Sports Direct’s language ban is a xenophobic sign of the times

Picture by War on Want (CC BY 2.0)

Sian Gwenllian, the Assembly Member for Arfon

The notice that has reportedly appeared in Sports Direct stores in Wales outlining the company’s so-called Language Policy has rightfully incensed Welsh speakers across Wales.

At best, it shows a profound ignorance of the status of the Welsh language and disrespect for the Welsh language and the people who speak it; at worst it is an attack against all minority languages and indeed it is an attack against anyone and everyone who does not fit the norm and belongs to a minority of one sort of the other. It is a xenophobic sign of the times in which we live.

The norm in this instance is speaking English – the language spoken by the majority of people in the countries of the British state. Sports Direct is now distancing itself from the notice but we have evidence that it has been posted in at least two, maybe three stores in Wales to date.

It does not single out the Welsh language – it says that staff “must speak in English at all times when they are at work … this includes personal conversations.”

What Sports Direct fails to understand is that since 2011 the English and Welsh languages have equal status in Wales. The legislation protects “the freedom of persons wishing to use the Welsh language to do so with one another.”

The Welsh Language Commissioner who is now looking into the matter will be able to confirm that Sports Direct is acting illegally. But legal or illegal, what on earth can be wrong with employees conversing together in the language which is their natural mode of communication?

They speak English too and in the course of their working day they would regularly switch to English in conversations which included non-Welsh speakers. That is the essence of bilingualism.

Under siege

Once again, and ironically during Eisteddfod week, Welsh speakers like myself have to condemn what is an outright attack on our identity.

The Welsh language makes me who I am. Anyone who attacks my language (which happens to be my first language) also attacks me.

But Sports Direct is also attacking many more minorities and identities with this offensive notice.

We demand that Sports Direct apologise unreservedly to Welsh speakers and to other minority language speakers.

In most countries throughout the world, people speak two, three or more languages during their daily lives, including at their place of work. Some people who only speak one language find this a difficult reality to grasp.

Diversity and multiculturalism is what makes the world, including Wales, the rich and varied place it is.

Welsh-speakers are getting very tired of having to explain ourselves to the likes of Sports Direct. We feel under constant siege and are rightly worried that such attacks seem to becoming regular occurrences.

Minorities are under threat and intolerance is growing. We must seize on every opportunity to resist such attacks and to stand our ground. We need robust and constructive action in the face of the relentless onslaught.

As far as the Welsh language is concerned, expanding the provisions of Welsh language legislation into the private sector would be a fine starting point.

Let’s hope for some action on this when the Government publishes its White Paper on the Welsh Language later this week.

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  1. Sian writes: “it is an attack against all minority languages and indeed it is an attack against anyone and everyone who does not fit the norm and belongs to a minority of one sort of the other. It is a xenophobic sign of the times in which we live.”

    So now Welsh has been reduced to being just another minority language needing protection in Wales?

    By the way, xenophobia is a fear of foreigners, not fear natives or their language. I think Sian is very confused.

    She seems to lump being Welsh as just another minority needing protection in her ‘diverse and multicultural Wales’.

    Is that the dire state we Welsh have descended to? A minority needing protection in our own country along with other minorities ?!

    The only appropriate response to a business that bans their employees speaking their native language of the country they do business in would be immediate dismissal of the person responsible. Either that or shut down the entire operation. To permit this kind of abuse to continue sets a very bad example. It shows us as weak. When will we get a backbone?

    • Glasiad is right. The writer of this article has failed to appreciate the legal difference between a national minority language and an ethnic minority language.
      A national minority language has rights which are protected by a United Nations convention. An ethnic minority language does not enjoy such rights, not least because their enforcement would be unworkable, unaffordable, and against the interests of the national minority language (in our case, Welsh).
      She’s talking the usual globalist piffle.

  2. Yes- xenophobia is the completely wrong word to use in this context.This is an Assembly member?!

    Symptomatic of Plaid Cymru’s obsession with Brexit being all about racism and xenophobia, and wanting to ally themelves to the UK left in order to appear progressive and right-on.

    Rather than seeing it as the biggest gift ever for Welsh Independence.

