Wimbledon chiefs quizzed over lack of BAME representation at boardroom level

The Championships logo is seen on the third day of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship on June 22, 2005 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in London.
There is no BAME representation on the All England Club’s board (Picture: Getty)

 

Wimbledon may have taken a step forward by appointing its first female CEO but the lack of diversity in senior decision-making positions at the All England Club – and in British tennis as a whole – remains a concern.

Sally Bolton, a highly-qualified operator who has held posts in rugby league, rugby union and athletics before taking a her first role at Wimbledon in 2016, will replace Richard Lewis in August, becoming the club’s first chief executive since the role was established in 1983.

‘I absolutely appreciate that my gender is a story – and I am the first female chief executive of the All England Club,’ Bolton told a group of journalists this week.

‘I do hope that I’ll be judged on what I achieve in the time that I’m chief executive. But I also appreciate that it’s important for women and girls to be able to see that it’s possible to achieve senior roles in sport. And to that end I understand the importance of that.

‘And I’m very supportive of diversity in the boardroom and in sport generally. So it’s exciting times.’

Boardrooms are under more pressure now than ever before to be representative. Tennis, simply put, is failing.

Wimbledon content: Wednesday night, Friday night, Sunday night
Sally Bolton has been appointed as Wimbledon’s first female CEO by chairman Ian Hewitt (Picture: PA)

 

There is no BAME representation on the All England Club’s board.

There is no BAME representation on the Lawn Tennis Association’s board.

It may come as little surprise, then, that of the 14 participants – nine of whom were journalists – in this week’s virtual media briefing, 14 were white.

It’s not a problem unique to tennis – a sport that has struggled to shake its white, middle-class image, the lack of diversity in boardrooms across the sporting sphere has been thrust into the limelight by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

As Andy Murray put it earlier this week: ‘I saw a study of the board positions across all of the governing bodies across the major sports in England the other day and I think there’s like three out of 139 positions which were taken up by black people.

‘That’s something that obviously needs to change and it’s the same in tennis as well.’

LTA chief executive Scott Lloyd penned an open letter earlier this month recognising the failings of his organisation and he should be commended for his attempts to ‘open tennis up’ and shake its elitist tag, but in his own words: ‘What is needed is action to back up these words’.

Labour MP Toby Perkins – who is the chair of the all-party Parliamentary tennis: ‘Great. So who will be the first black person elected to the LTA board and when?’

Richard Lewis, (right), Chief Executive Officer of AELTC and Scott Lloyd, Chief Executive officer of the Lawn Tennis Association conduct a media interview at Wimbledon Park during the middle Sunday at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Wimbledon on July 07, 2019 in London, England.
Wimbledon CEO Richard Lewis with LTA CEO Scott Lloyd (Picture: Corbis via Getty)

 

A similar question could be fired in Wimbledon’s direction.

‘A focus on diversity is something that we have had for a long time. So, it is not just recently,’ Bolton added. ‘To answer the specific question, no there aren’t [any All England Club board members from a BAME background].

‘In line with many 100s of other organisations and other sporting organisations, whilst we have had done a lot of good work in this area already, we know there is a lot more we can do. And we will. We are very committed to that.’

That commitment does not stretch to a guarantee that there will be a push for a BAME representative the next time a space on the Wimbledon board opens up.

Ian Hewitt, who succeeded Philip Brook as Wimbledon chairman at the end of last year, said: ‘I take the point that you are hinting at, as it were, and we certainly look to ensure that we have diverse skills and experience in all senses of the word. [As] diverse as we can.

‘I think it would be wrong to commit to proportional representation or any other form but we look to see who has the appropriate skills and experience across the board. That will be certainly be my aim in making recomendations for the future.’

Hewitt was unable to provide statistics for how many non-white members there are at the All England Club.

‘The short answer is that I don’t [know the percentage of BAME membership],’ he said after some hesitation.

Schroders Battle Of The Brits - Day 1
Murray took the knee this week (Picture: Getty)

 

‘We will take everyone equal. I would like to think that we are as welcoming for all players, members, fans without any form of discrimination and I would just like to treat everyone equally. I honestly haven’t done the statistics in that sense.’

Lewis added: ‘I would just say that the last time I looked at statistics, it is reasonably diverse. Not as diverse as it should be. In many ways it is a reflection of British tennis.

‘We would strongly support the LTA in their drive to make British tennis more diverse. Players from an ethnic minority background who have reached a reasonable level in British tennis have actually become members of the club so I think it is a broader question.

‘But certainly people from all ethnic backgrounds are always made welcome either as members or as guests. And our foundation has diverse representation on the board. The Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative has been going for 20 years now and it has got more than 30% of the coaches from ethnic minority backgrounds.

‘We have got a track record of diversity and inclusiveness but there is room for improvement and I don’t have a shadow of doubt that that will continue to improve over the next few years.’

The All England Club declined to provide a breakdown of the membership upon further request from TotalNews.uk, but a spokesperson said: ‘Respect is one of our core values, and we aspire to be an event, a club and an employer that welcomes all individuals regardless of age, disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, and sexual orientation.

‘While we can be proud of the playform that The Championship provides to the players, the work of the Wimbledon Foundation, and many other efforts to support the BAME community, we are committed to improving the diversity of our organisation for the future.’

Murray, a two-time Wimbledon champion, was among the group of elite tennis players who took the knee in support of the BLM movement this week at the Battle of the Brits event.

Athletes have been warned by the International Olympics Committee that such protests are banned ahead of Tokyo Games but it’s not a stance that Wimbledon chiefs plan to take.

The AELTC Vice Chairman, Ian Hewitt on day ten of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon.
Ian Hewitt replaced Philip Brook as chairman (Picture: PA)

 

‘Certainly in the past we have had examples of players wanting to make a statement of some sort and in each of those cases, we have worked with those players to agree how they are going to go about doing that,’ said Bolton.

‘So no there would not be a ban, we would have that conversation individually or as a group and work through with them what that would look like. It’s a conversation we would have, it certainly would not be a ban.’

Outgoing chief executive Lewis added: ‘The conversation would be about respecting the players views and it may well be that just before a match would not be the time they would want to do it.

‘They may want some assistance in organising a group, players or whatever, a photograph in Aorangi before the Championships start. It’s that kind of discussion.’

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