FUNDAMENTAL change is needed across the board, if TT, as a nation and people, wishes to eradicate the gender and racial inequality currently plaguing the society.
This was the recommendation made by TT Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis during his contribution to the Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) Soccerex webinar on Wednesday.
Entitled Football for All – Gender Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in Football, the fourth instalment of a SIGA series featured a lineup of influential sports leaders from around the world.
Lewis, who has been vociferous about his vision of equity in both the local and international arenas, believes sport is no exception as it relates to gender and racial inequality.
“You feel a little sense of despair and dismay when you have these conversations because the systemic inequalities are so entrenched that people become apologists rather than change agents. We all, each of us, have to be the change we want to see,” he said.
Lewis drew references to the desperate plights of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and highlighted George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white police officer as examples of a lengthy history of discrimination and its clear relevance in today’s world.
Listening avidly were panellists former English/ Arsenal Women’s Football Club player Alex Scott, Master Card vice president of Consumer Marketing and Sponsorship Alison Giordano, senior director of global partnerships at SIGA Katie Simmonds, English Football Association director of women’s football Baroness Sue Campbell, Fare Network executive director Piara Powar and sports broadcaster and online moderator, Ben Jacobs.
Lewsi, who is also the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) president also said he was a victim of racial abuse while attending top-flight international board meetings overseas.
Lewis has now chosen to amplify his fight against gender and racial discrimination by speaking out on these issues on wider platforms. He believes it’s his personal responsibility and called on major corporations/sporting bodies to revisit their strategies on selection and promotion.
“What international bodies and big countries need to do is to make sure there are more females, black and coloured decision-makers at the head table. In terms of sport, we need more diversity at the management and coaching level. Until that is done, all it sounds like is public relations, opportunism, bandwagon jumping, and tokenism,” he added.
On June 9, former national football captain and Manchester United striker Dwight Yorke shared his views on being overlooked for managerial positions owing to his ethnicity. After presenting his credentials to two organisations, Yorke was disappointed he didn’t even get am acknowledgement of receipt, much less an interview. He said not even a recommendation by legendary coach Sir Alex Ferguson was good enough to warrant that.
Lewis has already made public his wish for the next president of the International Olympic Committee and TTOC to be female.
He says there are three forms of inequity; systemic, structural, and historical.
“I have experienced racism at international sport meetings where people didn’t want to get in an elevator with me, or would cross the street. Unless we stop dancing around and putting a positive spin on inequalities, we’re spinning top in mud. The fish rots from the head. When you do meet situations, it is a reality. It’s something you endure and look at the bigger picture,” he said.
On gender-based discrimination, Simmonds agreed with Lewis on the elevation of women in the boardroom and at a sporting level. She thinks the implementation of term limits (at a board level) can play an introductory but integral role in reversing a male-dominated executive.
“Term limits stop perpetuating power. If the people at the top are in it for two terms, maximum three. That is one of the systemic changes which will then filter down. Another change is on the governance of the board,” she said.
Lewis affirmed men also play an important role in justifying the ways and means of achieving these goals. He said men also need to mentor women and to give up in many ways their positions, sense of entitlement, and decision-making at the head table.
He also called out multi-national organisations for “jumping on the bandwagon” and not practising what they preach in their internal affairs.
He does not believe "many commercial and corporate sectors have the moral right to talk to sport about gender equality.
"Studies have shown there is an issue in terms of women at the decision-making process.
"To get any type of movement forward that is deep-seated and structural, we need to have a fundamental change and need more women at the decision-making table so that decision will reflect the concerns and issues of the diversity of what the modern world looks like,” he concluded.