Birmingham 2022: Photographer shines a light on grassroots sports

An exhibition is highlighting gender, equality and diversity in grassroots sports around the West Midlands as part of a project celebrating the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

Photographer Jaskirt Boora, from Sutton Coldfield, has photographed members of sports clubs mainly in Birmingham and Sandwell for People, Place and Sport.

Each person’s portrait includes a QR code that links to a recording of the person’s story and what drew them to their chosen sport,

“I want people to see what we achieve on a weekly basis,” the photographer said.

Jaskirt said she and Mel bonded over the issues they faced balancing motherhood with work and sport.

“A lot of the time for women, it’s like this cut off period. It’s like from a certain age you shouldn’t be boxing,” Mel told Jaskirt.

“It doesn’t follow for men,” she said, and added that she felt stronger physically since having children.

Deal with aggression
Julius, who migrated from Jamaica to Birmingham when he was 10 years old, is a rugby coach for the men’s team at Aston Old Edwardian Rugby Club.

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After getting kicked out of his school football team, Julius’ PE teacher got him into rugby, as a way to deal with his aggression.

“The challenges I’ve faced are the stereotypes, like black people can’t play rugby, or women can’t play rugby, but it’s totally not the case,” Julius told Jaskirt.

“No matter what colour you are, what shape, what size you are, rugby is an inclusive sport.”

Julius said most coaches at local rugby clubs were white and that having more from ethnic minorities might help them to “take players under their wing” and “to understand what they are going through”.

Overcoming barriers
Jaskirt said part of the reason for the exhibition was to show what attracted people to take up sports.

Wild swimmer Jo told the photographer: “I think everyone’s struggled with their mental well-being over the last year.

“Swimming’s made me get through it, because there’s a feeling that like if I’m brave enough to break the ice and get in freezing cold water, then I can deal with whatever else the week is going to throw at me.”

Her fellow swimmer Shian added: “You feel on the edge of existence, which sort of makes us all more alive really.”

Growing up, Jaskirt said sport was a lot less accessible than it is now, particularly for women and girls.

“My parents were also trying to make ends meet, so them trying to find sports clubs for their sporty daughter wasn’t really on their mind,” she added.

It was a PE teacher that eventually got Jaskirt into a county netball team.

She said she wanted the exhibition to shine a light grassroots sports and that the Commonwealth Games were not just about championing elite athletes, but showing how important sport was communities.

Local community clubs can also themselves be a route into professional sport.

One of those featured in the exhibition is retired weightlifter Gurbinder, who said he had been introduced to weight-lifting through his father.

“He used to take me to the gym and through him I got into the sport. I went through the ranks, schoolboy, junior, senior level all the way up. I managed to get to three Commonwealth Games,” he told Jaskirt.

Often lifting weights four hours a day, Gurbinder said it “takes its toll on the body”.

“It helps other sports as well, you get runners, boxers, everything, they all do weight training. It’s one of those sports that when you do it, it uses every muscle in your body,” he added.

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