Posted: 17 June, 2021
For Global Pride Month 2021 we introduce you to Scottish Rowing Board Member, athlete at St Andrews University BC and founder of Here for Sport, Sam Winton.
Sam took up rowing in 2018 at the University of St Andrews, before becoming the Development Officer in 2020. He has now joined the Executive Committee as the Volunteering and Engagement Officer for Saints Sport. Prior to arriving at St Andrews, he had been heavily involved in outreach programs across the West Midlands, working in a variety of schools. He used this experience to restart the Boat Club’s community engagement project around Loch Ore, working with Scottish Rowing to increase participation within the virtual school's league.
In 2019 he founded Here For Sport, a social enterprise which works with under-represented communities and groups to address barriers to participation within sport. He aims to make all sport more inclusive and diverse.
We asked Sam a few questions about rowing and what this Global Pride Month means to him.
How did you get involved in rowing?
I started rowing when I arrived at the University of St Andrews, picking the sport up as a novice in my first year. It was such a great atmosphere and even though I found the training really tough (particularly as I was very new to sport in general) the great team and friendly faces made sure I kept coming back. The committee and volunteers really helped encourage my passion for the sport. I am really grateful for my coach, Jasper, who was so patient with all of us and really fostered such a great comradery.
When did you become a Scottish Rowing Board Member, and how did you find out about the opportunity?
One of the beautiful things about the Scottish rowing community is how supportive it is. We are relatively small so everyone seems to know everyone. I joined the board in early 2019, after hearing about the opportunity through friends Jenny and Ryan at Edinburgh University. They run Rival Kit and I had been working with them during the Rowing for Healthy Minds campaign, as well as in setting up my own charity Here for Sport. I had seen the advertisement on social media but assumed that due to my lack of experience that I wouldn't be a proper fit. They knew about my passions for engaging more people in rowing and encouraged me to apply. It was because of their support that I worked up the courage to put myself forward. Thankfully everyone has been really patient and understanding, helping me to develop professionally and personally within the role.
Where did the inspiration for Here For Sport come from?
The inspiration for Here For Sport came from a variety of places. I had been involved in charities and activism for a long time, having worked for a variety of organisations. I drew upon those experiences, and my own personal experience of sport, to try and find a solution to marginalisation in sport.
I had never been particularly active and never really enjoyed sport. It was something that didn't feel right for me. With hindsight I realise that's because I hadn't found the right sport or the right team. Reflecting on this I began to see certain barriers had stood in my way from the very beginning. Some were simple, like cost or time. Others were more complex. It is sad to say but there is still a small presence of homophobia within the sport sector. Whilst a lot of improvement has been made, sport still has a reputation as a very oppressive and prejudiced environment which isn't welcoming or inclusive. As a gay man, it was something I felt and had experienced. This one bad experience acted as incentive to not take part in sport again. It takes courage for young gay men, who are more likely to experience bullying or mental health issues, to risk taking up a sport. The problem is even worse when you consider other members of the community. This isn't likely to change until we have greater diversity of role models and more authentic representations of LGBTQIA+ sportspeople.
Tell us more about HFS and how someone could get involved?
I set up Here for Sport to help tackle the root causes of the problem within sport, hoping to show that sport can be inclusive, welcoming and most importantly accessible. If we don't remove the barriers to participation then we will never have a truly equal sporting culture which gives everyone the opportunity for enjoyment within sport.
There are many ways to get involved with Here For Sport. We are always looking for volunteers to support us with our projects or get involved with the day to day organisation. We have an exciting opportunity coming up in collaboration with London Youth Rowing. Like most young charities we also need help with fundraising, so you can also donate or purchase some of our sportswear to help us. Equally, sharing our stuff, following on social media, coming to our events all helps spread the word and raise awareness of the important work that needs to happen to make sport more inclusive.
What is your advice for individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community for getting involved in rowing?
Do it. It is as simple as that. We like to build things up in our head and create a multitude of scenarios, ranging from bad to worst. Often the reality is so different. When I arrived at Saint Andrews I decided I was going to say yes to every opportunity, and whilst not every single one was something I enjoyed, it has opened up so many doors and made me a better person today.
I read something the other day that as a community we have to spend our lives unlearning social stereotypes whilst learning to live authentically. As a community we have to learn about our true selves and to embrace our individuality even more so than our heterosexual counterparts. Sport is a fantastic environment to do this.
From a young age we are taught to hide parts of ourselves and moderate our behavior. Society still operates on the assumption that we are all 'straight'. Even the term straight implies that the alternative, the other, is wrong. That being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community means we are broken or bent. I understand the fear and the stigma this can create. It is a process, and like anything it takes time and patience. Unlike your sexuality, how you live your life is a choice. You can choose to be proud and embark on this journey. I would encourage you to not hold yourself back and let others define you but instead to choose to live life on your own terms and enjoy new opportunities. That doesn't just apply to sport.
What is your advice for non-LGBTQIA+ to become better allies and support LGBTQIA+ people?
For allies, it is important to be proactive. There is no such thing as a passive ally. This means listening, making space for people to talk openly and honestly. I was once told that sexuality has nothing to do with sport, so it had no relevance. Such sentiments are misguided. You can't have a sport without an athlete, and you can't have athletes without knowing the person. By ignoring someone's sexuality you are ignoring an important part of that person and their lives. As allies you should try to educate yourself, learn from one another and the experiences of the community. However, the most important thing is to be visible. A lot of problems occur when someone feels alone and that they have no one to turn to. Make it known that you are here for them - here to support them regardless whatever that looks like. Sometimes its as simple as a friendly smile or a baked good.
How are you celebrating this month for Global Pride?
I am celebrating pride with a whole lot of rowing and cheesy pride playlists. As a team, we are getting ready for British University Championships so the tunes have certainly helped us during the long ergs. Equally, I am using the time to get myself a little more educated on gay history. There is a fantastic book Eric Cervini called 'The Deviants War' which I would highly recommend. Its been sitting on my wish list for some time and this month was a great excuse to read it. Probably most importantly, I am celebrating Pride by doing what I always do. People like to say pride never ends and they are right. We should always be fighting for greater inclusion and always living authentically.