Five words, tiny sentence, huge question. Is angling a racist sport?
I urge you to think hard before you answer. Very hard. I want you to think about the number of black and Asian people you see on the bank, about how many ethnic minority stars appear in the fishing press, about the tackle shops, the fisheries, the matches, the shows. Think about wherever groups of anglers congregate. Think about the number of non-white faces you’re likely to see. Then answer the question.
Because even if angling isn’t overtly racist, then it’s a hobby that has failed to integrate what now amounts to a significant proportion of the UK population. And that’s not opinion. It’s indisputable, undeniable fact.
Fishing, whichever way you look at it, remains, overwhelmingly, the preserve of white, middle-aged, working class males.
It’s not alone, of course. The two other field sports to which it sits most closely ¬ shooting and, to a lesser degree, hunting ¬ have a similar demographic. Yes, the social class may change, but the skin colour doesn’t.
If you take part in a countryside pursuit, the odds are you’ll be white.
There are obvious, often quoted, answers here. Ethnic communities live in cities and rarely leave their urban environments. They are poor, too, and unable to either afford the time, or the equipment, that hobbies demand. But these, although legitimate factors, are far too simplistic in my opinion.
Angling, like the other outdoor pursuits already mentioned, doesn’t attract blacks or Asians because of fundamental cultural differences.
Think about it. How did you find your love of angling? The overwhelming answer surely is through fathers, grandfathers or other family relatives.
A significant portion may have friends to thank but there can’t be many who simply stumbled into it by chance. Without those influences to steer them in the sport’s direction, most within the ethnic community don’t grow up with opportunity or inclination to pick up a fishing rod.
As a consequence there remains a dearth of role models for these youngsters to aspire to. Unlike football, cricket, rugby, golf even, fishing has no black or Asian superstars ¬ and there isn’t a hope in hell in finding any in the foreseeable future.
The Environment Agency believe that of the 1.45m rod licences sold last year, one per cent was made up of people from the ethnic community. It continues to spend revenue ¬ raised via our contributions - on schemes and initiatives to increase that number because, and I quote a source at the Agency, ‘we know that literally millions more people from all backgrounds are interested in going fishing but also that they find significant barriers in their way’.
It’s all part of the Agency’s ‘Angling 2015’, a scheme aimed at attracting 200,000 new people into fishing, a significant portion from the vast ethnic community. Already money, our rod licence money, remember, has been spent on pilot schemes with organisations ¬ and I’m not making this up - like the Minority Ethnic Women’s Network. This at a time when the EA can’t afford to bailiff the banks properly.
Look, it might be very worthy and politically correct to seek to throw money at well-meaning but ultimately doomed attempts to encourage blacks and Asians to go fishing, but it’s futile.
Fishing, to answer my own initial question, isn’t racist. But it is white, working class and an intrinsic part of Anglo Saxon culture that dates back centuries. The EA would be well advised to remember that the next time it decides to throw even more of our money away.