Imani Lansiquot took British Athletics diversity role after suffering racial abuse from federation sponsor

7 July 2020, 21:05 | Updated: 8 July 2020, 09:33

British sprinter Imani Lansiquot says she felt compelled to take a British Athletics role promoting equality and diversity after she was the victim of horrific racial abuse.

The 22-year-old World Championships silver medallist was referred to as a 'monkey' at a sponsor's event earlier this year.

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Lansiquot, one of 12 Sky Sports Scholars, is now Athlete Lead in British Athletics' Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advocates Group.

She told Sky Sports News reporter Emma Paton: "Unfortunately, earlier this year, I was involved in a really horrible incident.

"I was representing my federation, I was dressed up in my kit, I was doing an event for a sponsor of the federation, and a member of staff actually referenced me as a 'monkey'.

"That was my first real experience of overt racism. If I am honest, I was completely shell-shocked for probably about two weeks after that.

"And I am really grateful to my family at Sky, and Sky Scholars, because I was calling people left, right and centre and getting advice, and being counselled through that."

Lansiquot subsequently joined the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Advocates Group - formed in 2018 and which British Athletics says 'invited staff who were passionate about E,D&I; to support initiatives internally within the organisation'.

Lansiquot said that following the abuse she "didn't really get much closure from the situation". "I didn't get a proper apology from the individual," she added.

"And, in light of the recent events, with George Floyd (who died at the hands of police in the United States), with the Black Lives Matter protests, it literally felt like a wound was being re-opened again and again.

"I was itching, thinking 'how can I find peace with this situation'?

"And thankfully British Athletics have presented this role for me and it is giving me an opportunity to actually do something about it, to turn that disgruntled emotion, feeling really frustrated, feeling pretty worthless, and turning that into something that is going to stop that happening to somebody else.

"It was pretty horrific but I am in a place where I am at peace with it, because at least I know I am in a powerful position at the moment."

Asked if she felt she got the support she needed after the abuse, Lansiquot said: "My family were integral at that point.

"They were so shocked that, in 2020, something like that could happen.

"My family at Sky - Tony Lester (Mentor to the Scholars) and Geoff Shreeves (Imani's Scholar mentor) - I was in constant communication with them throughout the whole ordeal.

"British Athletics were extremely supportive and I was actually able to be a part of an education programme for that company.

"They administered a workshop, talking about language, talking about unconscious biases, and I did get peace from that.

"But I didn't get closure, so I am hoping my new role will enable me to achieve that, and enable me to feel like I am actually doing something about it that is ongoing and that can have a lasting effect."

The Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront of the sporting world at the moment, from Premier League footballers 'taking a knee' to show their support for the cause, to the England and West Indies cricket teams displaying the Black Lives Matter logo on their kit for the first Test.

But Lansiquot stressed that the hugely upsetting experience shows that this is a time for action, as well as words and gestures.

"It was weird," she said. "I felt really shocked and I think the immediate thing I felt was shame.

"I felt guilt, I felt like it was my fault, and it took a lot of working with my family and talking to people close to me, to realise that I wasn't at fault.

"I feel like I can talk about it now and I am very empowered by seeing other sports people coming forward and talking about their stories

"I am a huge advocate for actually doing something about it. Let's bring this beyond words, let's bring some action to this.

"Although I am really upset about what happened to me, I am looking forward to seeing how much further I can take this positivity beyond my incident."

When Lansiquot discussed the incident with other athletes, she discovered that her horrendous experience was far from unique.

"This happened earlier in the year and they [her team-mates] were really supportive of me," she said.

"Sadly a lot of black athletes have had similar experiences, whether that be through social media, whether that be in a foreign country, whether that even be in the UK.

"A lot of us got solace and support from hearing other testimonies and feeling like we're not in this alone.

"That was one thing I really felt in the moment, extremely lonely, and hearing that collective voice of, 'do you know what, I have been through this, this is what I did' - it made me feel a lot better."

A key member of the Great Britain team, Lansiquot reached the semi-finals in the 100m at the World Championships in Doha last year and was a member of the silver medal-winning squad in the 4 x100m relay.

And she is determined not to let her career be derailed by an incident of disgusting abuse.

"It puts a bigger fire in my belly," she said. "I am so proud to put the Union Jack on my back, to do laps of honour, and to hear the national anthem.

"People like that and incidents like that, just make me want to be better and show that sport is not about race, it's not about gender, it's not about religion, it transcends all of that.

"I want to be a figure that shows that's what sport is about."

Sky Sports News has contacted British Athletics for comment.