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).



  • Images of James

  • Images of Shaunni

  • Short version of appeal film

  • Case study write up of James’s story featuring range of quotes available upon request


Jack Jones

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Out of hours enquiries: 07984 510 473


About Sport Relief

Sport Relief is a year-round fundraising campaign run by the charity, Comic Relief.

Sport Relief harnesses the power of sport and entertainment to bring people together across the UK, to get active, have fun and raise life-changing funds. Since launching in 2002, Sport Relief has raised £419 million so far, thanks to the generous British public, and supported millions of lives in the UK and around the world.

This year, Sport Relief is teaming up with United By 2022 and the Commonwealth Sport Foundation to celebrate an incredible summer of sport as the official charity partners of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Together we hope to inspire the nation through a shared love of sport, to use this momentous sporting event as an opportunity to raise money to change lives for the better. The partnership aims to raise money to take on important issues, including tackling inequality, improving mental health and helping young people to survive and thrive in Birmingham, across the UK, around the Commonwealth and beyond.

Sport Relief is an initiative of Comic Relief. For more information about Sport Relief, please visit

Instagram: @ComicRelief |Twitter: @ComicRelief | Facebook: @ComicRelief | Tik Tok: @ComicRelief

About Comic Relief

Comic Relief raises money to support people living incredibly tough lives in the UK and around the world. Through humour and stories of hope, we have shown that people can make a massive difference.

Comic Relief believes that those who are closest to the issues have the best solutions, and so works with organisations and people with direct experience of these challenges. We fund hundreds of amazing organisations who support the most vulnerable people and communities in society. This includes vulnerable children and young people, people who are homeless or who have been forced to flee their homes, women and families at risk of domestic abuse and those struggling with mental health problems.

For information about Comic Relief and the work it carries out, please visit in new window)

Comic Relief, which is the operating name of Charity Projects, is a registered charity 326568 (England/Wales); SC039730 (Scotland).

About Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games

The Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, which will be held from 28 July until 8 August 2022, will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to put the city, the region and its people on the global stage.

The Games is already proving to be a catalyst for transformation across the West Midlands, attracting new investment and funding, creating jobs and apprenticeships for local people and new opportunities for local businesses, as well as accelerating projects that will ensure the region is ready to host a fantastic sports and cultural celebration.

Birmingham 2022 will be the Games for everyone, bringing people together from across Birmingham and the region, to provide a warm welcome to millions of visitors during the summer of 2022.

Find out more at in new window)

Birmingham 2022 Charity Partners – in new window)

Facebook: @Birmingham2022 | Twitter: @birminghamcg22 | Instagram: @birminghamcg22

About School Of Hard Knocks

The School Of Hard Knocks is a national charity and uses rugby and other high impact sports as a vehicle to deliver social change. Its work demonstrates that the values of sport, combined with a personal development curriculum and one-to-one mentoring, centred around the needs of the individual, enables beneficiaries to reach their potential.

It delivers three programmes, its Schools Programme, Adults Programme, and its Back in the Game online offering. The charity’s Schools Programme reaches children who are disengaged from school and enables them to realise their potential, improve their behaviour and adopt a growth mindset. A third of all exclusions from school are due to persistent disruptive behaviour and the children the charity supports also suffer with low confidence, poor self-control, difficulties with social cohesion and poor communication skills.

The Adult Programme focuses on tackling unemployment, as well as poor physical and mental health. Many participants have extra barriers to employment to contend with such as challenges with their mental health, histories of criminal and anti-social behaviour and addiction.

Find out more at in new window)