London Sport Awards: ‘It’s about changing perceptions – sport isn’t a barrier to a professional career’


With a book published, an international appointment and a British Empire Medal to her name, young Londoner Ziana Butt is already using small type on her CV.

But the 20-year-old could add another award to her collection tonight as she is among the nominees for Volunteer of the Year at the London Sport Awards.

Butt, part of England’s mixed netball squad and the under-21 side of Super League franchise Saracens Mavericks, was recognized for her contributions to netball and particularly for her efforts to broaden the sport’s appeal to a more diverse cohort.

She says her work was inspired by her own experience of growing up in a South Asian community that tended to prioritize science over sport and hopes to prove that the two go hand in hand by completing an education alongside her netball career hand can go .

“Growing up, I didn’t have any role models in netball that I felt connected to, so it’s really important to me to be a visible role model for South Asian kids,” she told Standard Sport.

“My parents used to play sports – my mother was a squash champion when she was younger, my father played semi-professional cricket in Pakistan – so I was fortunate to come from quite a sporting family. You were always very encouraging.

“It’s about changing those perceptions and also educating South Asian parents so they understand that sport is not a barrier to a professional career.”

Having come up with the idea during lockdown, Butt published a children’s book in late 2021, which she co-authored with her mum Niala. Titled Aisha’s Netball, it tells the story of a young girl who excels at the sport and persuades her parents to let her join a local club.

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“I noticed that many young people didn’t think about sports beyond school or physical education classes,” she explains. “Back then there weren’t any children’s books about netball or with an Asian character who wanted to play a sport.

“I always feel that children are influenced by what they see, hear or read.”

In her volunteering work, Butt has worked on projects with a variety of organizations including Sporting Equals and the University of East London, but one of her highlights is a self-directed inclusion event for around 40 children at the Olympic Park’s Copper Box Arena.

“I think in netball terms, the Copper Box is a pretty iconic place,” she said. “One of the girls actually came up to me and said she bought the book. When her mother mentioned that the girl who wrote the book was organizing this event, she persuaded her mother to let her come so she could come and play.

“This is probably my favorite experience. Her saying that meant more to me than anything, knowing that the book had inspired her was very special.”

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