Trigger Warning: This episode discusses issues with mental health, racism, intergenerational trauma and anti-blackness.
Despite a handful of UK sports initiatives being introduced to increase diversity in the leadership of sports organisations, there still has been a lack of success and medalists from underrepresented groups.
Diversity in leadership is an essential part of this change and ensuring that opportunities will be increased for underrepresented groups
Podcast host Naomi chats with Geoff Thompson MBE, Chair of the London Youth Games and Deputy Chair of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. Listen as they explore Geoff's background as a child of immigrants from Guyana and Barbados to a former five times world karate champion and his intro into his career in sports administration. Connect with us as Geoff talks about the power of sports and sports provides common a purpose of ambition where all different backgrounds, identities, beliefs, and lifestyles, can be unified together. In addition with the added purpose which can aid with mental, physical, emotional health and well being. Additionally we look forward to what new, and inspiring legacies are being created today in the rich and intricate story of British Athletes and sports.
About our guest:
Prof. Geoff Thompson, MBE, FRSA, DL
Geoff Thompson has a 35-year track record in the social and human development of young people and communities. As a former five times world karate champion, sports administrator and politician, he has realised a unique range of skill sets that have seen him advise, develop and deliver social and human project and programme initiatives globally. Geoff has also undertaken a number of public and private sector appointments developing and contributing to equity, diversity and inclusion at all levels of society.
He is the Founder and Chair of the Youth Charter, a UK-based international charity and United Nations NGO that uses the ethics of sport, arts, cultural and digital activities to tackle the problems of educational non-attainment, health inequality, anti-social behaviour and crime in some of the most troubled areas around the world. Geoff is also a Board Member of the London Legacy Development Corporation an Advisory Board Member of the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, USA, Advisor to the Stephen Lawrence Day Foundation and was Chair of the Board of Governors at the University of East London for two years. Geoff is Chair of the Operational Board of the Professional Footballers’ Association, Deputy Chair of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and Chair of the London Youth Games.
Links Geoff mentioned:
Please stop all this work agendas, political correctness gone mad. Sorry, thought police, social snowflakes, Surely all lives matter. Ah, did those sound familiar? Here on you can't say anything anymore. we'll unpack the nuances of these comments and bring sidelines lived experiences to the forefront brought to you by Diversifying Group.Naomi:
Hi everyone, welcome to this month's podcast. And today we have a very special guest. And one I'm very excited for all of you to hear, as I'm sure you've seen the title of the podcast. But before we start, let's introduce the podcast. This is You Can't Say Anything Anymore! I'm your podcast host. My name is Naomi, my pronouns are she/they Anyways, let's get into our special guest. So what is your name, pronouns, current occupation and professional background?Geoff:
My name is Jeff Thompson. My pronouns? Simply, I think, on the basis of identity, and how we are perceived or responded to otherwise in society. I'm normally title professor Geoff Thompson MBE. And on that basis, I would simply add a global citizen of the world with rights and responsibilities that I try to live by every single day. My roles currently are having just completed the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games as its deputy chair of the Organising Committee, currently new chair of London Youth Games, and my life's work as co founder and chair of the Youth Charter, a 30 year commitment to young people's development through sport in life.Naomi:
I mean, wow, it's absolutely fantastic. It's been a it's so interesting to watch all of this and listen about this. I guess for our listeners out there. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your relationship with sport, sort of what does sport,mean to you and especially in the journey to becoming the chair of the London Youth Games as well as as you mentioned, obviously, the work with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, what does all this mean to you?Geoff:
