Interview with Sam Ball

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Rainbow Laces

‘Sport plays a massive role in dictating societal norms’

In the final part of Sport Liverpool’s series of interviews with LGBTQ+ athletes for this year’s Rainbow Laces campaign, AU vice-president Matt Addison spoke to Sam Ball, the president of the table-tennis club.

Now studying an integrated masters in mathematics, Sam, a part of the LGBTQ+ community, has not always been an active person – but Sport Liverpool changed all that.

He says: “To be honest, I really wasn’t a sporty person before I joined the AU. I really didn’t enjoy sports at all and I think there’s a negative stereotype around sports for LGBT people.

“I found that there were a lot of sports in the AU that weren’t necessarily typically ‘sporty people’ kind of sports, and when I found the right sporting environment, I thought it was really positive.

“In secondary school, I was terrible at rugby, football, hockey and all the ‘sporty sports’ but then two years ago, in January, I came and did a table-tennis session. I really enjoyed it thought I could get into this. I kept on coming and helping out, and now I'm here in my last year as president.”

The message of the Rainbow Laces campaign, which coincides with Varsity this year, is clear: sport should be for everyone.

Sam says: “Over the last couple of years, my attitudes towards LGBT issues have changed. It’s not necessarily homophobia that you see, but the dynamic of different situations is different for heterosexual people than homosexual people.

“In a way, you can’t avoid dealing with these issues, I feel, so having an event where it’s celebrating and overcoming the issues is really positive.”

Sam believes that a lot of progress has taken place in recent years – especially within the university environment.

He says: “I think if there was ever a problem, the university would deal with it in the proper manner, but to be honest, I don’t think there would be a problem.

“People who I've interacted with, even in clubs who have a negative stereotype towards them, have been extremely positive towards these kinds of things.

“It’s 2019: I don’t think anyone is really going to say anything too bad, but it’s nice to know that if something did happen, I know the AU would take my side.”

Lots more education is required, Sam believes, in order for equality to materialise in wider society.

He explains: “People aren’t educated that much at all. Our club has a lot of foreign students from around the world. A lot of people don’t know that much, but they’re interested to learn – I think that’s positive as well.

“I think part of it is just not knowing, and asking questions. It’s nice to see people be interested in the difficulties that people have with LGBT issues and how they can make it easier.

“Whenever it comes up in conversation, there will be one or two questions, for example, ‘how do you meet people?’. It’s an interesting question, as well, because it is quite hard for a number of reasons. It gets into lots of interesting discussions.”

Rainbow Laces is one of many campaigns aiming to aid the process of equality within sport and society generally, and Sam believes all of them are hugely important.

He says: “I think there’s been loads of really positive movements. Rugby had one, and football had one recently. The big sports that have the negative stereotypes almost make the most effort to stop that culture from spreading.

“I know there are a lot of LGBT athletes out there who are vocal which is super positive. As with racism and sexism, there is still a long way to go, but I think what matters is incremental change and moving forward over time.

“Sport is massive, especially for bigger sports like football. That almost dictates what the majority of people feel about social issues. If they see someone being negative towards LGBT people, then it’s quite likely that a lot of football fans will take a similar view, whereas if they are challenged by athletes that they look up to, then they will start to wonder what’s going on.

“If a role model is challenging what you think in a positive way, then that’s probably the strongest way to help someone re-evaluate their opinion.”

More, though, can still be done – which is why the Rainbow Laces campaign remains a significant event in the Sport Liverpool calendar.

Sam says: “I think there’s a lot more than we can do. In table-tennis, there’s no one I can look up to, and in most sports I think there’s few people who are LGBT.

“There’s a lot of non-LGBT people who will step up and take part in campaigns because they know how much of an issue that is, and in a way that’s just as important.

“At the end of the day, you have to convince other non-LGBT people, so to have them on your side is a very powerful stance.”

There is no simple solution to inclusivity when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, or indeed other aspects of equality, which is why the Rainbow Laces campaign is so important.

Sam says: “I think we’re quite far away from equality, to be honest. I take quite a pessimistic stance, personally. In general, we’re not there with sexism or racism yet. With homophobia, I don’t think we’re going to be there for quite a few years, but it’s nice that progress is being made.

“With sexism and racism, problems are being dealt with faster than ever before, and all the problems are interlinked. They all need to be taken down together, not one by one.”

Sam was speaking to AU vice-president Matt Addison as part of Sport Liverpool’s Rainbow Laces campaign for 2019.