The Include Summit focuses on equality, diversity and inclusion in sport, and took place in Birmingham in March 2022. Paralegal Shah Begum, who is currently on secondment as Project Assistant in the Legacy Integration Team at Birmingham 2022, was honoured to provide the event’s opening speech, which we’re proud to share with you.
Good morning everyone and a very warm welcome to The Include Summit. And if you have never visited us before, welcome to Birmingham – host city for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
My name is Shah Begum and I am a Project Assistant in the Legacy Integration team at the Birmingham 2022 Organising Committee. I am also deputy chair of the EmbRACE network (the Organising Committee’s network that celebrates ethnically diverse communities) and in case you can’t tell from the accent, I am also a proud Brummie.
The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is ‘the Games for Everyone,’ and there are five missions which support that vision. The Games have the power to bring people together, improve health and wellbeing, act as a catalyst for change, help the region to grow and succeed, and put us on the global stage. Our approach to the vision is a firm commitment to advance equity and equality both on and off the field of play, and to lower the barriers to joining in.
Our commitment to the Games for Everyone vision has driven forward new standards for inclusivity in multi-sport events. The Games is therefore very proud to be partnering with Include Summit and delighted that you could join us in Birmingham in this incredible year for our city and region.
Today (March 8th 2022) is International Women’s Day, a day of action which aims to make the world more diverse, inclusive, equitable and celebrates the achievements of women from across the globe. It is a fitting day to remind everyone that this will be the first time in history that a major multi-sport event will award more medals to women than men and that T20 cricket will not only make its Commonwealth debut at Edgbaston, but will also be a women only event in a sport where women have long been under represented.
Within the Organising Committee itself our Women at Work network provides a forum in which women can share and reflect on their lived experiences in a non-judgemental environment and support one another. Alongside social events, guest speaker sessions have provided insights on topics such as ‘Imposter Syndrome’ in the workplace, improving and sustaining professional and personal networks and building resilience to do what you do best.
One of the practical things we have done is organise a headshot photography session to provide women with a professional photo they can use on their LinkedIn and work-related profiles during and after their time working on the Games. Our intention is to create a Women at Work LinkedIn group so that women can keep in touch going forward and continue the work that the Games has kick-started.
I wanted to share a few things about my own experience of working at the Games.
I am a secondee at the Games from law firm Gowling WLG, who are Official Legal Advisers to the Games. I am a construction paralegal by trade (that job you all wanted to do when you were younger!), a job that I have been doing for over 16 years. The Games have been a life changing opportunity for me.
I have learnt how to work with stakeholders with a broad range of priorities. I have learnt to challenge myself and everyone around me to do more when it comes to breaking down barriers to access. I have learnt to speak up and have my voice heard on issues that I feel strongly about, and I have learnt how to take awesome selfies with all the amazing people that I meet!
I have also been inspired to learn how to swim – something that I never learnt as a child and an activity which poses many cultural and religious barriers for a woman like me from an ethnically diverse community and who observe hijab. Modest swimsuits, female only swim sessions, access to female instructors and swim caps that can accommodate long hair are all examples of things I needed to think about before I even got into the pool.
When I voiced my hope of learning to swim, my Games colleagues swung into action and helped me to identify ways of overcoming these barriers including (and I still can’t believe this is true!) swimming lessons from the swim instructor to the Invictus Games athletes. I have been encouraged through every step of my journey and I have shared all of my learnings with my Games colleagues with the hope that this will shape some of our Games legacy programmes. I haven’t drowned yet and at the grand old age of (blah blah) I hope to do my first 50m swim at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre with Ellie Simmonds and (I am assured!) George Clooney (TBC!)
l am telling you this, not just because it is a nice experience for me, but through our work we have discovered that not only is there a significant cohort of children who have not learnt to swim during the pandemic, but that 93% of adults who look like me don’t swim.
After I have got my 50m swim badge (presented to me by Mr Clooney), if I am to carry on swimming after the Games, there needs to be the infrastructure and support available in my community to ensure that the barriers don’t go back up. Ensuring that legacy doesn’t stop when the Games does is one of the reasons we have set up a Games Legacy Charity, United By 2022.
One of the charity’s first campaigns is looking at how it can fund ways to help children catch up on the swimming lessons they missed because of the pandemic as well as encouraging old folk like me to learn to swim, and to also build the community capacity to make this happen. Sandwell Aquatics Centre will be working with the local Bangladeshi community to attract women from that community to come forward and be trained as lifeguards. After their volunteering experience with the Games, Sandwell Leisure Trust will look to create opportunities for paid work and more permanent jobs, thereby increasing the number of female lifeguards available and increasing their capacity to offer female only swim sessions.
Sport has the power to inspire people to do amazing things and to drive health and positive behaviour changes in our communities. But it is the role of all of us to challenge ourselves to break down barriers, amplify the unheard voices and find a route in for everyone.