It means everything that my life still remains committed to the role of sport, as a social, cultural, economic, and even political vehicle of change in improving the lives of young people in communities of historical deprivation, or disadvantage. I am a product of the post war Wind Rush experience where my mother and father migrated from their Commonwealth countries of Guyana and Barbados, to Britain, and found it not such a welcoming place, but nonetheless, took their ambition and wish to help rebuild the mother country, I think provide the very resilience and character that was to see me born in Wolverhampton and as a result of that, and losing my father at the age of seven, so my mother's a young widow relocate to the East End of London. This again, of what I realised was an emotional trauma of disaffection. I escaped with sport in the arts. It was my place of, I suppose, self reflection, expression, an outlet for my clearly aggressive feelings, having lost my father, and moving from a place of countryside tranquillity to the East End, hardened existence where, what you look like where you came from, and what you sounded like, will be the difference to what you could expect. The colour of my skin was not an option, but I soon got rid of my accent. And as I said, sport in the arts was a fundamental rights of access. And I was able to be a product of sport for all that was the mission aim at the 70s I discovered karate, as a means of self defence, the National Front then, and that intolerance is of the day meant I had to protect myself equally. I was a bit of an entrepreneur at school, and sold West Indian patties. So there was a need to be resilient and be able to protect, preserve and provide for Vice cooperative my mother and she didn't put us in a in a home. What I realised then now was one of the greatest decisions made for a young widow at the time. So I was always brought up to take my chances and make good of a bad situation. I discovered karate at Michael Soulful Leisure Centre, and it changed my life. It gave me a curriculum for life. It gave me the ability to set goals and targets that were not just classroom and playground orientated, and then found that I I could compete. It was a new language. So I learned the culture of the Japanese language time, and was in a diverse environment of students who all lined up in a disciplined, and common purpose of ambition, all different backgrounds, identities, beliefs, and lifestyles, but ultimately unified, and that diversity of purpose added to my mental, physical, emotional health and well being. I discovered competition. It took me all over the world, I achieved five gold medals, two heavyweight and three team and one of the most successful teams in the 80s that reflected that sport for participation. And since then, have simply translated that achievement of those medals and that that experience of of world travel, which is an edification back into the young people and communities that I've come from. So my journey from streets to stadiums, occasionally to the rostrum, and back to the streets, is simply many would say a recycling back to a holistic, but I think, common sense approach of seeing and still committed to that fundamental human right that young people be afforded sport in the arts as part of their mental, physical, emotional health and well being as a fundamental human right.Naomi:
That's absolutely fantastic. I love the idea that you kind of summarised about the circle from your journey, but also you see it as a fundamental right, and a fundamental parts of childhood and of human existence. I guess, just for some of our international listeners. Can you just describe a little bit about what is the London Youth Games? And how did you get involved in this?Geoff:
London Youth Games was born out of the Queen's silver jubilee in 1977. And Roger Bottomly, the then director, the Crystal Palace, National Sports Centre, came up with the idea as a festival of sport, our culture, and very much reflecting London. I was a leisure officer in the 80s at the sands and sports hall, in Hampstead, Fulham. And in those days, the sport leisure recreation department, in effect became the Organising Committee. So it was just part of that very edgy, but fantastic group of individuals that believed in that participation ethos. So the 33 bars of London basically put forward their teams in regional sorry, in a set of London regional competition, and that culminated in a crystal palace festival. And since then, the last 40 years, it's been a year on year, I think, occasion. In that part of special experience. I then towards the late 80s, became the co director. And then watch this journey. As I left him as the villain and moved into sports administration saw it culminate in the Commonwealth Youth Games of 2002, and Manchester games, it now has become the Commonwealth Youth Games as part of the Commonwealth Games Federation annual calendar of events. And I think shows in what for me, and ironically became the Queen's Platinum Jubilee year, when I was asked to consider the role became an absolute no brainer in the ability to be able to see what many would agree returned back to its original ethos, a festival of young people in communities in London, giving them that participation engagement, right. But giving them the responsibility should they choose to, to achieve their potential, both in sport or in life. And here I am, at a time where we have a Commonwealth games in which we have to look at legacy. We have a huge games that is now resetting and repositioning itself with the 10th anniversary of the London 2012 Olympic Paralympic Games, and the pleasures of inspiring acceleration still pending. So for me, it's an opportunity to do what I believe I do best. Lead by example, in bringing together people who wouldn't normally work together, but I believe that he can win you have major games, and I considered London Youth Games, the games of the streets.Naomi:
