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Yona Knight-Wisdom believes ‘a change is coming’ for diversity in aquatics

Jamaican diver Yona Knight-Wisdom believes a change is coming in the effort to make aquatics more diverse.

The two-time Olympian was the first Jamaican male diver to compete in the Olympics but grew up in Leeds, learning to dive after being inspired by the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Knight-Wisdom is from a mixed background, being born in Leeds but competing for his father’s home country of Jamaica, whilst his mother is from Barbados.

He began diving in 2004 with the City of Leeds Diving Club alongside the likes of Jack Laugher and won a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

On the England Swims campaign and the importance of diversity in aquatics, he said: “Diversity is important in everything.

“The fact that you’re more likely to aspire to be someone and aim for their goals and achievements if you can relate to them.

“I got inspiration from athletes from other sports because in diving, there were so few Black athletes, if any, but the ones that were there definitely stood out to me.

“Fortunately for me, it never deterred me or made me lose confidence in what I was doing.

“I believe the more diverse the sports are, the more likely the uptake in people from ethnically diverse communities will be, because there’s examples of people not just doing it, but doing well in it.

“I think it’s one thing that’s been lacking for a long time, so I’m glad that a change is coming.”

‘People in the community were surprised at what I do’

Explaining his experience as a young diver, Knight-Wisdom spoke about how people in the Jamaican community were surprised when they found out what he did.

“When I’d meet Jamaican people for the first time and they asked what I did and I’d say, ‘I’m an athlete’, they’d be like ‘what sport do you play? Do you play football?’

“When I said diving, they were like, ‘oh, why diving?’ It was a surprise the fact that I chose something in aquatics, particularly to Jamaican people.

“I think that’s partly due to the way that Jamaican people look at aquatics and the way Black people in general look at it too.

“The fact that they would choose to suggest it was football or basketball just shows that.”

His family and friends were always supportive with his diving however as they recognised the talent he had at a young age.

On getting into diving, he said: “I wouldn’t say there were any barriers for me personally, because I was very fortunate that I had parents that supported me no matter what.

“I know that’s certainly not the case with many people, it wouldn’t be surprising in a family like mine where the parents might not allow their child to do a sport like diving because of the stereotypes of the sport.

“The fact that it’s unusual to see someone that looks like me doing it, that wouldn’t have been so surprising if you know the opportunity that I had.”

Becoming a role model

Despite competing at both the Rio and Tokyo Olympic Games, Knight-Wisdom is still surprised at all of the positive messages he receives.

Especially from his followers on social media platforms such as Instagram, where Yona has started to post something every day for 100 days. He started on 1 May and the 100 days will see him through to the start of the Commonwealth Games on Monday 8 August.

“It’s funny, I get a message from someone who follows me and it really helps and still surprises me a little bit,” he added.

“I still get a nice feeling from it and that’s really cool.”

The 27-year-old says the support he receives motivates him and he is happy that his enjoyment is inspiring to others.

“I don’t want to rest on my laurels just yet, but the fact that there are people that are inspired by me and what I post and share is something I really appreciate.

“It’s great that it motivates them and it motivates me because as I started diving through talent identification, but I committed to it because I loved it.”

Knight-Wisdom encourages anyone thinking of getting into aquatics to do so as it has made his dreams come true.

“I had this crazy dream of going to the Olympics and I was able to achieve that but I still get that feeling now because I love the sport.

“And the fact that my enjoyment is inspiring others. That’s a really cool thing because it means I’m doing it for the right reasons.”

‘That’s the attitude that needs to be changed’

The England Swims campaign aims to further understand the barriers to participation within ethnically diverse communities and help to break down those barriers.

Knight-Wisdom was adamant that more people from ethnically diverse communities need to feel comfortable in breaking the stereotype and learning how to swim.

He said: “That’s the attitude that needs to be changed. It’s going to take people like me and many others who do it to both show the challenges around it, but also be confident enough to challenge the stereotype and say ‘no that’s not the way we should think.’

“Over time it’ll just become the norm and it’ll become normal for Black people to be involved in diving or swimming. It’s a process, but we’ll get there.

He encourages anyone to take their time to fill in the survey to help change the future of aquatics.

“By giving your thoughts and experiences, then the people who provide aquatic facilities and programmes will understand and know what the communities are looking for and what will help convince them to get involved in aquatics.

“Something’s clearly not been working, so if the survey gives all that information to the providers then that can be changed, it will be a really positive thing for the future.”