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Advocating for Diversity

Lawrence Farquharson, Community Outreach Coach, told us about his experience of ethnic diversity in the rowing community. And, gave us his take on why it’s so important to deliver rowing to those communities that otherwise would not have had the opportunity without the help of LYR.  

Why is rowing a great sport for everyone?

You only need to see how the kids interact with each other during a session to see how it’s a great sport. When you get these kids from such diverse background and they get together in an environment, over a couple of hours, over a couple of days, they become friends.

Also, you need to have a certain mentality to do this sport. In rowing you need to have a strong mind, and it teaches that.

Why is the work that London Youth Rowing doing, so important?

Going into schools and youth clubs, the young people look at you in such a weird way like, “why would I want to do rowing?” You give them the reasons why; opening the door to more opportunity, keeping yourself fit, meeting other young people from different backgrounds or different cultures from yourself. When they take the step and do it they turn to me and go “woah, this is amazing.” Suddenly LYR has had an impact on someone's life. That’s just one of the wonderful things about LYR.  

We’re also really cool as an organisation with the way our coaching team interact with each other, since we represent lots of different cultures as well. We’ve got Steve from Malawi selling rowing, Lawrence from a west indian background, or Isobel who learned to row with us as a junior and has progressed to coaching.

How do you feel about the general diversity of the rowing community at present?

Well at Henley, as a black person you go and say, “let me see how many black people I can count today!” It makes it challenging for black or asian kids who see it and go, “is this for me?”

But, I think rowing is actually a sport that says, if you’re good, no matter where you’re from, they’re not going to discriminate, because they want winners. If you’re good at what you do, you’re going to be given the opportunity.   

So, why do you think the divide happens?

Money might be part of it, but I think a lot of it is about being in the inner city. I can’t answer for everyone, but in my experience as a young black kid growing up in Hackney, when they brought rowing to my school this is what happened - “pfft, rowing?” It wasn’t identifiable for me, there wasn’t any role models. And I’m assuming that’s the same with these youngsters now.

But here’s the thing; I grew up on a council estate in Hackney with black, white and asian kids, and none of us would have been getting up at 4am for any sort of training session! It was actually nothing to do with being a black kid, it was any kid from that type of background would have been like, “are you having a laugh, how much are you paying us? You buying our lunch or something?!” It’s why I have so much admiration for young people that row.

So, parents, background and culture has a lot to do with it. When you come from a middle class background, your first choice of sports might include rowing. Your parents are going to be pushing you in that direction. They drop you off at the club then pick you up, volunteer at the club and everything else. People from working class backgrounds don’t have time to invest that much. The young people have to do it off their own back rather than necessarily getting support from home. LYR is important in providing support for young people.

My selling point is my background. I say, “I’m engaging you with rowing, but I couldn’t row before I joined London Youth Rowing.” I can sell the story to them.

Why do you think it’s important we bring diversity to the rowing community?

LYR are pushing for diversity, which can help create the role models kids need. It makes people think, “I can do that.” The more role models the better - not just Olympians; people participating in rowing clubs, at Henley, as coaches - it will open up their eyes. It’s important to tell the young people how amazing they are.

Should the rowing hierarchy be doing more to encourage diversity?

Yes. At Henley for example - there’s nothing wrong with this, they’re probably earning more money than me, but the only black people I saw were serving drinks. The Henley board could be doing more to push for better representation. That’s not to say I’m made to feel uncomfortable, that’s not in my character. I acknowledge positivity. At Henley, I’ve never felt negativity.  

But some of our young people would acknowledge the divide.

It would be great through LYR, to turn just one character I meet, over to one of our clubs and get them performing beyond Henley, at an Olympic games. That would be fantastic, that would be beautiful.

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