Thank you. That's a wonderful summary. And I love the idea that you summarised all of those experiences, but also the direction that it's moving towards. I guess that kind of follows into my next question, which is about recent news, the London Youth Games has revealed its equality and diversity action plan for the years 2021 2025. Can you tell us a bit more about this?Geoff:
I think in simple terms, the equality and diversity action plan I would have said that my appointment could have been deemed as token. I think anyone who looks at my, my life journey through sport, and what I now represent in that Youth Games role of leadership. For me a simple requirement that equality, diversity inclusion is reflected in every single aspect of what the London Youth Games experience looks like. The third free bar is those just under 8 million citizens, but the young citizens of London, they have to look at the Youth Games and see themselves in those who are responsible in the delivery of the games, the stakeholder relationships and partnerships that help realise the games, the games, volunteers, the leaders, everybody who's involved in that experience must now be part of that experience, and what equality diversity inclusion looks like. It's, it's a subject now that I believe, can only be really given it to chance, as an ongoing challenge to each and every one of us the opportunity where we can learn to foster sound positive, and I think community and society beneficial relationships, what I've learned through sport, and my life journey, is it's the only cultural bridge that gives us that opportunity. And it's been even more reinforced with just having the experience the Commonwealth Games and Birmingham, the opening ceremony, when those 56 countries were represented in those athletes and their cultural identity, and vibrance, I would challenge anybody who wants to tell me that sport, in its broadest possible ability to unite and give hope and opportunity should not not be reflected, as they all go back to their respective nations within cities and alliances, and how we can foster not as the panacea is not solution. But we can certainly provide answers to some of society's challenges of how we mutually coexist, irrespective of what we look like, where we come from, what we believe in what we sound like, from what our lifestyle choices might be in whom we love, and who we doubt. But the Youth Games commitment is fundamental, it must be at the golden thread that is reflected in our vision, mission, objectives and values.Naomi:
Thank you, that's really touching. I love the the example you gave about this kind of, I want to say red thread, as self as a cultural reference. For anyone else listening out there about the idea of the red thread is something it's a symbol that is common in Asian culture, about something that is connecting us that is invisible. And you don't know where it's going to lead, specifically, and the idea of all of those nations sort of proudly displaying their, their community and their roots, but also having a unity and a sense, holistically. I think that's absolutely beautiful. I guess we've spoken a little bit as well about sort of the impact that sport has had on specifically your life and everything. And I guess, obviously, as you've summarised a bit about what it means for diversity and inclusion, I guess I wanted to hear a little bit more about from you is what are the issues that athletes of colour face over athletes of sort of majority backgrounds? How do they intersect with class, religion, disability culture? How does this all intersect?Geoff:
How much time have you got at this moment in time, and with the appreciation and understanding that sport reflects society, and equally could influence society, we have a lot of work to do, if we do not get that fundamental participation, right, of access to all of sport, by choice, and I have a fundamental belief, for example, that there are life sport requirements, swimming, the ability to defend yourself, the ability to be able to run. And that's for further time of explanation, but they give you the mental, physical, emotional armour to be able to handle the challenges of life. When we talk about the participation piece, we then get the developmental performance and excellence. That sport for all unique model of the 70s produced the most diversity be metalled era in the 80s. As we entered into the 90s, we started to look at the Olympic and Paralympic Games as the benchmark of success. And in some of that, with the advent of the lottery, we lost our way in 2000. We rightfully invested in got a return on that investment with metals, and since then, have subsequently performed exceptionally well at major games with the culminated success of 2012 Seeing as top the Metal tables, but is that the benchmark that sees us benefit in the participation opportunities in our communities, I do not believe that is the case. Or else I would still not be committed to the youth charters work. Whereas I benefited so many, if not over many water. Now, generations. The last games in Tokyo saw not one black athlete stand on the gold medal