunteer in sports clubs and physical activity. This presents both an issue and an opportunity to the wider sector. Namely – how to engage more effectively with people from BAME communities. 


Flexibility, a welcoming attitude, coupled with a user friendly online experience could be key to achieving this, according to Emma Boggis, CEO of the Sport and Recreation Alliance. 


“Sport and recreation has the power to bring communities together and positively contribute to several of our country’s societal problems. However, we will only realise the full potential of our work as a sector if all parts of society are invested in sport and recreation. Organisations big and small need to consider what they can do to make their work and activity appealing and welcoming to all. This could be as simple as how a new participant is welcomed to an activity or class or perhaps being sensitive to cultural differences among participants.


“Our research also reinforced a belief that the sector needs to embrace technology to engage all communities and get those who are inactive, active. Ultimately, we want sport and physical activity to be as easy to book as a cinema ticket or a table at a restaurant.” 


One innovative project is looking to enhance the ease with which physical activity classes and facilities can be booked online.  OpenActive, led by the Open Data Institute and funded by the National Lottery via Sport England, is encouraging leisure operators, local clubs and national governing bodies (NGBs) to publish their data as open data.

Currently much of the information about who, what, where and when activities take place is stuck in separate websites, social media groups, PDFs or printed flyers. When travel operators unlocked their data several years ago, it revolutionised the experience for holidaymakers.  OpenActive aims to do the same for the sport and activity sector by reducing the barriers to people engaging in physical activity. 


CASE STUDY: Bolly cric-hit – Leicestershire County Cricket Club 


Amna Rafiq, Community Engagement Officer at Leicestershire County Cricket Club, says being flexible has helped the club tackle the big barriers to South Asian participation in cricket locally, particularly among women. 


“Getting women from South Asian communities to play cricket and stay in the game is particularly tough,” she said. “There are traditionally held views within families that cricket is a man’s sport. Challenging that is hard, but being flexible on things like location and timings for sessions has really helped, along with having local role models which families will trust to look after their children.” 


The sessions Amna coordinates are called ‘Bolly cric-hit’, and typically take place in local community hubs or places of worship to minimise the disruption to participant’s daily routines. Amna believes this is key to making sure the sport is as accessible to as many people in the community as possible.  Initiatives like this can go a long way towards making physical activity more accessible and less daunting to those who may not have engaged with it before. 


“If you can get the right people to run the sessions, that makes a big difference to breaking down social barriers. We have women running our sessions who know the local families. People know their face, and that makes parents less uneasy about sending their daughters to play cricket.”