Jeanette Kwakye at the Sport Industry Awards in London, September 2021 / Picture Credit: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment/PA Images
Jeanette Kwakye at the Sport Industry Awards in London, September 2021 / Picture Credit: Doug Peters/EMPICS Entertainment/PA Images

Sports broadcaster and former Team GB sprinter, Jeanette Kwakye, was the host of the annual London Sport's Active London virtual conference which ran from September 21-22 to discuss the future of sport and fitness in capital which hopes to return to pre-pandemic levels.

This free-to-attend event included guest speakers such as London Sport chair Jillian Moore and London Recovery Board co-chair Georgia Gould and panel discussions about how the grassroots physical activity and sports sector can rebuild after Covid-19.

Kwakye is excited to have people from different backgrounds all come together with their ideas on how to strengthen the physical activity sector in London and see what many minds as a collective can come up with.

Before the conference took place London-born Kwakye revealed how she felt to be hosting the 2021 Active London conference, explained the role sport can play in bridging the gap of social inequality and spoke about what her experiences of covering the Olympics and Paralympics in Japan just a few weeks ago was like.

What was it like in Japan covering the Olympic and Paralympic Games?

It was an absolute honour to be able to be one of the people that was in that stadium and on the ground covering an Olympic Games that we will be talking about for years to come. One for the history books wasn’t it. It was tough, the restrictions were really, really hard. There were days where we weren’t allowed to go anywhere apart from the venue to the hotel and we’d only be allowed outside of those restrictions for 15 minutes a day and that’s maybe just to go and pick up some groceries, so that was really tough to be able to do. But I enjoyed it, I saw some amazing performances both at the Olympic and Paralympic Games and at the Olympic Games I had the privilege of not just covering the athletics, so I did a bit of triathlon but also the boxing which was brilliant. It was pretty special to be able to cover both of those Games and one I’ll definitely remember.

How are you feeling to be this year’s host of Active London’s virtual conference?

Active London is a big deal because we are coming out of the other side of one of the most challenging times of life and London is a hub for sport and activity and fitness and the social impact that sport has and activity has in the capital is key, it’s critical. So, to be able to host this and sit with stakeholders to help everybody understand better how to come out of this pandemic properly and get us at least to somewhere close to pre-pandemic levels is really important to me and I’m very London so I’m glad that I’m very tapped into that side of things.

How crucial is it to bring people together and have a conference to discuss the future of physical activity in London?

It’s key. When you bring together different people, different stakeholders you’ve got different learnings. You can sit down, you can listen – it becomes a listening exercise essentially. It’s all about how we can learn from one another about what we think might be a good idea versus maybe what’s gone right and what’s gone wrong. When you have all these ideas and all these different gazes and such a diverse gaze with certain aspects of London sport then it’s super important that we understand that. Let’s get different voices, different opinions in one big pot, melt it down and see what we come out with, I guess.

What was it like for you to access sport and fitness when you were a child growing up in London?

To be honest it was quite easy for me. But the sport that I did was one of the most accessible sports in the world – track and field. All you need is a grass pitch or a track. Luckily, I lived just a very short bus ride away from my local track, I’d been exposed to it from school, and I had teachers and educators who were very tapped into athletics and sports, so it didn’t take much encouragement for me to be able to go down there. They were all brilliant, they saw talent, they just suggested I tried it, I did try it, I loved it.

Then I fell out of love with it, then I got back in love with it. But that’s just the journey I guess that a lot of teenagers take when they’re embarking on doing different types of sports and stuff. I always find it quite easy but not everybody does. I was just very lucky that these things were done for me but again that’s the beauty of living in the capital. I was very close to a good facility.

How has it changed since you were younger?

It hasn’t changed that much I don’t think. I think there’s more available. I’ve got two small children now, I’m able to bring them up in a place and a space where those things are accessible, where I’m able to take them down to local facilities for them to try things out. Maybe the price is something that might put some people off and I don’t know whether that’s down to the fact that not everything is council run, some things are private. But for a lot of parents who maybe struggling it might be harder to get your kids to be able to access these facilities, especially if you can’t afford it.