rostering. It was the lowest participation, gold return of previous games, anytime I can remember, that tells you the participation engagement is not working. In 2012, we pledged to inspire a generation 1.3 billion was invested in that pledge. And we have not improved that pledge and commitment if we had when the pandemic struck. And the evidence is now compelling. In the educational, non attainment, the health inequalities, public health impact that leads to no hope and opportunity of jobs or entrepreneurship, lead to the disaffection of antisocial behaviour, gang related activity, and even extremism. Now, that is a societal construct, or even as a socio economic argument is unsustainable. But what I believe is for generations now, that asked why, on 70 different occasions when I engage with them, if they don't see it reflected in their ambitions and aspirations, they will not engage with it, they do not have the postwar resilience that I would have had, and so many others. And it's just been very much reflected, again, in the games we just hosted in Birmingham, where I've had the opportunity to speak to the many who represent lead and participate in this wonderful experience. So for me, when I can see the diversity reflected in our international teams, then those young people who wish to be inspired, will see themselves not only competing and representing Britain as I did, and there is no greater honour than to leave the Great Britain team. But as you saw with the English team that competed in Commonwealth Games, you have to see it to believe it. That is where how society has shaped the thinking of our young people. And that's not just in the field of competition. It means it comes in the administration, in the leadership, because it's there with the strategies, the policies that the investments are made. But it is doable, it is possible, because that's why sport again, brings up the resilience of ambition that suggests you never ever, ever, ever give up on the past, to form the present, to make the future.Naomi:
That's pretty amazing. I love the idea that you pointed out that it needs to come from the ground up with these things, that it can't just be the face that is being represented. And that means the people will be inspired. It needs to be from the ground up from the community, towards the community, with different individuals from different backgrounds serving different kind of needs, different wants, different desires, but also all being united and represented. I think that's a very interesting point and very, very sound point. I guess just before we kind of come to a close, I know that you're very busy, obviously. So I just wanted to know a little bit more about your charity, which is the EU charter. Could you just tell us a little bit more about why you started that and a little bit more about what that does?Geoff:
1993 Manchester, upon having failed to secure the 2000 the Olympic bid for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, secure the 2002 Commonwealth Games. But in that time, on January the second 1993 of a 14 year old school boy Benji Stanley, was gunned down on the streets of Messiah and that heralded the gang culture as we now know it. And the unacceptable youthful age that young boys in particular more only now young women fell into that cycle of culture. As I've said, I'm a product of sport for all and upon revisiting the communities I've come from I realised that sport and the arts were not playing their part in the classroom playground or beyond the school gate into our wider community. The of chance was launched. I was supported by the then bid team and I pulled together a whole multi agency and societal representation of what I believe sport gives young people and the mission aim to develop in life. It coincided Some months later me going to South Africa with a vision for sport for the new South Africa, as they were rid themselves of the opponent apartheid system saw me exposed and experience what sport was doing with no grants, no policies, no strategies, just the Unbuntu of self being realised with the common we have that wider self. The youth charter, guilty dilute became part of the counselling Community Programme are those successful and memorable 2002 Commonwealth Games, and as a result, had three particular engagement themes. One to engage young people would support our cultural digital activity, to equip them with the mental physical, emotional health and well being and resilience and then to empower them. With the aspiration of further higher education, employability, or entrepreneurship that is delivered as an intergenerational whole community approach. The village brings up the child, I believe the community brings up our global young citizens. I must admit, I thought it was a short term seven year strategy. And it has now become my life's work along with my fellow wife, and world champion jalesar Gal Thompson. The lives that have been lost, still troubled me haunt me, but inspire me. A commitment is still ever much required or needed. And that is why through the major games that have been hosted, either here or abroad, we've gone from tragedy to a global movement of sport for development, or a United Nations non governmental organisation. And we