Recently, the IGLA LGBTQ+ aquatics Championship came to London, supported by an army of volunteers including London Sport’s David Gentles.
David shares his experience, and reflections on why inclusive volunteerism is so important for sport and physical activity.
As a Development Manager for London Sport, my primary role is to support local authorities and other organisations across London to help them increase opportunities for more people to benefit from being more active. Much of this work is focused on working to address the inequality of opportunity that many minority communities have including those people from the LGBTQ+ community.
Most of my working career has been spent in community sport and throughout this near 30 year journey I have seen the power that passionate individuals have in making peoples lives better. No one encapsulates this better than London Sport’s own Lifetime Achievement Award winner; Michelle Weltman, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing for over a decade and had the opportunity to reconnect with as a fellow volunteer at the IGLA LGBTQ+ aquatics Championship recently.
The IGLA LGBTQ+ aquatics Championships came to London for the first time from 25th to 30th June 2023. IGLA is a celebration of inclusion in Sport and took place across 6 venues with more than 1000 participants from all over the world, including a small team from Uganda who bravely defied the recent legislation passed in their country criminalising anyone identifying as LGBTQ+.
Having qualified as a British Swimming Referee in 2022, I am always keen to utlise this qualification to help run swimming events, so I jumped at the chance to use my qualification but also, because of London Sport’s generous benefit of allowing staff to take up to 5 volunteering days per year, allow me to officiate at my first international event, without taking annual leave for the privilege.
The 3 days I spent officiating at the iconic Olympic Pool at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will long live in my memory, not only for the camaraderie shown by those teams competing but the immense gratitude and appreciation shown by competitors, which certainly is not as common when officiating children and young people!
Having played cricket, rugby and football since I was young, I am indebted to the many teachers, parents and players who selflessly gave their time up to enable me to take part, compete and develop a lifelong love for being physically active. Due to this early recognition of the importance of volunteers in making community sport happen, I have always utlised my skills, qualifications and above all time, trying to give something back to help other people.
Sadly, one of the lasting legacies that Covid has created is to reduce the number of people volunteering within community sport environments across London and wider and there have been instances of swimming galas and other events which have had to be cancelled due to the lack of volunteers needed to safely run a gala.
So, being able to play my part and support the IGLA LGBTQ+ aquatics Championship has given me great pleasure . Doing this alongside other individuals, like Michelle and the Out for Sport and Out for Swim network is inspiring and important to help make sport and physical activity more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community in London.
Written by David Gentles.