• The future of diversity and inclusion. Where do community sports clubs fit in?

    13m 09s

    Professor Ramon Spaaij (ISEAL, Victoria University) and Dr Ruth Jeanes (Monash University) recently completed a three-year Australian Research Council project on diversity and inclusion in community sport. 

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Dr Ruth Jeanes: Hi everyone. Thanks for the opportunity to speak today so Ramon and I are really focusing on the grassroots and particularly looking at the role of Junior Sports Clubs in inclusion and diversity debates. I guess as Tim mentioned earlier about the community and grassroot sports really being where the opportunities are at to embrace diverse communities and I think we’re fully in agreement with that but what we’ll talk to in this presentation is the need to actually understand then what is happening within the grassroots community and what’s happening within junior sport to begin to realise how we can build diverse and inclusive practices within that space.
Today we’re going to present the findings of a large-scale research project that we’ve been involved in over the last three years. It’s funded by the Australian Research Council and specifically looked at managing diversity in junior sport and how sports clubs go about supporting inclusion and diversity. We’ve been very lucky to have fantastic partners on the project with Vic Health, the Centre for Multicultural Youth and the AFL and also a number of other University partners and we’ve collected a large amount of data from clubs across Metro and Regional Victoria.
We’ve looked at five sports; soccer, cricket, AFL, netball and basketball and conducted over 100 interviews with coaches, players, parents and committee members within those clubs. We’ve also had the opportunity to undertake observations within these clubs and spent hundreds of hours again actually seeing the nitty-gritty of what happens in club practice, what happens at training, match days and social events so really got to understand what’s happening there and also as part of the study we conducted a survey with over 450 participants across the clubs measuring their attitudes towards aspects of inclusion and diversity and also looking at how they connect socially so a social network analysis to really see who is connecting with who within the club and what that tells us about inclusion.
So today we just want to share I guess the key findings from this study and then Ramon is going to talk about the implications of this which is what everyone is interested in. What can we do with the knowledge that we have?
So, in terms of the key findings, the main thing was that clubs are confused by the idea of diversity and inclusion. They’re not too sure what it means. We had a couple of clubs that would say, “Oh yes, we’re very diverse. We have a few players from European backgrounds. We have a number of English and Scottish people that play in our club, so we are diverse”. Not all of them shared that view but there’s very varying understandings of diversity amongst the club community and that has implications for what we’re doing as practitioners in terms of trying to support inclusion and diversity if at club level there is not a clear understanding of what that actually means.
One of the other key things that arose from this study is the importance of the diversity and inclusion champion so there’s usually one key person within this club that will drive issues of diversity and inclusion, so they will champion the case to develop an all-abilities team for example. They will champion the need to have a girls’ section within the club and really drive that forward. They will organise everything in relation to that particular aspect of the club.
A further key finding amongst our clubs was this tension between a participation ethos and a performance ethos with not surprisingly clubs that tend to most embrace diversity actually leaning towards this idea of having a participation ethos so a fair go for everyone. Everyone engaged and everyone having the opportunity to play rather than a performance ethos which was obviously all about winning and wanting to have the most successful team on the field so those clubs that were most engaged and most forward thinking in relation to diversity tended to also embrace that participation ethos and that came through in our survey findings.
I guess another key thing that emerged from our survey findings in relation to that was that women tended to usually hold a participation ethos rather than a performance one, so women more often reported thinking that was a good thing and that a fair go for everyone was important so as Ramon will talk to you, that has implications for who’s in charge and who’s involved at clubs and who’s influencing the ethos and the culture that occurs there.
Another key thing that emerged from our survey data that we feel might have some implications further on is that the person that people most trusted and most listened to within the club usually correlated to the high performing player so even in clubs that had that participation ethos, it was still the high ability players that people turned to, they trusted and they listened to so that person potentially has a key role within our community sports clubs.
Within our observations I guess the key things that we pulled out from that were that junior sports clubs are still very much structured in ways that mean certain groups of people don’t feel included. It probably sounds obvious as we’re here today to discuss these issues but despite the advances that we’ve seen in women’s sport particularly over the last year or so community sport remains a heavily gendered place. Clubrooms are not welcoming and inclusive of diverse participants. Particularly women feel unsafe within those clubroom settings. Teams that are considered to be different so the all abilities team or female teams are often given the worst pitches, the worst times to access facilities. They’re stuck out the back and not considered to be the core focus of the club, so the observations were really helpful for illustrating those different ways that clubs are structured and therefore the importance of seeing inclusion and diversity across lots of different dimensions. It’s about a culture. It’s about an attitude within the club but it’s also about the structuring and the organisation of our practices within sport that is going to make the difference.