That’s one thing I have noticed, maybe the cost of things but it’s just being clear on is there a more accessible, affordable option for young people to be able to do things. Also, there’s so much more choice now.

How important of a role can sport play in bridging the gap of social inequality in London’s boroughs?

I think it’s key what you find with social inequality is the fact that some sports are so traditionally steeped in class and certain classes, middle classes or people who are more affluent might have the access to it so tennis, golf, Formula One, horse riding – but what we’ve seen in London has been brilliant in trying to bring those different things to people who may never have thought they could do that. We’ve had some great success stories.

If you look at Khadijah Mellah the jockey, what she was able to do a couple of years ago and that is off the back of going to a horse-riding club in the middle of Brixton, like who would have thought that she was able to do that and to see her there with her hijab on and be so visible is absolutely brilliant. It does bridge a gap; sport is powerful that you have to be able to see the power of it to be able to understand how it can be a lot more inclusive and move towards a more equal society.

How big of a role does the Olympics and Paralympics have in people wanting to take up a new sport or physical activity?

I think it can be big, I think if it’s done well, it can be big. If it’s on the right stations at the right times, if it’s packaged in a way then I think it can be done quite well. Because sometimes there is this big disconnect between what it takes to be an Olympian and what somebody wants to do by just running round the block where they live so that can be really, really hard because they just genuinely think that Olympians are super humans when actually yes Olympians are talented sports people, but they also started out somewhere first. And you don’t have to have aspirations to be an Olympian, but it may make you see that there is a new sport or feel inspired to take up something you thought you’d never do.

I think the Paralympics more so, it’s such an inspirational event and the different stories are from people who have had their disabilities from birth or people who acquired their disability later in life and that can be really inspirational for someone who feels like maybe they’ve had such a life changing injury or illness that they can’t do anything again then they see what the Paralympics can bring and they’re so inspired to go and try it. That’s always been a theme at the Paralympics to be able to do something like that.

Would you say the changing media landscape is influencing participation in sport and fitness, especially with the ever-growing social media environment we have?

I think social media is a really powerful tool if used well. It can introduce people to new sports but at the same time I think not everything on social media is as it seems, and you can’t beat the feeling of going out there and enjoying yourself and feeling it as opposed to just seeing it happen on an Instagram scroll through or a Twitter feed.

It’s important that we experience certain things and yes of course the athletes are more accessible on social media, they are more visible, but I wouldn’t necessarily say there’s an increase in participation. Maybe the fitness side of it, not the elite side of sport, but the fitness side might be, there are some personal trainers who are big personalities and they’re brilliant, especially during lockdown they were fantastic. It didn’t take much, just a smartphone camera, a good ring light, space and off you were, you were broadcasting to the world.

I think that helps definitely because you can probably go and seek out somebody who suits you and suits your own needs.

What do you think sports bodies and media organisations should be doing to encourage people to take up sport and also engage underserved communities?

I think by tapping into what makes people feel welcome and what makes people feel comfortable. I think a lot of sports bodies and media organisations should look at their own window and see what you’re advertising to people. How does it look? Does it look diverse? Does it look like you? Does it look like something you want to be part of? And I think that’s important and for a lot of people looking in at some of the sports organisations and media organisations it doesn’t always look that way.

I think cycling can sometimes be like that, hiking can sometimes be like that. And what you find is people go out there and create their own safe spaces and they find that for them, what makes them feel safe and comfortable because they never feel included in what they see from the outset or see publicly.

Would you say there is a link between diversity in the newsroom and the uptake of sport among different ethnic, age and gender groups?

That’s a tough one and I’d say no if I’m honest, there isn’t a link between diversity in the newsroom because I feel like again it’s about access. Yes, newsrooms are maybe becoming a tiny bit more diverse, but it doesn’t correlate to what we see on the pitch or on the track or anything else like that. We’re having to work quite hard to be able to do that, especially women or people of colour.

I think there is a lot more that can be done for sure when it comes down to working in the newsroom. And we still see some of the stories that are inflammatory, that really rub people up the wrong way when it comes down to women in sport or black people in sport and I think that needs to change and we’ve still got so much more work to do but we’re getting there.

For more information on London Sport, visit

Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.

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