Inclusive Sports – by Martin Start

Diversity in the Sports World

Sport plays a significant role in creating communities as common bond is formed when individuals and teams compete celebrating their successes and failures with others.  The Olympics is as much a peace movement as a sporting event with the Olympic flame a symbol of harmony, cultural plurality and togetherness. Athletes have been practitioners of Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) for decades meeting and connecting with people from other countries and backgrounds setting aside differences and developing a sense of fair play for all. Nicknamed “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali is one of the most celebrated sporting figures of the 20th Century and he brought the whole world together when an estimated global audience of 1 billion viewers watched his famous “The Rumble in the Jungle” fight with George Foreman. In the 21st Century, major sporting apparel companies understand the ubiquitous commercial benefits of I&D as evidenced in the World Economic Forum article titled: The business case for diversity in the workplace is now overwhelming which stated:

     “It is important for corporations to step up and advocate for diversity and tolerance on a public platform. A great example of this is Nike’s support of American football quarterback and rights campaigner Colin ` Kaerpenick. More than a marketing exercise, it showed the world that one of America’s best-known corporations was willing to stand aside one man in his battel against racial injustice and intolerance.”

Furthermore, the advertising campaign that featured Kaepernick added nearly US $6 billion to the company’s market value.

It is abundantly clear that sport provides considerable economic, health and societal benefits. KPMG’s The Value of Community Sport Infrastructure report highlighted community sport infrastructure generates more than AU $16.2 billion of value per annum to Australia comprising $6.3 billion worth of social benefit, $4.9 billion worth of health benefit and $5.1 billion worth of social benefit.  The community sporting facilities are used by over 8 million per annum supported by 56.6 million hours of volunteer time annually. According to the report users of the facilities enjoy broader social connections and networks with a direct benefit of increased physical activity improving health outcomes.

Unfortunately, LGBTQI people are less likely to compete in sport than their heterosexual peers. In 2016 Out on the Fields produced a report Summary for Australia on Homophobia in Sport highlighting that 80% of all sporting participants in Australia have witnessed homophobia in sport. Of those who have been personally targeted 15% of gay men and 9% of lesbians reported have been physically assaulted. How can we make sport more inclusive for LGBTQI people? By learning from history and engaging champions of the community.

History of Inclusive sport

Many people have taken bold actions to ensure that others are welcomed in sport demonstrating advocacy for fairness by publicly supporting their team-mates. At the 1968 Summer Olympics Tommie C. Smith and John Carlos, winners of the gold and bronze medals in the 200 metres, gave the black power salute atop the medal podium protesting racism and injustice against African Americans in the United States. The Internal Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage considered their action a political statement demanding their suspension from the US team. Australian athlete Peter Norman won the silver medal and supported Carlos and Smith by wearing a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights. Norman is considered one of Australia’s “finest Olympians” and Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at his funeral.

At the same Olympics Dr Tom Waddle, a gay American, represented the United States as a decathlete coming sixth out of 33 competitors. Waddle joined a gay bowling league in San Francisco inspiring him to consider organising a gay sporting event model on the Olympics. Rikki Streicher was a LGBTQI rights leader in San Francisco and passionate promoter of gay and lesbian softball teams. “Sports are the great social equaliser,” she said. “It is perhaps the only time that it does not matter who you are but how you play the game.” Waddle and Streicher were co-founders of the Gay Olympics with the goal of promoting the spirit of inclusion and participation, and the pursuit of personal growth in a sporting event.  The Gay Olympics was renamed the Gay Games after the United Stated Olympic Committee sued the organisation for the use of the word “Olympic.” Paris hosted the 10th Gay Games in August 2018 where 40% of the 10,317 participants lived outside the Paris metropolitan area. According to the Federation of Gay Games the economic impact of the Paris Games exceeded 100€ million with 41.6€ million generated in local income, roughly the equivalent of 1,429 full time jobs.

Engaging champions of the community

Undoubtedly, if we look at success stories such as Martina Navratilova who won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including winning Wimbledon a record 9 times, LGBTQI people can compete and be champions on a global stage. Some may think that levelling the playing field is all about a big campaign, major project or movement, but it is the simple things that make the biggest difference. One of the most effective ways of achieving impactful change is asking the question “How do we make people feel welcome?” FIFA has published its Good Practice Guide On Diversity and Anti-Discrimination providing a strategic framework aimed at all FIFA’s member associations with the ability to influence everyone involved in the sport. Furthermore, article 4 of the FIFA Statutes states:

Discrimination of any kind, against a country, private person or group of people on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, wealth, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason is strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion.

The principle of sporting associations engaging with LGBTQI community is starting to gain traction with the benefit of providing more opportunities in the sporting arena. For example, International Gay Rugby (IGR) partnered with the World Barbarians Foundation to host a series of exhibition matches in Tokyo while the Ruby Union World Cup was held in Japan. The Australian Football League (AFL) hosts a Pride Game. Matt Finnis, CEO of the St Kilda Football Club says, “The work we do throughout the year in celebrating diversity and inclusion is something we as a club are proud to be a part of, and the Pride Game is the ultimate show of that.”

We must be wary when leading sports figures exercise their right to free speech. Israel Folau is a former Ruby League and Rugby Union player who became a subject of controversy when a follower on his Instagram account asked him what God’s “plan for homosexuals” was, and Folau replied: “Hell… unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” When people are too focused on what others say, they can’t see beyond the issues and dogma associated with the controversy. It is more effective to engage with the sporting champions who are Allies. For example, David Pocock an Australian Rugby Union player was an official ambassador of the Bingham Cup (a biennial gay rugby union tournament) when it was held in Sydney in 2014. Pocock has publicly criticised Folau. 

A collaborative “inclusive mindset” leverages examples from history, expertise of sporting associations, community champions and people involved in the sport who believe in fairness.  Organisations are attempting many things to achieve I&D goals however grassroots initiatives can be more effective as individuals, teams and clubs share can share their passion for sport by inviting others to join them. In the amateur sporting world, many see the opportunity for inclusion as local where successes can provide the confidence and ambition to go for national and global change.

Olympic Games Vectors by Vecteezy

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