Exclusive interview: BT Sport chief operating officer Jamie Hindhaugh on the importance of inclusion

It’s set to be another weekend of exhilarating football as five games stand between one team and the 2021 FA Disability Cup. Set to be broadcast live for the very first time on BT Sport, Lorne Gillies spoke exclusively to BT Sport’s chief operating officer Jamie Hindhaugh about the broadcaster’s goals for accessibility. 

Taking place this Saturday and Sunday (17 to 18 July) at the home of English football, St George’s Park players across all the home nations are gearing up for the game of their careers.

“I would hope that this isn’t the first and only time we do the disability cup, I would expect this to be a regular occurrence with BT Sport,” enthuses Jamie Hindhaugh.

Set to be an exhilarating weekend of matches with players involved in amputee football, cerebral palsy (CP), powerchair, partially sighted and blind games: the game is coming home in a whole new, and exciting, way.

Working in tandem with the Football Association (FA) BT Sport is committed to be an inclusive network and supporting disability sport.

Jamie continues: “I do firmly believe that this weekend will drive awareness. 

“This will be a slow process it won’t be overnight but we are on a really exciting journey where we are making people aware that football isn’t just a men’s game, we know it’s a women’s game and now, finally, it is a much broader set of games that people can participate in.”

TECHNOLOGY

Across the weekend, BT Sport will provide coverage of the FA Disability Cup – the first time the competition has ever been broadcast live. Furthermore, the games are set to be fully accessible for viewers to enjoy the games the way they should be: together.

“It is a really significant challenge that sport is a group viewing experience, a social experience,” says Jamie. “It is looking at how you can use technology to enable people to come together, but for them all to be able to access and enjoy the content individually but still be part of that a wider conversation.”

As one of the leaders in technology – BT Sport was the first to introduce 4K technology with other channels quickly following suit – Jamie understands that, although accessibility should already meet the needs of all viewers, the technology now allows channels such as BT Sport to be inclusive. 

Jamie explains: “We are probably the world leaders, not in an arrogant way, around technology innovation to enhance the viewing for our audiences

“For me, the really important thing is that we should be using technology to really be truly inclusive but also to challenge. 

“It felt like the right thing to do as we have a sports network to look at the best way to support disability sport is to make it visible and to be talking about it, showing it and giving it the same respect as we give any other coverage,” adds Jamie. 

COMMUNITY

Committed to showing support for organisations and causes that will actively improve the society we live in, BT and BT Sport is using their standing as a leading broadcaster in the UK to not only shine a light on disability but inclusion as a whole.

“We are much more active now to giving opinions on initiatives such as Black Lives Matter, in the past we wouldn’t comment as a broadcaster,” stresses Jamie. “In terms of disability, it is one of those key areas in inclusion that, to be frank, we need to do more on both representing on air and also within our teams.”

Alongside showcasing the upcoming Disability Cup, BT has launched Hope United, a squad of athletes who are united to tackle online hate, which includes Scottish Para-footballer Rebecca Sellar, and being active around issues such as BLM, disability, sustainability and inclusion: the Disability Cup is set to unite communities.

Jamie adds: “The Disability Cup, because we are host broadcaster, has given us the opportunities to bring all those elements together to look at how we focus on disability by being truly inclusive and representative of some of the challenges that some of the teams face in the competitions they are playing in. 

“Audio description and commentary is so important: We are building on this. There should be no barriers in watching content. I am really proud in what we have done here because I think it will be the most accessible broadcast outlet to give everyone the opportunity that everyone can watch together.”

PARAYMPICS

As an organisation, BT and BT Sport are insuring an inclusive space for people watching productions to working in the organisation. Changing signage in all Galleries to include braille, looking internally at the workforce and actively working to hire disabled employees to provide a workspace that allows people to feel comfortable: BT is certainly making its mark.

And Jamie has prior experience of working within the disability sector and showcasing the power of disability sport during his time helping to curate multiplatform coverage for the BBC, including for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. This experience has instilled an ethos of representation and commitment to disability in Jamie.

“I learnt so much just by being involved in that process about disability and ability, about sensitivity on how you treat people,” Jamie explains. 

“I think when you see the skills involved, for example with blind football, you realise the commitment the players are putting into [the sport] and the thrill they get from this it is really warming.”

But, Jamie admits that there is still a long way to go.

“We are not leading the way, when you look at what Channel 4 has done around the Paralympics and raising awareness of disability it is a huge hats off to them,” Jamie says. “To be honest, what they have really demonstrated is that representation also flows into who they employ and who works for them.

“In regards to the wider industry, we have some formidable competitors who are all really good at what they do. We all look at each other.”

PROMOTION

The world is changing, and disability representation is finally taking centre stage. Yes, there is still a long way to go before all needs are met, but, for a broadcaster as significant as BT Sport to actively promote the FA Disability Cup and utilise different methods of access – such as audio description, BSL interpreters – it is certainly a step in the right direction.

Ahead of the FA Disability Cup kicking off tomorrow, Jamie enthuses passionately: “If you like sport, particularly if you like football: this is competitive football. People should engage with disability football in the same way as they would any other football match.”

Now, it’s over to you to get tuned in and support your team. 

Supporting BT’s work with the Home Nations football associations to advance disability football, BT Sport will broadcast the 2021 FA Disability Cup. Coverage on 17 to 18 July, available for anyone to watch, will carry audio description, sign-language and sub-titles. For more info, visit: btsport.com/disabilitycup