Wales international futsal player and founder of The Diabetes Football Community (TDFC), Chris Bright, enjoyed a double celebration when he graduated from the University of Worcester.
As well as receiving his MRes in the Socio-Cultural Studies of Sport and Exercise Science, Chris was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University, in recognition of the positive and transformational contribution he has made in the field of diabetes in sport.
“I was really shocked to receive the letter confirming I had been awarded a Fellowship,” he said. “I just thought ‘me?’ ‘really?’ This is the sort of award you receive following a lifetime of incredible work in the community, and for the University to have deemed my contribution worthy of such an honour in my early 30’s blew me away. I’m really honoured and humbled to be picking up the award at graduation.
“It feels like a ‘forever link’ between me and the University, and that’s a nice thought.”
And these were not the first awards that Chris picked up in autumn 2021. He had previously scooped the People’s Award at the recent Quality in Care awards for the work that The Diabetes Football Community did during the pandemic.
Chris, who was first diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 8, was determined that his diagnosis would not prevent him from fulfilling his dream of one day growing up to play football for his country. In 2016 this dream was realised when he received his first call up to the Wales national futsal squad.
But for Chris, the journey from diagnosis to international colours had been a long and difficult one.
“There aren’t many medical conditions whereby the condition you live with classifies you as disabled, but where you still have to compete with the able-bodied mainstream,” he said. “There’s no ‘diabetic football’ in the Paralympics.”
“I had very little support and advice about how to manage my diabetes around my football growing up, but I felt passionate about changing that.”
In 2017, Chris founded The Diabetes Football Community, a support network for anyone trying to balance a passion for sport with the need to manage diabetes. Today TDFC is a globally respected voice in the field of inclusive sport, and having focussed his MRes on this field, after three years of research Chris now has the evidence and academic foundations to underpin his calls for change.
Chris’ research found that the psychological challenges of living with diabetes in the world of football were every bit as significant as the physical challenges, and players who hid their condition for fear of being stigmatised as ‘weak’ were putting their health and wellbeing at risk.
“I think the findings are highly significant,” Chris said, “because I’ve been able to demonstrate that the prevailing culture within the sport many of us have grown up with actually has the power to adversely affect our health.”
Having enjoyed a career as a semi-professional footballer along-side his international futsal career, Chris was forced to retire from the XI-a-side game earlier this year, at the age of 30, because of two severe concussions he picked up whilst playing for Pershore.
“Retiring like that was tough to come to terms with as it was not the way I wanted to bow out,” Chris added. “However, I’m lucky that for the time being I’ve been cleared to continue playing Futsal with the lower requirement for heading there is in the game, and we will see how my recovery progresses.”
But if things have been difficult off the pitch, the continued success of TDFC is a huge positive for Chris.
“We have so many exciting projects in the pipeline,” he said. “We have a flourishing peer-support community within the men’s game in this country, but we’re now working hard to establish the same network for both the women’s and children’s games.”
Chris is also working hard to form strong links with the NHS, so that the peer support model he has pioneered with TDFC can be rolled out to everyone living with diabetes, not just sports people.
“I really feel like TDFC is making a valuable contribution,” he said. “Diabetes is starting to get the recognition it has deserved for a long time, and I’m absolutely buzzing about that.”
“It’s nice to get the recognition through awards, but ultimately they’re just bits of metal and glass,” he added. “It’s the smiles, the ways in which people interact, the things that exist now that didn’t exist four years ago when I set up TDFC, that’s my reward."
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