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