Inclusion and Sport: In Conversation with Romeo Effs

Firstly, can you please introduce yourself? Who are you and what do you do?

Hey, I'm Romeo Effs. I'm Founder and CEO of Lumorus, Jamaican by birth and have been living and working in the UK since 2005.

And what is Lumorus in a nutshell? 

Lumorus is a boutique consultancy, working with companies in the area of corporate governance, compliance and ethical-social-governance. We work with organisations on, what we call, organisational health, which includes the whole notion of leadership, culture, diversity and inclusion, you know, anything that helps the organisation to function more healthily.

In a nutshell, we believe that businesses should deliver value to all stakeholders, and also be a force for good.

Taking into account BBC Sport’s Hate Won’t Win campaign, BT’s 433 initiative, and other diversity initiatives across sport - what do you make of the current sports landscape with regard to diversity, acceptance, etc? 

Wow, where do I start? So it's a mixed bag, because the last report I remember reading mentioned there is a relative balance in terms of gender split. It's currently sitting around a 60% (men) 40% (women) split of women at Director level and above. However, when it comes to class diversity, there is a clear bias towards the middle class. Those from prestigious backgrounds, schools and universities are still getting the lions share of the decision making roles in sport - there needs to be more work done to diversify sporting executive teams and boards when it comes to class.  

When you look at other protected communities, such as those from an ethnic minority or LGBTQ background for example, these numbers drop even further. Those from an ethnic minority background make up 3% of executive / board level roles across the UK, with the LGBTQ community making up around 5%. These figures are tiny when you look at the discrepancies between sports fans and sports professionals. The culturally, racially and sexually diverse makeup of sports fan-bases is not translating to the sport workforce and we have to ask why that is. 

Looking at those on the pitch or the court, considering Football with Sterling, Rashford, Hamza Choudhary and Cricket with Archer, Ali and Rashid, you could argue that at least there’s diversity on the pitch. This isn’t true! Look at golf, gymnastics, fencing, the UK is struggling to produce diverse talent and it’s not for lack of options. I know a young Black, British gymnast who was incredible, competed for the UK at youth level and blitzed the competition, but for some reason she just could not make the pros and it wasn’t for lack of talent. Instead, to pursue the discipline she loved she went to represent Jamaica in the olympics as she just could not get a break in the UK. Once again we have to ask why and we can’t shy away from the potentially difficult answers which present themselves.

This is the current landscape of sport when it comes to diversity and we still have a long way to go until we can truly consider the UK to be “diverse” in sport both on pitch and in the boardroom. 

How can we make it so there’s tangible, actionable change in these areas of sport?

Sporting bodies, like all organisations, need to have the right strategies and the right initiatives in order to break the cycle of transient, surface level initiatives currently in play. 

If you look at marketing and advertising campaigns for elite level sport, they will always look incredibly diverse and inclusive and the reason for this is that fan bases are highly diverse. Now look at the recruitment campaigns, no way do you see the same level of commitment to diversity. Organisations need to move their diversity efforts from fanbases to recruitment and widen their nets - this way you become diverse not only in terms of protected characteristics, but also in terms of thinking, in terms of skills, in terms of characteristics. It’s a nuanced form of diversity, deeper than what we are currently seeing, and if we recruit this diverse workforce in sport, the diverse fan bases and cultural change across sport will follow naturally. 

Finally, before you do anything, you need to admit there is a problem and you need to know exactly what that problem is. What we do at Lumorus is audits in terms of workplace culture, branding and more - all of which feeds into something we call a cultural diagnostic audit. Once sporting organisations know exactly where their cultural blockers lie, you can move forward with actual fixes instead of doing what’s happening now, and throwing a whole host of ideas at a wall and hoping they stick.

That’s really interesting - with that in mind, do you think change has to come at NGB / organisation level, or does the responsibility sit with individual clubs, teams and athletes? 

I think it has to be a mix, it can't just be a complete, top down or bottom up approach. What you find is that by going totally one way or totally another, there is going to be resistance. It HAS to be a partnership to ensure change can occur smoothly and effectively. 

From an organisation level, the most important aspect is resources and regulations. Once organisations commit resources and pull together regulations for diversity and don’t view it as tokenistic, there will be enough impetus at club and grassroots level to implement and allow change. Formula 1 is the perfect case-study. For years, Lewis Hamilton tried to effect change at player level but it was only until two years ago when the FIA offered support that you can see true, tangible change at karting and junior Formula levels of racing for drivers from BAME backgrounds. 

What clubs need to ensure is that this culture of inclusivity is exactly that. The issue many diversity and inclusivity campaigns face at club level is they position straight, white men on one side, and anyone who doesn’t meet that on the other. However inclusivity is exactly that and it includes straight white men. Clubs should not fall into the trap of an Us vs Them dynamic, focus on the idea of allyship and focus on WHY these initiatives are in place. This will make enforcing organisation level regulations much smoother at club level. 

Finally, less so regarding organisations and more so individuals in sport, do you have any advice for those looking to make actionable change in sport? 

Oh, where do I start? You know, first thing I'd say is just get off your backside and just get it done! I understand it can be fearful entering this space as, for some reason, it can be so polarising. But you have to have courage as this is the right thing to do. When you have Black English players having people making monkey noises at them at a European final, a stage England hadn’t reached for 55 years, you realise just how important this is. When players coming out as being part of the LGBTQ community is still front page news and the risk of backlash is so high, you realise just how important this is. Keep these situations front of mind and no matter how fearful you are, you realise just how important the work you can do in the cultural diversity space actually is.   

The final thing I would say is, don't try to eat the elephant all at once. Sometimes people think that the whole notion of diversity involves trying EVERYTHING related to diversity out, seeing what works and going from there. Not only is that efficient but it can make diversity seem so incredibly daunting! Instead, pick off some quick wins that you you you can demonstrate and, once you do that, then you will get more buy-in in the future? To use a sporting analogy, this isn’t a job for Usain Bolt, it’s a job for Mo Farah. Don’t go full tilt, instead steady yourself, strap yourself in for the long haul and achieve something incredible. 

Be committed, be patient and know what you are doing is right. Do those three things and change will come.

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