Six of Britain’s greatest athletes past and present have joined forces to become ambassadors for the Personal Best Foundation, which has been created to demonstrate the power of athletics and its ability to change young lives for the good.
The athletes recognise the role athletics has played not just in their success in competition, but more importantly how it has had a hugely positive influence on their lives and how it continues to influence them as they have developed successful careers.
One of the sport’s greats, known for her difficult start in life, Fatima Whitbread MBE, the World Javelin champion in 1983 personifies everything that the Foundation is trying to achieve when supporting children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In a recent interview about her role as ambassador, Fatima said:
“Sport was my saviour when living in children's homes. Living in these homes made you realise you had to learn to stand on your own feet and learn to survive. I found myself best when I was doing sport, so I’d roll my sleeves up and get stuck into and sporting event and it was a chance for me to build my confidence, self- esteem and the respect of my peers, sport was my saviour in children’s homes,” says Fatima Whitbread, the World Javelin champion in 1983.
Athletics was equally lifechanging for Abdul Buhari, one of Britain’s best discus throwers of all time and a London 2012 Olympian.
“Sport is a tool which can be used to break down social barriers. I saw first-hand throughout my teenage years how instrumental it can be as a positive diversion from anti-social behaviour. I was lucky enough to have benefitted from the opportunities sport enabled me to have. Sport has made a huge impact to my life and still does to this day,” he says.
The Foundation is all about developing fundamental skills, building confidence, increasing emotional and social well-being as well as improving mental and physical health, which in turn can be used to build a successful career in life beyond athletics.
Fatima has become a well-known television star, appearing on shows such as Celebrity SAS Who Dares Wins, while Abdul works for a large global financial institution, where he is now a relationship manager in private banking.
Also an Ambassador is four-time Olympian 400m runner Donna Fraser OBE, formerly Equality, Diversity Inclusion Lead at UK Athletics and Head of Inclusion and Engagement at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Her passion for supporting young people is paramount in her local community and she received the Freedom of the Borough of Croydon for her efforts. Today, Donna is the Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the Professional Cricketers Association. and continues to inspire and support her local club Croydon Harriers as a life member.
The other ambassadors are Emmanuel Oyinbo-Coker, winner of the men’s T47 100m final at Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games and a regular visitor to schools in Essex and London. Tom Bosworth, the Olympic race walker who works with charities to help raise the awareness of LGBTQIA+ and finally Marilyn Okoro, Olympic and World champs bronze medallist at 800 and Program Lead at Equinix, the world’s leading data infrastructure company.
“There are so many young people out there who don’t have access to athletics, and sport in general and athletics is so diverse. It welcomes all and is a true family. It can give people so much more than just exercise, it can give them a support system and freedom to be themselves and adventure through sport,” says Tom.
The ambassadors have come on board because they have benefitted first hand from athletics and recognise its power to change young lives.
Yet inequality and family poverty mean opportunities for sport and physical activity can be out of reach for more than a quarter of children and young people in England.
Children from families with the lowest incomes remain the least active and this gap has widened since the pandemic – in part because they have less access to outdoor space. While children and young people from ethnically diverse communities can face cultural barriers that make it almost impossible to join in. And then there are the challenges we’ve yet to understand.
Young people living with inequality are at greater risk of experiencing a mental health problem, or developing medical conditions such as obesity, heart problems and type 2 diabetes or underachieving at school and not being ready for work, being involved in crime or anti-social behaviour.
The Foundation is working to reduce the obstacles to participation, by tearing down barriers and levelling the playing field to make athletics more accessible to everyone.