When American George Floyd was killed in May it sparked a wave of protests around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and against police brutality. These protests have also been evident in the sports world, with Premier League players taking a knee before fixtures and NBA side Milwaukee Bucks boycotting their play-off game versus Orlando Magic following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Looking back over the last few months and the wider inequalities in society, Saad Wadia, a BA (Hons) Football Business & Marketing graduate and co-founder and managing director of sports consultancy Avalon Sports Group penned his thoughts on the power sport has to influence change and his hopes for the future…

As a South Asian man growing up in London, I have been very fortunate to meet people from different walks of life, backgrounds and cultures.

Over the last few months’ we have witnessed a landmark for revolutionary acts of justice. George Floyd’s death truly angered me and I still find it difficult to process the fact that bystanders addressed the situation, yet were powerless in their efforts to stop it. Seeing power so blatantly abused was shocking, but it does appear that the world has finally had enough and we are seeing this global movement, from private conversations to public protests.

Saad is a UCFB graduate and co-founder and managing director of sports consultancy Avalon Sports Group.

For days I was caught up in back-and-forth discussions with leaders in the sports world, who have used their platforms to educate and raise awareness on the same issue for decades. Among these was Edwin Moses, a 400m hurdling legend. From 1976 to 1984, Moses won 122 consecutive races, landing two Olympic gold medals and breaking four world records.

I met Moses earlier this year at the Laureus World Sports Awards ceremony in Berlin, where he presented an award to Siya Kolisi, the South African national rugby team’s first-ever black captain. Rewind to 20 years ago and Nelson Mandela was stood on the exact same stage in Monaco and delivered one of the most powerful speeches in sports history. And here we are in 2020, with Moses awarding Kolisi.

Speaking to Moses about George Floyd’s murder, he told me that it’s time for people to speak out and put aside any fears of being vocal about calling out discrimination. He said: “My father was a military officer who served in World War II. He came back to the United States following the war and couldn’t find a job. On top of that, he was treated like ****. Erving Moses was his name. He returned home to dig ditches, even though he was a qualified teacher. You can read all about how black people were treated after the war.”

Passionately, he added: “George Floyd’s murder is a turning point. The days of sitting back and taking it are over.” Speaking to Moses made me realise the importance of this conversation, and how late we are to opening up about it.

I reached out to another athlete who we at Avalon Sports Group have had the pleasure of working with, NFL star Husain Abdullah. He and his brother Hamza made headlines when they skipped an NFL season to make a spiritual trip to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the annual Muslim pilgrimage known as Hajj. Hussain was also penalised by the NFL for praying after a touchdown. They were not afraid to stand for what they believed in and put their careers at risk for it.

In 2015, I was on the side-lines at a Chiefs-Lions fixture as part of the NFL International Series at Wembley Stadium, when I heard on the commentary that Husain had intercepted the ball. I knew I had heard the name before but couldn’t quite place it. Moments later, it hit me and the headlines came to mind! I caught up with him after the game and we’ve been in touch ever since.

Catching up with him last week, I asked him what advice he would give to an active professional athlete who is still unfamiliar to the pressures and demands of the job. He suggested an athlete should always do the right thing and put themselves above the pressures of fan-noise and business. His words were empowering: “There’s never a wrong time to do the right thing, It’s always the right time when you do the right thing and you will always be rewarded somewhere, somehow.”

When asked what he would say to the public about the current climate of affairs, he was expressive. He said: “Now is the time to fight for human rights. Now is the time to stand up against evil. Now is the time to be on the right side of history.”

Sport provides a powerful platform. It is why we consider athletes as our heroes and it’s shown us just how influential and impactful our heroes can be. Marcus Rashford raised over £20m for charity during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and campaigned successfully to get the UK government to provide free school meals to children over the summer. We have also seen Raheem Sterling speak out against racism, and in boxing Anthony Joshua has been working to support his community and bring people together. In cricket, we saw the bravery of Darren Sammy to call out his teammates in India and demand they don’t call him ‘Kalu’.

But Nelson Mandela said it the best in during the awards ceremony in Monaco 20 years ago that I mentioned earlier: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.

“Peace is the greatest tool mankind possesses to resolve even the most intractable difficulties. But to be effective you must seek to change yourself before seeking to change your community and the world. It is absolutely essential for leaders of every kind to create environments where men and women are encouraged to resolve problems peacefully.”

During the protests in London, we saw a Black Lives Matter supporter carrying a counter-protester to safety to try and the keep peace. If only the three police officers who arrested George Floyd had done the same. The last few months have shaken the world, but looking toward the future there is hope. Leaders in the community have spoken out and united everyone to fight the same issue. There is hope, because for the first time it’s not black versus white – it’s everyone versus racism.