For this issue of Concrete, I had the opportunity to speak to Ryan Shoniwa, who is the Sport Rep of the African Caribbean Society (ACS) and Vice President of UEA Basketball. We discussed topics ranging from his aims for the year in his role in ACS and UEA Basketball, his experience as a Black person in sport and diversity in UEA Sport.
In describing his role and plans for this year on the ACS committee he said: “creating sporting events for the ACS…this week we started our 6-a-side men’s team and had our trial game for a league that will take place every Sunday. Right now, I’m in the middle of doing a survey for women’s teams for Netball, Football, Basketball, Swimming and Tennis.”
When asked what he was most looking forward to this year, he replied: “Achieving the targets we had set at the start of this year, creating more inclusion within the ACS, [ and allowing more people from different backgrounds, who may normally not feel confident, coming to the ACS for support from their peers.” He stressed that he is excited for the society to be less cliquey and be “one big group and a very community, family-based society.”
I then asked him how being a black person has shaped his experience, in sport, he believes that he has been “lucky that it has not altered his experience so much, based on growing up in an area that was pretty diverse anyway, so I didn’t have to face those barriers even in the form of microaggressions to a high level.”
He continued: “in sixth form from ages 16-18 I did feel that I have to be a bit more outspoken to get my voice across but other than that it has been okay. In terms of a leadership point of view or from a position of power it has been even better, where there have been initiatives to increase diversity, they have worked in my case…I do feel 100% included and my voice is heard. I don’t feel like I’ve had any outstanding barriers.”
Whether his experience at UEA has differed to the rest of his life, he said: “yes, it is different but it’s also the same as well. As an example, growing up I was football based and playing at a high-level where there was a lot of pressure put on myself and other players in the team. Coming to UEA, there was of course no competition because of the pandemic so there was only training and then exhibition games within the university which didn’t have that level of pressure but our first game on Wednesday against Loughborough felt like an immense amount of pressure which is different to growing up, mainly because we are now adults and are held to the level of highly skilled basketball players.”
“Do you think there would be any sports clubs at UEA that Black people would be hesitant to join or avoid because of their bad reputation?” “There may be a few but not because of any bad rep, more as a person of colour you don’t know how many other people of colour you’ll be able to participate with. Being alone is very hard and not a lot of people can do that and be comfortable in themselves…in terms of bad rep it would only be maybe initiations getting out of hand but nothing that I know about that would make people of colour turn away from a sport.”
On whether there are any sports that are focussed on more by members of ACS, he replied: “yes, although it can be disappointing to say yes, off the top of my head in the new freshers there are more boys than girls and those guys tend to be more focused on sport. I do feel confident that there are more than most years of girls interested in sport. For the guys, there is more on football which is understandable…there is only so much you can push other sports and as a committee member you must know your audience. I am still waiting for the results of my survey but in the girls there seems to be more of a spread.”
Ryan holds multiple committee positions and when asked if there is a relationship between his role in ACS and as Vice-President of Basketball, he commented: “yes, there is, initially we had spoken about potential collaborations between the two, but I don’t think that will be possible administratively or logistically. The main similarities are staying on top of everything, and the WhatsApp group chats can really pile up.”
Asked who his sporting hero is and why, he said: “I would probably say Didier Drogba, mainly what puts him over the edge was the Champions League win in 2012.”
When asked if he feels that UEA Sport is inclusive to the Black community, he hesitated before declaring: “Now this is a question that is kind of a negative, but I can’t not touch on it. I have recently thought, and this is the Sportspark in general, sometimes there is an air of distaste where there is a high concentration of Black students across the basketball club, sometimes I feel when they are bringing out nets for our training sessions…there are sometimes a few more issues or roadblocks than necessary and this is something that has popped in my head and that’s only me as someone is quite forthcoming when it comes to issues of race. I don’t want to bash anyone but there are a few too many roadblocks and maybe that is because of individual members of UEA sport and the Sportspark subconsciously. I love to give the benefit of the doubt but some subconsciously place roadblocks that don’t need to be there.”
He did continue: “Other than that it has been great because they have been very cooperative with the admin and rescheduling…they have been more than cooperative”.
Furthermore, I asked whether he believed that there was enough done by UEA sport to promote Black History Month, in response Rayan said: “Quite frankly no, there hasn’t been enough to the point where if you hadn’t mentioned it now, I wouldn’t have even of thought that UEA sport had an obligation to do something like that so maybe that’s even more disappointing. Again, I would love to give the benefit of the doubt, these guys do a tremendous amount of work, not just for basketball but a lot of clubs and sometimes they would be side-tracked and focus on other things, as well as for the Norwich community. I would love to say they’ve been busy, and they haven’t found the time. It may be a logistic issue because they can’t put out posts without backing it up with events etc. Yes, there has not been enough, even recognition, but again that’s not a criticism, if they do read this they would understand and learn from it.”
He follows up on this: “on diversity, I had a President/Vice-President meeting about two weeks ago and the President couldn’t come so it was just me there. I did find it interesting that I was the only Black President or Vice-President of all the sports clubs there. Now, again, that could be down to not more diversity in the application process because they might not have enough applications but going back to UEA sport maybe there could be a suggestion where they look for more people of colour, allowing people of colour to have more CV experience and show off their leadership skills.”
“So, you were the only Black person there?” “Yes, I was.”
More specifically I asked whether there is enough representation in UEA Sport, he replied: “Within our committee, it is very well rounded and it is not just people of colour, the way we communicate all from different backgrounds. Our boxes have been ticked. That’s an excellent job by our last year’s President Nick. And Claire, who does everything, including coaching both the men’s and women’s first team. But yes, I remember that meeting and I felt it was something to note. And on top of that, all the new UEA sport and Sportspark staff, and again, it is already bad that I can’t think of any person of colour off the top of my head. To go further than that, I don’t remember seeing any person of colour on the spreadsheet of members of staff we were given. I could be wrong, but I can’t remember and me being the type of person that I am, I do look out for that so the fact I didn’t see it is yeah.”
Finally, I asked what his experiences of sports night or any club night at UEA had been, “I can say…there have been individuals I’ve heard in first year of flatmates that have gone to sports trainings at UEA and there has been a microaggression here or there or a not too friendly face. You can tell it is subtle but not enough to disregard it as something that is not to do with race. I wouldn’t go too far as to say it’s an issue [at UEA] but as individuals they can have their own view on Black people. Within themselves it’s an issue and hopefully they get the consequences they deserve but as a whole I’d say it is not an issue”.