Equality rights campaigners in Birmingham have successfully convinced the city’s Commonwealth Games planners to reappoint their board – which had been 95% white despite the area’s diversity.
Ammo Talwar MBE, chair of the diversity taskforce at UK Music, was among 51 local authors of a letter demanding change from the Birmingham Organising Committee for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Birmingham 2022 chief executive Ian Reid and chair Jacob Crabtree replied vowing there would be changes made.
It isn’t yet clear whether they will rely on voluntary departures – such as that of Dame Louise Martin, who stepped down this week, making way for sports lawyer Sandra Osborne – or how many of the 20 members the group hope to replace. But Talwar is optimistic.
“I am overwhelmingly positive about the change,” he told HuffPost UK. “And we [the letter’s signatories] are here to help the board shape up within the next two years.”
The signatories included Joel Blake, who is president of the Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce; Anita Bhalla OBE, who chairs the West Midlands mayor leadership commission and set up BBC Asian Network in the West Midlands; and Joy Warmington, chief executive of the Birmingham Race Action Partnerships.
“Growing up in north Birmingham, I know Birmingham is a city filled with cultural and ethnic diversity and it’s incredibly important for the games to show that,” said Talwar.
Just over 42% of Birmingham residents are non-white, according to 2011 census data. But the Black Lives Matter movement, the Windrush scandal, and the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus have underlined an enduring lack of equality.
Talwar said: “Birmingham is diverse, the Commonwealth is diverse, athletes are diverse. Therefore, the workforce has to be reflective of that product of diversity.”
The commitment by games chiefs is a “positive start for our concerns being taken seriously”, he added.
“We look forward to collaboration and an emphasis on working [with] diverse communities to represent the city more.”
Birmingham 2022 chief executive Reid wrote in his reply to the group: “I completely accept the leadership is not currently reflective of the host city and it should be. Things need to change.”
Commonwealth Games Federation president Martin was the first person to step down from the Birmingham 2022 board to make way for a non-white representative. She remains president of the Commonwealth Games Federation and has not been asked to step down from that role.
Osborne, who is president of the Barbados Olympic and Commonwealth Games associations, sits with Martin on the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) and will join the Birmingham 2022 board in her place.
“The CGF is proud that our organisation reflects the diversity of the Commonwealth Sports Movement and that we have a person of Sandra’s calibre to actively contribute on the Birmingham 2022 Board,” a CGF statement said.
With promises of multi-million-pound investments, housing developments and new transport links, the games are set to change the landscape of the West Midlands. But the debate about whether the Games is worthwhile for the region’s diverse, young and digital communities will continue.
“Birmingham 2022′s ambition is to create a workplace that is welcoming for all and to build a dynamic team who share a vision to deliver something special for this region – a Games for everyone,” Reid and Crabtree wrote.