21 July 2020

Why I want to stop hockey being just a ‘white, private school sport’, says GB’s Emily Defroand on her mission for diversity

Great Britain hockey star Emily Defroand has spoken out about the lack of diversity within the ‘predominantly white and private school sport’.

The 25 year-old midfielder told Newschain: "I’ve always felt that everyone should have an equal opportunity to participate in our sport, no matter your age, your gender, your ethnicity or your ability. Everyone should have that opportunity and at the moment that is not equal.

Defroand, who was given her first centralised programme with GB after Rio’s 2016 Olympic Games, believes now is the time to use the momentum of Black Lives Matter dialogue to discuss why there is a lack of diversity in the sport and how to make a change.

"It’s worrying as a senior international hockey player within the women’s squad that there is not an ethnic minority individual.

"In the men’s squad there is only one, Rhys Smith, and lower down that’s very similar as well.

"The likes of Rhys, who has reached the pinnacle of the sport, needs to be celebrated even more so, he needs to be seen as the role model he is.

"Darcy [Bourne] is an under-21 international, a phenomenal hockey player. Darcy at such a young age should still be seen in the same light as all of us lot.

"She has had to overcome those stereotypes that come with being a black female playing in a sport that is predominantly a white and private school sport.

“It is about giving those role models within our sport an added platform to highlight that they are phenomenal people and athletes.”

But Defroand is aware that lack of  opportunity is at the core of the problem.

She said: "Not every school in the country offers hockey in their curriculum, hockey is predominantly played in private schools.

"Speaking as a state school kid myself, I am aware that it is a factor of people not participating and then you’ve got the cost of participation, like the membership fees and equipment.

"There are a lot of barriers along the way that as a sport we can do better.

“You can’t be what you can’t see, we need to make sure people aren’t playing hockey because of the colour of their skin, they shouldn’t have to conform to the norm of what you should look like to be a hockey player. No one should have to suppress themselves.”

She believes it is not just down to the GB hockey board to help players to feel comfortable participating, it is down to everyone, and a barrier that needs to be tackled is how to get participation levels up within inner-city and disadvantaged areas as well.

Defroand (centre) is determined to make a change in hockey to better reflect society (Emily Defroand )

Before the 2018 London World Cup, England Hockey launched an East London Hockey project, which Defroand was an ambassador for. 

The aim was to get children from inner-city disadvantaged areas and schools who have never played the sport, to be given an opportunity to try it.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medalist added: "The existing projects already set up need to be celebrated and expanded and encouraging more people to follow suit and do the same.

"Within the inner-city for example if you’re not going to have astro turfs nearby then schools are less likely to offer it as part of the curriculum and they are not going to have the equipment available for them in school.

“It is a barrier that may have prevented young inner-city children from disadvantaged backgrounds from participating in hockey, but moving forward I am determined that can’t be a barrier.

“But if England and GB hockey get involved or the local clubs take specialist coaches and equipment then that participation barrier through lack of facilities and resources is no longer.”

But with the core issues known across England Hockey’s board, is there a greater change on the way?

She said: "I can speak personally and I can speak on behalf of a lot of people and that actually it shouldn’t have taken the black lives movement to instigate this change that needs to happen.

"But actually it has happened and now we need to be accountable to achieve this meaningful change and see if there is a movement for change going forwards.

"Also re-engineering the system to give greater opportunities for state school involvement for example. Or providing hockey opportunities to those from disadvantaged backgrounds that maybe can’t afford to buy their own hockey stick or to join a hockey club.

"It’s a very broad perspective on what needs to happen, but actually with everyone coming together from the board room, from top international players all the way through to club level, if everyone collectively can do more, then hopefully with that, there will be greater diversity and inclusion within hockey.

"I’ve had numerous discussions with Nick Pink, England Hockey’s CEO, and that was quite reassuring because there are things in place that they are working on at the moment.

“There are aspirations that they are looking at internally and externally within the national governing body but also how we can have a greater influence on participation in terms of in the wider society.”

But she is aware dismantling a system and building it back up will take time.

“You’ve got to be realistic it’s not going to happen overnight but I’ve had so many conversations over the last few weeks, whether it be with players within hockey who have suffered discrimination or whether that be racism, gender or background," she said.

"If everyone knuckles down and is passionate about making this change happen then in the long term I’m confident that things can change, and with that hopefully hockey can better reflect the society we live in.

"These conversations can be uncomfortable, I’m all too aware as a white female I will never understand what it feels like to be a black female trying to play at the elite level in sport, or just being a black female in society.

“But in having these conversations and educating myself and learning about what I can do, I want to voice my support.

"I want to stand right next to Rhys and Darcy and show that I feel just as passionate about the change that needs to happen.”

GB hockey is taking an even a bigger stance to help make a positive change (Emily Defroand)

Defroand is conscious that it needs to take the whole team to make a serious change, but she believes with unity and courage, it can be done.

She has reached out to her fellow teammates and put forward the idea on what they can do as a unit.

She said: "We’ve had numerous discussions, we’ve kind of got a working group together that are in constant conversation in terms of ‘have you read this’ or ‘have you listened to this.'

“How we and players can do our bit but also working alongside and supporting the national governing body to have that broader impact. It’s something us and players take quite seriously.”

Ultimately, the star believes sport is the ‘most powerful platform’ to create and encourage change.

Defroand, who is also a 2017 European bronze medalist, said: "It is a big talking point at the moment and so many people are sharing their views, in terms of striving to achieve this meaningful change moving forward and making society a better place for everyone.

"But sport is the most powerful platform within society in my opinion and you’ve seen it within the football Premier League and the players taking a knee, things like that speak volume.

“Using sport and using the role models within sport such as Dina Asher-Smith, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Darcy Bourne and Rhys Smith, using all of these wonderful athletes as real figureheads, and using sport as that platform to make sure that change does happen because quite frankly, it needs too.”

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