The former BBC and ITV presenter has become a campaigner for greater BAME representation in British sports media and is determined to see radical change to a stark issue
Leon Mann tells a story which, by his own admission, is as depressing as it is amusing. It goes back to his early days at the BBC and when he first found himself in the company of the presenter Damian Johnson.
“I remember asking him which football team he used to play for,” says Mann. “Growing up, all the black people I saw on TV talking about sport were former athletes, so I presumed Damian was the same. But of course he wasn’t. He was – is – a fully-trained, highly-experienced journalist. Damian being Damian, he took it well.”
Mann laughs as he delivers that final line but there is no denying the seriousness of his point and especially so after he reveals that people have made the same mistake about him during a career in broadcasting that began more than a decade ago and seen the 39-year-old cover a host of major events, including the 2012 Olympics and Euro 2016, for ITV as well as the BBC.
Quite simply, there are very few people from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background working as sports journalists in this country, with the bulk of those in the public eye having kicked a ball, run on a track or punched someone professionally in a former career. It is a damning state of affairs and something Mann has been campaigning to change since 2010, when he founded the Black Collective of Media in Sport (Bcoms), a lobbying group aimed at increasing diversity in an industry which, to put it bluntly, has been too white for too long.