for those who love the outdoors

12 July, 2022

An unequal playing field

It is difficult for children from low income families to access sport. They can't even spare a few pounds for low cost "after school" sporting groups as their families need to think about food instead.

Shakil with mo farah

According to a government report on social inclusion, almost half of all children from low-income families are missing out on vital opportunities to participate in sports and other physical activities.

Barriers to inclusion in sport

There are many barriers that prevent children from disadvantaged backgrounds from taking part in sport. These include the cost of membership fees and equipment, transport difficulties, and a lack of understanding about the benefits of sport. In some cases, children may feel unwelcome or intimidated by sports clubs and other groups as they don't see themselves represented in the group currently.

Whilst the government is aware of the problem and is working to improve the situation, it has invested millions of pounds in programmes to get more children from disadvantaged backgrounds involved in sport however, there is still a long way to go.

In this article, we talk to Shakil, who is a teacher at a primary federation school in a low-income area where families are struggling to put food on their table, let alone buy new running shoes or football boots.

Why is sport so important to children?

It is unfair that children from low-income families are missing out on the benefits of sport. Sport can help children to stay fit and healthy, make friends, and develop important life skills. It is vital that we level the playing field so that all children have the opportunity to take part.

Shakil's Story

From a young age, Shakil had one wish on his mind. It may seem simple to you or I from a privileged background, but his wish was for "opportunity".

A quiet child from an Asian background, being involved in sport or having a career in football (his original dream) was not really something families then wished for their children. They "should focus on becoming a doctor" instead so you can only imagine the pressure on chasing his football career dream. Shakil, with great respect to his elders, had to do what he was told.

With six older brothers and one sister, challenging the norm for his family was always difficult especially being the youngest. He know he wanted to play football - he dreamt, ate and slept it - he was a mega fan.

Further to challenging him to follow the "doctors journey" Shakil's parents didn't understand English too well and his sister and brothers were not showing the same interest as was his passion for sport.

It was through the help and support of his sister in-law that he finally was able to get into the game he so loved, football. Shakil was lucky that he could turn to someone to help encourage him to follow his dreams.

Getting access to sport

It was tough growing up in the 90's and early 2000's for Shakil as there wasn't much opportunity for young people to get involved in sports in his area. When they wanted to play tennis, they'd got to the local park, measure a "net" height using their hips and hit balls using their hands.

At primary school, they never had a football coach and class teachers would run PE lessons only once or twice a term if the children were lucky.

Growing up, they were lucky if they would have one training session and a game at the weekend. It wasn't regular enough for children that wanted to take part, not even considering those families that didn't have sport on their radar or understand the benefits of taking part in physical activity.

Although at the time, local papers advertised most local games or reported on local "stars" that they could watch or read about for inspiration, free access to these sort of promotions is difficult for low income families now particularly if they don't have access to the internet, let alone a smart phone to subscribe to the local newsletters, something Shakil commented is an "immediate barrier to low income families".

Shakil miah brentford football club

It's not just football

Shakil's story very much starts around football, but as he grew older and got more involved in other sports such as running (he's now an ambassador for the National Running Show and organises Adidas Running London meet ups). His story highlights some of the issues around funding and opportunities particularly for families or children from low-income backgrounds something he's since come to be more frustrated with at the latest area and school in which he works.

Sport for low-income families today

Shakil recently moved into a new primary federation school and he's getting frustrated some 20 years later than when he experienced the same issues, at the lack of access to the sports he knows and loves.

He's struggling to help young people from low-income families how, sport aside, are struggling to eat even a proper meal. How can they afford shoes, appropriate clothing or even in some cases travel to the sports clubs.

Going to school for these children is "like a palace" as it's often the only place they get to eat a solid meal. Families aren't necessarily thinking about anything other than what's in front of them each day or where the next meal will come from. There are massive barriers to overcome to create greater access to sport.

The Need for Heroes

When Shakil was growing up, there were runners like Mo Farah who he took great inspiration from (and still does!). "I admire and inspire towards Mo because of his dedication to succeed, failure was never an option. He always showed us there were possibilities ahead and that nothing was impossible".

Through his community he has noticed that these "superstars" as we see them are more commonly from affluent areas where access to funding and equipment is more readily available. Back to his original dream, there is more access to opportunity for children from more wealthy backgrounds.

This really highlights the need for community leaders, like Shakil, to be celebrated as they help play a pivotal role in inspiring their locale to take part and get excited by sport and the opportunities it may bring, but, they need funding.

Access to funding or funded places and equipment is key

For children from low-income families, it's crucial that groups are funded well with equipment, able to reduce entrance costs and be easily accessible. Not only that, they need to be able to be promoted not just on "Facebook Groups" as people with little to know access to the internet, will struggle to find them.

As many of these groups are set up by volunteers, the majority of whom work full time jobs and are trying to make ends meet themselves, it's important that there is some sort of sustainable income to ensure the longevity of the projects.

Shakil comments on how "the lack of equipment for children from low income families can often be an immediate barrier to entry. It's so important that these groups are able to provide access to equipment, whether that be running shoes balls, bibs, cones or even just a water bottle".

He approached a number of running companies too and from his experience they tend to not fund primary school age children for various reasons, but Shakil believes it's because the children are too young and not necessarily where the brand gets the greatest return. That's not to say no brands do this, of course many do get involved in community projects, but perhaps less so at primary school level.

Shakil believes "what greater return could you have than positively affecting the next generation into physical activity?".

Shakil miah addidas running club

Act Local

There have been a lot of cutbacks over the last few years at a local council level so additional funding for equipment or groups is minimal and a lot of local council led initiatives to get children into sport have all but disappeared.

If you're in a similar position to Shakil and need funding for your local group, it's worth looking at local businesses that could fund things like shoes, running gear, cones, bibs or water bottles in kind as this would go some way to alleviating the pressure on volunteers and reducing costs for entry to children.

Whilst it does take time, gathering resources from a small number of companies can quickly help fund vital equipment and make access to sport easier for all.

How can we make sure all children have the opportunity to take part in sport?

There are a number of things that need to be done to make sure all children have the opportunity to take part in sport. The government needs to invest more money in programmes to get children from disadvantaged backgrounds involved in sport. Transport difficulties need to be addressed, access to equipment and sports clubs could be improved and groups themselves need to think about how they could fund spaces to welcome children from all backgrounds.

The Final Hurdle - Free Time

Often for children from low-income families, their free time is spent either looking after siblings or helping out around the house. This leaves little time for them to get involved with any clubs or activities.

It's important that any clubs and activities available are accessible and able to fit in around childcare and other commitments. Local councils need to ensure that there is a good selection of activities on offer at different times of the day and throughout the year, as this will enable more children from low income families to get involved.

What's next for Shakil?

"My dream is to give young children opportunity, a chance to showcase their amazing ability. I want to inspire young children for a brighter future. One day, my dream will come true and following my role model of Mo Farah, I hope that by working hard and never giving up, I will inspire a generation of youngster to get up and running."

If you want to follow Shakil or support his community initiatives, you can find him on Instagram here. @SHAK_ACTIVE

Shakil's story is one of many. It's not uncommon for children from low-income families to struggle to access sport and the opportunities it can bring. However, with a little bit of help and support, we can all play our part in ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to get involved in sport and lead a healthy and active lifestyle."