So, I’ll hand over now to Ramon who will talk a bit more about the implications of our findings.
Ramon: Alright, so one of the things we looked at as well when we analysed those findings is what are the areas of good practice if you like? What are the clubs that seemed to be quite effective and successful in promoting inclusive and diverse sporting environments? What are they doing and what can we potentially learn from this?
The first thing we noticed straightaway is that it’s obviously not a single thing they do so it’s much more about a whole of club systemic culture change that involves a number of different things and that is obviously an ongoing process, if you like an ongoing process of becoming rather than a state of being inclusive. It’s something that you do and it needs to be embedded and championed throughout the organisation so that’s obviously quite daunting for community-based sports clubs run by volunteers. We’ve heard some examples of this so then we started to break that down. What are some of the particular strategies or the smaller steps clubs can take without actually that having too much impact on resources. What are the kind of things that some of these clubs were doing that were helping them to rethink the way they were structuring and delivering these sporting opportunities?
The first thing was actually having conversations about diversity and inclusion so actually in some clubs there were quite some significant conversations at club committee level but throughout conversations actually also included people with lived experience. We heard Jenny refer to this before and actually to talk about what does success mean in our club? Is success about performance? Is it about winning championships or is it much more about sport for all or is it both of these things and if so, if they’re not mutually exclusive which in fact they’re not as some clubs would show, how can we actually nurture both those things in ways that complement each other and shape a positive experience for all?
So actually, having these kinds of conversations in the first place. What is the purpose of our club? What is the vision? Where do we want our club to be and how might we get there and also in that sense exposing also dominant decision-making structures about who actually makes decisions at the club and whose voices are marginalized in that process? How might we rethink that as well so in a sense sociologically speaking, it also means shifting power relations and how do we do that and some clubs have actually been quite proactive about doing that.
It also means supporting champions so throughout our research it became clear as Ruth indicated that individual champions are often key to actually initiating initiatives. At the same time, obviously, this approach is very fragile so any individually-based approach is fragile because for example if an individual burns out or decides to leave the club the whole thing could fall apart and so how do you actually also as a State Sporting Organisation for example, support these individual champions to be able to build broader institutional commitment and support? How can we move beyond individuals to make it something that a club as a whole owns and wants to own and becomes embedded right throughout?
Harnessing the power of best players so the idea here is that we see from the social network analysis that club members tend to look at those who they perceive to be the best players or the most influential players for guidance, for trust, for friendship. That means potentially some of these best players could be powerful advocates, powerful allies in actually assisting these champions and becoming part of this change process so there we see one of the ways in which participation and performance can actually be complementary and actually strengthen each other rather than be mutually exclusive so again, it urges us to rethink some of that dichotomy.
Diversifying club structures so when we talk to clubs as Ruth mentioned, they often say, “Oh, we have very diverse participation” so we said, “Okay, well look at your club committee. What’s going on there?” so institutionalized heteronormativity, institutionalized whiteness etc. We see all sorts of ways in which the diversity potentially of the membership base is not yet reflected in actual decision-making and who holds powerful positions within these clubs so there is a real opportunity there I think to do more and some clubs are actually quite aware of that and trying to make that change happen.
Finally, which is a process that we’ve been able to be involved in and again as an ongoing process is sharing local knowledge and experience so this idea of stimulating more peer learning across clubs so quite a few clubs are hesitant of national sport organisations who are always them what to do and ramming it down their throats; rather the idea of hey, there’s actually clubs like us who also face this changing landscapes of our communities and we want our clubs to remain relevant and be a positive reflection of our communities, what can we learn from other clubs? What kind of challenges have they experienced and how might we be able then to maybe adopt some of those practices in overcoming those challenges and actually embracing the strengths of diversity rather than seeing it as a problem or too hard to do? 
There are plenty of good practices out there about how one might do that so I think that’s what we’re trying to do through this research is follow up as well is initiate so-called communities of practice actually establishing State-wide networks of clubs and actually providing platforms, virtual but also physical where clubs can actually share those experiences and over the past few years we’ve been organizing a few symposia to that extent but it’s something that we want to do much more, something that becomes almost embedded within the everyday practice of sporting clubs as some sort of opportunity or platform for them to learn from others like themselves rather than be told what to do so again, a more collaborative, what was the word of the day – co designed approach – there you go!
So, I will leave it at that. Thank you.