still pursue the mission, vision, objectives and values that the fundamental right to children and young people to benefit mentally, physically, emotionally. With sport aren't physical activity, any description remains at the fundamental core of what we do. We now have a call to action. As a result of burning 2022 Commonwealth Games, we will attempt to engage, equip and empower over 1 million young people in the UK. And recruit, select and deploy the social coaches. These are the people in our communities, for our communities with our communities, they build the relationships of trust competence with respect, they're a diverse and invaluable currency of leadership reference points that can show the way to those who are looking for hope and opportunity. So what I've benefited from what I've seen globally, so that's now a global movement of social coaches. And you only need to have an interest in young people and commit two hours a week. We just had 14,000 volunteers in Birmingham, extraordinarily deliver a memorable games as if they all contribute to ours, to their communities, and the community campuses that we believe with that band one, two, everybody is responsible. So everybody benefits. What we do globally will be no different 50,000 Social coaches, 50 community campuses, and over 50 million young people benefiting so we have big ambition. We're very humbled in our numbers. But we will not be deterred by those who would simply aim to derail, disrupt or destroy, because there is a real need now with the weld and it sucked uncertainty with what I've witnessed and experienced, but the games in Birmingham, that games for everyone, and legacy opportunity for all our campaign slogan will now be enacted. And I believe we will be able to take forward something that gives the youth of the world a real opportunity of tangible authentic engagement.Naomi:
Thank you. I mean, that's beautifully summarised. Tangible, authentic and engagement. Thank you. Just before we close, I guess this kind of rolls into my next question, which was, we've spoken a lot about resilience and you've spoken a lot about your experiences, I guess, is there any kind of advice or anything you want to share for any young people listening or any people who are interested in engaging in sport, any advice about them to sort of overcome these challenges or anything else?Geoff:
Firstly, you need the only important resilience. Do not be naive, that the world is an inviting place of which you are entitled. There is a need to understand that as a human race, we are we are fallible, and we're not perfect. However, if you apply hard work, a commitment and a dedication of effort, with strong belief in your ancestry and heritage. It will equip you for when life knocks you down, because it's only upon life knocking you down. How you take the count of your experiences and stand back up better for that experience. Can you then fulfil what I believe everybody has? Whatever your beliefs are. I have a very strong spiritual belief that we all have a gift And if we're given the opportunity of realising that gift, and if one door shots, go to another, you'll be amazed how many doors there are, be strategic. Be respectful, but not at the expense of those firmly held held values, that you treat people how you wish to be treated. If you retain a sense of humour, if you apply yourself dedicate, commit yourself with hard work, you will achieve your ambitions. If you wish to give lofty goals of mutual shared benefit by what you achieve, it will possibly take you longer, but you will achieve your dreams and your objectives. Never, never, never, never, never give up on your ambitions. And finally, all that inspired me at a time where I wanted to give up that George Floyd reminded me that my fight for the streets reflect where I've come from the streets. Vision without action is about a dream. action without vision is merely passing time vision with action can change the world, the late Madiba, Nelson Mandela.Naomi:
Thank you. There's a lovely quote and on. I wanted to thank you so much for your time today. I said I understand that obviously, it's been a very busy couple of weeks for you as as of when recording just finished the scene in Birmingham. So I just want to say thank you again for your time. Thank you for ending on that. I think that that advice is very, very, very important. I'm sure that I'll be writing it down, trying to revise that later, trying to sort of internalise all of those notes together.Geoff:
Everything on the website, you've charted the org, visit the website, it's all there for any young person that says from tragedy. We are now a global movement of hope and opportunity.Naomi:
Brilliant, thank you very much. I guess is there any is there anywhere that people can find out more about you or these are the other organisations as well that you've mentioned at all.Geoff:
All at the Youth charter. Great thing about Google, you've charted it all comes to your very required needs. have further questions answered.Naomi:
Okay. Brilliant. Thank you so much. Well, thank you again for your time. I'm sure our listeners will be Googling this right away right now. Thanks.Diversifying Group:
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