Feeling the London Love – London Youth Games mission for inclusivity is on a positive trajectory
Summarising the mission, the London Youth Games’ CEO Andy Dalby-Welsh states “Our mission is to use the power of competitive sport to create life changing opportunities for all young Londoners”, and the emphasis is on competitive. Creating opportunities for young people to represent their borough “and take pride in it” allows a sense of importance, which is paramount for the physical and mental wellbeing of today’s youth.
But why is London so special? Andy believes that London is a “unique place” and an “amazing capital city” due to its diversity. In 2020 it was reported that London is ‘one of the most international and multi-ethnic cities in the world’, with over 2 in 5 Londoners coming from an ethnic minority background. The varied population of the city is a major influence for LYG’s mission, as they seek to bring communities together.
Interestingly, YouGov reported that on a global level people believed the pandemic had increased their sense of community, with 37% of Brits reporting a greater sense of social togetherness. However, YouGov also reported that 53% of young Brits aged 16-24 felt that their life had worsened during the pandemic. It is clear that we need ways of combatting the loneliness with social cohesion, and sport is a possible way to do this.
“I think sport can play such a huge part in bringing communities together, [and] bringing people together” Andy tells AMG. The physical and mental health benefits are one advantage, but so is the ability to be viewed on a platform which showcases the talents of young Londoners. This year, the LYG hosted the Virtual Inclusive Games: a virtual tournament for young people between all the London boroughs, which included challenges in football, cricket, basketball, hockey, rugby, athletics, volleyball, and tennis/table tennis. A bit of healthy competition serves as a great way of encouraging involvement as the statistics LYG have collected testify. The Virtual Inclusive Games, and other online activities coordinated and supported by LYG, recorded an amazing 80,000 entries during the third lockdown alone.
Andy’s personal experience in sport heavily shaped the Virtual Inclusive Games, for he greatly benefitted from disability sports when he was younger. Due to his vision deteriorating in his 20s, Andy came across a cricket team in Sussex for the visually impaired. Though he had been sporty throughout his childhood, his involvement in the cricket team was the most significant. Through this club Andy was able to represent England at the Blind Cricket World Cup in India. Drawing on his experience he points out that being disabled is a great enough challenge for a young person, but to be active and disabled in particularly hard because it required extra support; “the pandemic has taken an even greater toll on those young people”, thus a fully inclusive competition was required. Andy wants to make certain that every young person gets the opportunity to benefit from sport as he did.
The LYG are keen to demonstrate that sport is for anyone and everyone, and they strive to guarantee that no matter who you are or your background, that there’s an offer within the London Youth Games that can be for you. The pandemic has shown that inequalities remain in British society, whether this is in a sporting context or not. One way of combatting such inequalities was having disabled young people set the challenges for the Virtual Inclusive Games, raising the profile of youth and disability sports via a sporting platform. Sport needs to be more inclusive says Andy, and the trajectories are looking more and more positive. Nonetheless, we still need to push hard to get more people from a wider variety of backgrounds involved in sport.
LYG is a huge advocate for purposeful, all-inclusive sport, and they are continuing to grow year on year. Pre-pandemic, the organisation was reaching around 120’000 young people across London each year, and they hope that as the country attempts to return to normal, they can continue to make even more of a difference in young Londoners lives. LYG is now hosting a Virtual Spring Run competition to help encourage young Londoners back to sport, and the borough that runs the furthest collective distance at the end of the two-week competition will be crowned Virtual Spring Run champions.
The most engaged boroughs during the Virtual Inclusive Games were Bromley (1st), Kensington and Chelsea (2nd) and Havering and Haringey (joint 3rd). For the full results, visit https://www.londonyouthgames.org/virtual-games/.