The head of the UK’s Sports and Recreation Alliance sees the coronavirus crisis and the lack of sports as a key opportunity for teams, leagues and governing bodies to build a stronger united front toward inclusion.
“The one thing that sport does really poorly is we keep within sport. Rarely do we go outside and start to work within different diversity fields, as it were,” Lisa Wainwright expounds in a recent interview with Sky Sports’ Jon Holmes. “What I’d like chief execs and senior managers to think about — particularly if they’re LGBT+ themselves — is how to utilize a broader network and bring the sectors together. They don’t need to be separate and it’s really sad that they largely still are.”
Wainwright was named CEO of the Alliance, which represents over 300 sports and activity organizations including the most prominent bodies in British sport, in 2019. She has been a longtime consultant who has pushed to continue the advance for building inclusion across athletics. Prior to coming to the Alliance, she was the chief executive officer for Volleyball England and British Basketball. In both capacities, and as a liaison to the world governing bodies of both sports, she was a pivotal leader in building inclusion worldwide.
Her attitudes toward inclusion sprang from her own path to come out and then step forward.
The photo above is a nod to her history, her journey, and what she’s fighting for. “It’s important people understand we’re not just CEOs, we’re human beings,” Wainwright notes. “You should be able to be a human being in your work life.”
Wainwright first came out as a lesbian in college and gained her first administrative position as a regional development director for netball. She moved into higher-level positions leading up to her appointment as CEO of Volleyball England 2008. She notes her experiences affected her push toward inclusion and being authentic professionally, she notes, aided that progress. Yet, she didn’t speak publicly about being lesbian until speaking at a Rainbow Laces Summit event in 2017.
“It’s about using my network, and encouraging others to be proactive.” Wainwright said. “It’s crazy for someone to get a job in this sector and still feel they can’t talk about their boyfriend or girlfriend.”
She also had a second fight away from the job. In 2019, as she was starting with the Alliance, Wainwright was diagnosed with breast cancer. She focused in on her treatment, her job, and her life as well. She married her longtime partner of 18 years last July. After nearly a year of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, Wainwright is cancer-free as of March, yet the cost of the victory will be extreme social distancing in the wake of COVID-19, even with her spouse and their two children.
“I sleep upstairs, the kids sleep downstairs. No one is allowed into my office,” she said. “Karena and I sit at opposite ends of the table for meals. We can only blow each other kisses.”
She cites her work with Alliance as source of fuel and focus through the bout with cancer. She says that experience, and what the world is faces now puts inclusion in a sharper focus. “The place that sport has in society has never been more important than at this moment in time,” Wainwright declared. “not just physical health, but mental, social and community wellbeing.”