Inspirational Welshman to feature in Sport Relief All Star Games: Birmingham 2022 documentary

5th August 2022

Hour long BBC One special to feature Cardiff project which helped former Wales Rugby League player James, improve his mental health thanks to Sport Relief donations

  • James’ mental health challenges first started during the pandemic, after losing his job and after a relationship breakdown

  • Since being supported by the charity, School of Hard Knocks, James has gone on to become a sports coach there

  • His story will be shown as part of BBC One’s Sport Relief All Star Games: Birmingham 2022 which will see two teams from the world of sport and entertainment take on five Birmingham 2022 sports to raise life changing money for Sport Relief

  • Former professional Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas amongst competitors taking part

  • One-off special to be shown on BBC One and BBC iPlayer, on Monday 8th August, 7pm

  • Sport Relief is an official charity partner of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games

  • To find out more about Sport Relief visit:

Friday 5th August: A former Welsh Rugby League player is set to feature in the BBC One documentary, Sport Relief All Star Games: Birmingham 2022, to help raise awareness of mental health after struggling with his own during the pandemic.

James Allen, aged 40, shares his personal journey to improving his mental health in the hour-long BBC special, airing on Monday 8th August at 7pm, that will see two teams from the world of sport and entertainment taking on five Birmingham 2022 sports to raise money for Sport Relief.

After losing his job and after a relationship breakdown at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, James started struggling with his depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. He was introduced to School of Hard Knocks, a project in Cardiff which benefits from money raised by Sport Relief and supports adults who are unemployed and school children at risk of exclusion.

James took part in one of their programmes which combines curriculum-based learning and counselling to help improve mental health and wellbeing and which sees 95% of adults that complete the course having improved self-confidence, motivation, hopefulness and ability to face challenges.

Now, James is a Schools Rugby Coach at the charity. The role, which he describes as his dream job where his is making a difference every day, sees him delivering sports PT sessions in schools with disengaged children and young people.

During the special, viewers will also see how the School of Hard Knocks is using Sport Relief donations to support hundreds of people with their mental health through the power of sport, in Cardiff and Ebbw Vale, including people like James.

Gareth Thomas, who is in the Blue Team for the Sport Relief All Star Games: Birmingham 2022 and taking on Rhythmic Gymnastics alongside Vicky Pattison against the Red Team’s Russell Kane and Lindsey Russell, said: “A huge part of my Sport Relief challenge back in 2019 was helping to raise awareness of issues like mental health in the hope of breaking down barriers and removing the stigma that surrounds them. It was the people I met along the way, who were benefitting from the money raised, that kept me going. They were my inspiration at the toughest points of the challenge when my spirits were at their lowest.

“I know how difficult it can be to open up about these sort of things, to be able to speak up, and to ask for help – which is why I’m so proud of James. It might surprise a few, but this will be my first venture into rhythmic gymnastics – and it’s people like James that are the reason why we’re doing this, to help raise vital funds for Sport Relief."

James Allan said: “Being a rugby player, you’re not to be seen weak, even by your own teammates. If you were feeling low, you’d get an arm round you with a pint and that’s all that you’d get back in my day. When the first lockdown happened, I lost my job then couldn’t get any work. I was depressed to a point where I couldn’t really explain it. I wasn’t working. I had no rugby. I had no one to fall back on. When we knew there was going to be a second lockdown, I had a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, and that’s when I opened up to a friend.

“I’m a proud man but engaging with people and opening up, especially at the School of Hard Knocks, has allowed me to become myself. I can’t thank them enough for their help and support, and for giving me the opportunity to do the best job in the world. It’s changed my life, and I’m just really looking forward to the future now."

Shaunni Davies, Adults Programme Manager at School of Hard Knocks, said: “We know that sport really does have the power to change lives, so it’s brilliant for James to share his story with so many people. We’re so proud of the journey he’s been on, and everything he’s achieved. With the help of Sport Relief donations, we’re able to reach hundreds of people – just like James – right here in Wales, offering critical health and wellbeing support using a range of sports including rugby and boxing."

James’s story aims to highlight the importance of opening up and talking about your mental health, whilst helping to raise money to support more mental health programmes in the UK and around the world.

The Sport Relief All Star Games: Birmingham 2022 will see two teams from the world of sport and entertainment go head-to-head in five Birmingham 2022 sports to raise life changing money for Sport Relief.

The Blue Team, captained by five-time Paralympic champion Ellie Simmonds OBE, includes former professional Wales rugby star Gareth Thomas, Queen of the Jungle and TV personality Vicky Pattison, singer and presenter Una Healy, commentator and former racing driver Billy Monger, Olympic gold medal long jumper Greg Rutherford, plus many more.

They will be going head to head against the Red Team, captained by double Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes. Some of the celebrities making up the Red Team are TV personality and presenter Ferne McCann, former England Rugby Union and Lions star Ugo Monye, comedian Russell Kane, double Olympic gold medal rower Helen Glover, and BBC Asian Network DJ and TV presenter Noreen Khan.

The action will see the teams competing in front of live crowds at the actual venues during the Games, including Lee Valley Velopark for Cycling - Track, Alexander Stadium for Athletics, Arena Birmingham for Rhythmic Gymnastics, Smithfield for Basketball 3x3 and the NEC Arena for Table Tennis.

Viewers will be able to see James’ story, and find out how the teams get on, via a one-off special on BBC One and BBC iPlayer, on Monday 8th August, 7pm.

Sport Relief is an official charity partner of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, alongside United By 2022 and the Commonwealth Sport Foundation, and hopes to raise money to tackle important causes including tackling inequality, improving mental health and helping young people survive and thrive.

To find out how you can get involved in Sport Relief this summer, visit: in new window)

If you’ve been affected by the issues in this film, please seek support. You can find help at CALM (Campaign against Living Miserably) on 0800 58 58 58 (5pm to midnight) or Samaritans on 116 123 (24 hours a day).