    • CambroUiDunlainge

      Just wait till Wilhelm gets inaugurated. That’ll be the biggest gift and they’ll fluff that too. Lets not forget who wanted to stand for Rhondda against Chris Bryant. Establishment party through and through now.

    • So Brexit is not all about racism and xenophobia. What actually is it about then? The glorious future once the Empire rallies around us, forward into the past? Please do tell me how this is going to happen because I haven’ t seen The Plan yet. I however have heard a lot of people with ‘accents’ or ‘funny names’ being told to ‘fuck off back wherever you came from’. And this isn’t anecdotal, this is people I know and trust. And hold on. whose Empire was that anyway? Wasn’t that during the days when ‘England’ was synonymous with ‘Britain’? And don’t start about ‘taking back control’, please, because if any control is being taken back from anyone (and that’s a Big If) the hands on the leads are going to be in London, not Cardiff, that’s for certain. But anyway, it isn’t all about racism and xenophobia, so that’s OK then. Just as long as we know who is in charge.

      • CambroUiDunlainge

        Anti-establishment vote. Valleys have not changed much under Labour and Tory governments. Voices are not heard… Labour MP’s don’t vote on Welsh issues and Plaid just does not get it.

  3. This is totally unacceptable. I am a non Welsh speaking man but appreciate that my fellow countrymen who do speak Welsh should be allowed to do so.

  4. A bit of a stretch to tie this in with unspecified xenophobia. And probably futile too, I see no reason the left/progressives will ever accept the Welsh as a historically oppressed group and call for measures to protect and promote us. Wrong skin colour for starters.

    • leigh richards

      Would point out Glywys that a ‘left/progressive’ – Sian Gwenllian – in saying the provisions of the welsh language act should be extended to the private sector is calling for a measure to protect welsh speakers. Not sure what you mean by ‘wrong skin colour for starters’ – welsh people are all skin colours

  5. Ma rhoi barn wahanol yn gallu bod yn beryglus!

    ‘At best, it shows a profound ignorance of the status of the Welsh language’ – No legislation (currently) extends to forcing companies to use the Welsh language. (This article is written by an AM by the way, just saying)

    ‘As far as the Welsh language is concerned, expanding the provisions of Welsh language legislation into the private sector would be a fine starting point.’

    Why must those, who support the Welsh language, offer solutions that infringe on the freedom of speech of other individuals, companies and corporations? If you want to punish Sports Direct – boycott the place – don’t force them to be conformed to your ideals.

    This is another example (can only find the Welsh) – ns_mchannel=social&ns_campaign=bbc_cymru&ns_source=twitter&ns_linkname=wales –

    Days after this news came out EE became the first UK mobile network operator to offer customer service in Welsh – – showing that coercion is not necessary for the flourishing of my first language, and that through pressure groups, and an actual desire to use the language in our local context, the Welsh language can and will be used in business. Supply and demand works for services too!!

    My arguments do not extend to the Government’s role in protecting the Welsh language and its official status, enshrined in the Welsh Language Act 1993 (which I wholeheartedly support). My arguments only extends to private companies and to protect their freedom of expression.

    • leigh richards

      “Why must those, who support the Welsh language, offer solutions that infringe on the freedom of speech of other individuals, companies and corporations?” what are you babbling on about? In case it’s escaped your attention it’s the freedom of welsh speakers to speak their own language which is being infringed upon here. And it’s precisely because existing welsh language legislation isnt extended to the private sector that companies like sports direct are able to behave in this reprehensible way.

      If youre as sincere in wanting to see the welsh language ‘flourish’ as you purport to be you should be condemning sports direct not those people like sian who are trying to uphold the right of welsh speakers who work for the company to be able to speak in their own language.

    • For your information, here is what the BBC Welsh link referred to above says (my translation!)
      Minster “to place language standards on shops and banks”

      The minster with responsibility for the Welsh language has said he is in favour of forcing supermarkets and banks to offer services in Welsh, according to a language campaign group.

      Alun Davies AM had a meeting with members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith in March.

