Jason Mohammad knows exactly what it means to be an outsider.
Born to a Welsh mother and a Pakistan father, the BBC television and radio presenter grew up in Ely, one of the most deprived areas of Cardiff, where he was the only Muslim child at his school.
That meant that he had to deal with racial slurs and even being spat at on one occasion.
On weekends when his friends were kicking a football around, Mohammad would be at the local mosque.
And yet, Mohammad was always sports mad and soon realised that he wanted to talk about it for a living.
From there, it was his belligerence and determination to prove people wrong that led to him becoming a familiar face covering football, the Olympics and almost every other sport that made it to our TV screens.
So, when Mohammad sees more people trying to break the mould and find their way into spaces that are traditionally reserved to a singular demographic, he immediately recognises the parallels.
The Black Swimming Association is an organisation that was launched two and a half years ago, aiming to encourage more people in African, Caribbean, and Asian communities to engage in swimming and water safety education.
In a short space of time, the charity has quickly become a prominent voice in the swimming landscape, and those efforts have been recognised when it was named the 2022 National Lottery UK Project of the Year.
Presenting the award at the STAR Hub in the Tremorfa area in Cardiff, Mohammad was impressed by the work being done by the BSA.
He said: “I’m just delighted to be associated with it because it’s such an amazing community project. Given my role in British sport on television and radio, I think we must make sure there is sport for all, and everyone gets access to sport.
“It’s about making sure that our communities, and by our communities, I mean everybody, gets the opportunity and the encouragement to get into the water to not only learn how to swim for that life skill but also, fundamentally, making sure that kids get access to sport, no matter where you come from, no matter which community you come from. I’m a great believer in what I can do with my platform, helping young people get involved in sports.”
Sport has always been part of Mohammad’s life, his love for Cardiff City remains as strong as ever. And yet while he found a passion for sport early on, he is aware that it is not always the case within Muslim communities.
Much as the BSA are starting awkward conversations around the cultural barriers within some ethnic communities when it comes to swimming, Mohammad believes there are still obstacles to be overcome with regards to getting people from all backgrounds to engage in sport.
He added: “It is one of the tough conversations that we must have, but when it comes to swimming, tennis, football, and cricket, there are still boundaries.
“I did a presentation in a Cardiff Muslim school in 2019, just before the Covid pandemic. I was absolutely startled when some of the kids in the school said they hadn’t played football ever before. Some of them were seven or eight.
“I asked a few of the coaches and they said that some of the families didn’t know how to get involved in the clubs. So, I’m very passionate about that, and now with my platform as a broadcaster and as someone who people recognise when it comes to sport, I’m trying to play my part in encouraging more people to take part in not only my passion, football, but in all sports.
“We don’t know what talent is out there. Unless young people are exposed to sports they are not encouraged to know, who knows what sort of untapped talent we have here.
“The BSA is just fantastic. There are some incredible projects out there being undertaken at grassroots level to make sure that changes. I get the feeling that things are changing. When I hear the story about kids who have never kicked a football at the age of seven, I thought, we can’t go on like that. We must make sure sport is for all.”
The BSA beat off stiff competition from more than 1300 organisations to win the award and they now receive the £5,000 cash prize as well as an iconic National Lottery Awards trophy.
And for Mohammad, there is no question that the organisation is feel-good story in a difficult time for everyone.
He added: “What I have learned from talking to the team here, the way they have gone about this has just been incredible. And what is lovely was that they never expected this.
“They haven’t gone at this to win awards or make headlines. They have gone about it to change people’s lives and help people. That is so lovely and heart-warming.”
No-one does more to support our athletes than National Lottery players, who raise more than £30 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. For more information about The National Lottery Awards, visit lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and follow the campaign on Twitter @LottoGoodCauses #NLAwards.