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Eden Cheng: England Swims campaign is ‘important step to move forward’

Olympic diver Eden Cheng believes the England Swims campaign is an ‘important step to move forward’ and improve diversity throughout aquatics.

Cheng, who has recently been announced as part of the British Diving squad for the upcoming FINA World Championships, says she has always been ‘welcomed with open arms’ during her time in aquatics – from grassroots through to the elite level.

However, as a British Chinese athlete, she discusses how she is one of few role models representing her community within aquatic sports.

Cheng explains some of the stereotypes that often turn the British Chinese community away from water-based activity and how important it is that people take the opportunity to share their perceptions and experiences with Swim England to help break down any barriers to participation.

Discussing the importance of increasing diversity in aquatics, she said: “I think it is very important because as a British Chinese person I have experienced that there aren’t many other British Chinese or Asian faces within aquatic sport – there may be a couple of us.

Confidence and hope for younger generations

“I think definitely having these faces in teams that are going to big competitions and being in the media, I think it does give confidence and hope for younger generations of British Chinese people to believe that they can achieve this high in these specific sports.

“I know that there is stigma around, when I was younger anyway, that British Chinese people aren’t very good at swimming – so that might be a reason why British Chinese children may not want to take up swimming, because they already know that people will think that they’re not very good and they won’t be able to get anywhere from it.

“Diversity is very important because it just shows that you don’t have to be a certain race to be able to be good at something.

“It just gives people a fire in their belly to try it out, see if you’re good at it, and actually keep going rather than trying it out and thinking ‘oh I’m never going to be good at this because there’s no one else that is good at it’.

“So they try something different because they know that there is a stereotype for example, for British Chinese people to be good at academia, business, music or something like that – so they’ll try something different.

“I think because there’s so much stereotyping in lots of different races, people don’t really think of sport to be something that they can be good at.”

More diversity at grassroots level

Cheng describes herself as always being a ‘sporty person’ and says she has never had any negative experiences or felt any ‘divide’ due to ‘looking different’.

“From my own experience, through diving especially, I am the only British Chinese person that I know, who has reached elite diving and especially on the team,” she added.

“I was the youngest on the team when I was first welcomed and also in that time I was the only different looking person on the team.

“I didn’t really feel a divide in that sense that I wasn’t part of the team because I looked different. Everyone tried to welcome me with open arms.

“I think if there were more people who look different or people from different backgrounds who people can relate to more, I definitely think there would be an increased amount of participation in sport, especially swimming and the aquatic sports.

“Now when I am looking at the recreational and grassroots, children trying out diving, I can see now that there are a few more diverse groups and more people from different backgrounds in the sport.”

It is ok that you look different

The 19-year-old feels ‘honoured’ to be a role model for the British Chinese community and admits she wants to have a ‘positive impact’.

Cheng continued: “I definitely feel really honoured to have the title of a role model. I would never have thought that people would’ve looked up to me for those reasons.

“I just want to make a positive impact in them and give them belief that they can go further because when I was growing up, I did see a lot people take a step back from their sport because of stereotyping, which is quite sad.

“I just want to up the volume and really shout out that you can do it and just keep going. Just try it out, it’s ok that you do look different, I think that’s a big thing.

“I think because people from ethnically diverse backgrounds look at other people that they’re around and they don’t look like me, they’re not from the same background, they don’t sometimes understand their values or their ways and things – it is ok that you do look different but you shouldn’t be treated any different to your counterpart.

“I think the fact that something is being done, that’s just such an important step to move forward.”

Main picture: Georgie Kerr