      In a letter to the minster the following day they said: “We are pleased that personally and in private you are in favour of including the remainder of the private sector in the measure.”

      In response, a spokesman for the Welsh Government said that plans for the revision of the Welsh Language Act would be published in the summer.


      Public bodies such as county councils already have to provide services in Welsh, and water, energy, bus and railway companies will soon also have to conform to the language standards.

      In their letter, the language campaigners also question whether the Welsh Government has plans to redefine the Language Commissioner’s rôle.

      They state: “We are concerned by your remarks concerning the Language Commissioner and the possibility of changing the body into a commission or board.”

      AMs will be debating the government target of attaining a million Welsh speakers later on Wednesday.

      Dyna fo, beth bynnag 🙂

  6. Sibrydionmawr

    Oh dear, once again we have Plaid doing a very poor impression of your average Brit Left post-imperialist guilt trip thing and lumping the Welsh language and associated identity as part of the multicultural schtick. I’m probably more radically left-wing that almost anyone in Plaid, and tend very much towards anarchism, but within that I see much of what ‘multiculturalism’ has achieved. It casts people as belonging to one group or another, and doesn’t seek to see them as Welsh people from diverse backgrounds – the difference being is that ‘multiculturalism’ tends to emphasise people’s origins, and not their current status, e.g. someone remains ‘Pakistani’ or ‘Bangladeshi’ or even ‘English’ despite their having been brought up in Wales, and perhaps with a Welsh medium education too, thus making them Welsh people of diverse descent, which should of course be recognised, and indeed, celebrated, but it is people’s Welshness that defines them, not their ethnic, or racial origins. I feel we should be striving for a country that is culturally diverse, rather than one that is multicultural. The former is centrifugal, and the latter cenrtipetal.

    It’s particularly galling to see Plaid jump on that particular bandwagon. Indeed, whilst it would be correct to point out Wales’ and Welsh people’s involvement in the English imperial project, anti-colonialist analysis would highlight the context of this, in as much as imperialist systems to tend to co-opt subject nations to further imperialist ambitions. However, it’s a mistake to embrace the ‘mea culpa’ guilt-ridden apologist stance of the mainstream Brit Left, which Plaid seems to do all the time. It’s transparent, and anyone who has seriously considered it would realise bogus nature of this kind of stance. Why is it that the Irish are an ethnicity to be so ‘pitied’ (for that is basically what the sentiments of this kind of political correctness are) but not the Welsh or the Scottish?

  7. Angharad Shaw

    Xenophobia is a fear of that which is different (to oneself), including but not limited to a fear of foreigners. The word used in the article is therefore correct.

  8. A Plaid AM again is the first to get in the media condemning an attack on Welsh, and the comments are all attacking her! What is ‘Brit Left’ about it? What is ‘galling’ about it? The word ‘xenophobic’?

    • CambroUiDunlainge

      Whats important about politics is a politicians ability to relate to those they represent. She represents a nationalist party whose rhetoric should appeal to vote for Plaid… who tend to be Welsh speakers and Welsh nationalists… who are probably more concerned with their own language and culture rather than it being an attack on “all minority languages”. It’s like shes taking the thunder out of her own cause.

      • Disagree sorry. I know Bangor very well and the point about other languages would make sense there. She represents people there very effectively.

        • CambroUiDunlainge

          Give me a break. She turned it from an argument over Welsh language into a wider one about identity politics. You’ll find people who speak other languages all across Wales. The difference here is that its a Welsh speaking heartland where the language is used in stores and public spaces.

          I’m not sure how you can say she does or does not represent people there effectively… for only an election can determine this. Though I’d assume if this angle was the case… then the Liberal Democrats would fair a lot better than they do.

          • She makes consistent points in the article about Welsh and does not change it from being an article about Welsh. Making a link to British xenophobia is appropriate and correct (though a matter of opinion).
            You’re not sure how I can say she represents people?
            She has had one election already and won. She is supported by language campaigners and Welsh nationalists amongst others, and was the first representative of any political party to oppose Sports Direct in the media.

            With those issues borne in mind, my opinion is that the focus on attacking her for being ‘Brit Left’ was really odd.

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