Let’s talk about legacies: Phoebe Gibbons on changing the conversation

Let’s talk about legacies: Phoebe Gibbons on changing the conversation

Posted: Tue, 2 Aug 2022 10:30

Let’s talk about legacies: Phoebe Gibbons on changing the conversation

This week, we're delighted to be able to share a blog written by Phoebe, one of our Active Ambassadors, on reframing what we mean when we talk about legacy of sporting events. With the Commonwealth Games setting out their legacy plans for the future, Phoebe takes a fresh look at what legacy and inspiration means to her, and why it's time for a new perspective:

"It made me smile the other day when I heard the legacy of sporting events like the London Olympic and Paralympic games being described as successful because they inspired future generations and we've since had an increase in the number of medals being won at future games which have taken place since 2012.

When I reflect on this, I do acknowledge that this is positive and I really admire those athletes who have gone on to be successful; but when I think of legacy, I do question whether I completely agree with using this example to describe a legacy?

It is common knowledge that many minority groups still have great difficulty in accessing sport and physical activity and there are many individuals who still feel that sporting environments are places where they do not belong or that they are not good enough for.

That's why I would please like to share with you where my inspiration for sport and physical activity comes from. Whilst I greatly respect and admire what they do and achieve, my inspiration does not come from athletes who win medals. It comes from coaches, volunteers, and participants at grassroots level. At the end of the day, these are some of the people who are trying to ensure that everyone is able to have the opportunity to participate in sport and physical activity if they wish too.

I accept the need for elite sport and competition, I think there are so many positives to this, but I sometimes wonder if by solely focussing on this, we give out one strand of messaging rather than focussing on the whole picture and streamlining different messages about sport and physical activity. I think if we start to broaden this messaging, we can ensure that it is filtered across the landscape and will also encourage inclusion at every level.

Everyone welcome, regardless of ability

I help to coach a football team for children with Cerebral Palsy and other neurological conditions and it is one of the greatest privileges I have had. There are so many positives from parents being able to share experiences which very few others understand, to the pure joy on children's faces when they get a ball at their feet. However, for me, the greatest positive is the attitude shown by everyone involved, which is 'Everyone is welcome regardless of their ability.' This is rare, and it is so vitally important that an environment is created whereby everyone feels they can come along and know that they are valued. We work with children who have a wide range of different needs and ensure that, as coaches, we work together so that every child is able to participate in a way which works for them and most importantly, that they have fun.

Sadly though, far too many disabled children and adults do not have the opportunity to participate in a sport of their choosing. When I look around and see so many national charities and organisations doing good work and promoting disability sport, I do wonder why sometimes their messaging doesn't always reflect the reality of people who are living with a disability and trying to access sport? I think one of the reasons is because, in the past, not enough has been done to reach out to these people and to hear their lived experiences, though I do think that there has been a change of thinking on this in recent years and we are heading in a new direction, which is positive.

We have a long way to go to shift perceptions about disability

I also think that we often take a rigid view of disability in terms of society thinking it means people can't do things, rather than exploring and celebrating what can be done. An element of the legacy of the Paralympic games was that there was a shift in the way society views disabled people, and whilst I do agree things have moved forward in this area, the change has not occurred quickly enough and there is still far too much negativity around disability. Recent research from the national disability charity Scope, showed some very worrying statistics, with 3 in 4 disabled people having experienced negative attitudes or behaviour in the last 5 years. (Attitudes research | Disability charity Scope UK

Along with this, I think, we tend to view disability as a standalone barrier, rather than actually seeing the bigger picture. We need to recognise that disabled people have hopes, dreams and aspirations but that they will also have worries, concerns, and barriers about everyday life, just like their abled bodied peers. Disabled people are not just disabled people, they are people who have gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, and we need to recognise the barriers that these characteristics can cause individuals both on their own, but also as a collective.

I feel too often disabled people are labelled as 'lazy' if they do not engage in physical activity and that they have the 'wrong' attitude, and that they should be inspired by Paralympic athletes; but there is more to it than that. We need to be asking why they do not want to engage and what can be done to support them. From personal experience, I know that mental health is rarely looked at alongside living with a disability, and yet many disabled people face mental health issues of some kind. I also know that if you are in a low-paid job or you are unemployed, it can be difficult to access physical activity due to cost barriers. I know that if you come from an ethnic minority background, you are less likely to engage in physical activity. However, imagine if you were dealing with all of these barriers as well as living with constant pain, fearing judgement from those you may encounter and not being able to access activities because you are housebound. These are just some of the additional barriers faced by disabled people.

Why building from the bottom up is the way forward

I believe if a top-down approach is used, meaning that funding and decision making is made by those at the top, we will never achieve in ensuring opportunities for everyone. Instead, we need to recognise what grassroots and local communities have to offer and work on an approach where we continue to build on the foundations already in place, allowing people, projects, and participation to grow. If we build from the bottom up, the possibilities are endless and there is no limit, with knowledge, understanding, passion and empathy being at the heart. Whereas, if you build downwards, there will always be a point in which you have to stop because the foundations are not in place.

I don't believe there is ever a perfect answer for these situations, but it is so important that the voices of everyone are heard, particularly those with lived experience and local knowledge, along with expertise around a given area. I think we need to meet in the middle, make sure all areas of sport, but particularly grassroots, are represented at the table when decisions are made. If we give the messaging that everyone can be included regardless of your ability or how good you are, I think you will be able to start to build on foundations for a much more physically active population. If you allow people the opportunity to feel confident and engage in physical activity in a way which works for them, I really do think the possibilities are endless.

One of the greatest aspects to sport is teamwork, even those who participate in individual sports such as Tennis or Golf, have teams around them to support them in achieving their ambition. I really think if the idea of teamwork is applied to tackling the challenges the population faces with regards to physical activity, with organisations working together to really reach communities and individuals, then we stand a good chance of continuing to build on the legacy created by the 2012 games and other major sporting events, but right now, too many people are still missing out and that needs to change."

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Photo credit: The Plastic Goldfish Company

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