In a year when COVID-19 has disrupted community sport and dried up club revenue streams from registrations. grants and sponsorships, some experts herald more focus on inclusion and diversity as a potential lifeline.
At the 2020 Diversity and Inclusion in Sport Forum panellist and former Football Federation Australia board member Moya Dodd told delegates that sports administrators were under a huge amount of pressure to fulfil expectations with less staff and less resources.
“The big worry is that diversity and inclusion become a kind of luxury that we can't afford anymore.”
She said too often sports administrators get caught up in the ‘currency’ of high-performance success or top line revenue. Yet pandemic lockdowns have instead reinforced just how much more important sport is to what she calls ‘internal currencies’—mental and physical health.
“When we came out of [lockdown] in Sydney and I went out and ran around with my over-age football team for the first week and the kids got to go out and run around, you thought, ‘My God, how much have I missed this?’
“And this is gold, right? Just the ability to go out, go to training on a Wednesday night and, you know, on a scrappy field somewhere, you realise just how much it gave you.
“So if instead of looking at how much you can make in hard currency that you can put in a bank and [instead looking] at how much you gain in personal wellbeing, then you start to see sport in a whole different way and you realise that this currency can be generated at low cost in a very widespread way [to serve] the mental health needs, the social needs and the personal development needs of the entire community.”
Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlett echoed those thoughts, asking delegates to compare their lockdowns with the experience of people with disabilities.
“We’ve actually felt like potentially one of the 4.4 million Australians who live with disability every day. We felt lonely. We felt we wanted to have a sense of community. And in Australia, the way we generally do that is sport. So hopefully in the long term, it may make people think we need to have inclusive and accepting sporting programs so that everyone can participate".
“Think of the benefit that people in that situation [would] have of being part of a club or association and how their life will blossom,” he said.
Forum host and National Program Manager of Pride in Sport Australia Beau Newell said at a time when traditional sports grants are disappearing, some sports administrators were investigating their options with mental health grants or health department grants.
Others were thinking about operating differently by partnering with external organisations that could help them build an inclusive space in sport.
“These are some of the tangible opportunities that I think are on the table right now for community sport across the country,” he said.
“Every sporting organisation, every level should be reaching out to partners and collaborators that they can engage with to help them in this space, because the reality is, no one is the one single expert in this area.”
Former Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the Westpac Group, Sam Turner recommended that sports’ boards firstly examine their own make up and culture.
“We think of organisations or clubs of having a particular culture, whereas actually we need to remember that each club, each organisation is made up of individuals and it’s the individuals that actually make that culture.
“If you’ve got a homogenous group of people around the table saying ‘we’re inclusive’, well, of course you feel inclusive of everybody else around if they look and sound and act the same as you.”
Beau Newell agreed, saying that often when he’s challenged decision makers to prove that their sport is inclusive, one of their responses is often “we’ll, we’ve never had any complaints”.
“I think that shows a level of naivety and even probably ignorance to a degree … that they truly believe that they have an inclusive environment for people to participate.
“But the reality is, if it’s a woman, if it’s a child, if it’s someone with a disability that wants to get involved in that particular sport or that particular club, they’re less likely to get involved because that club isn’t actually proving that they’re inclusive.”
Among the steps the panellists recommended, was for sports to become better communicators and take a leaf out of the Black Lives Matter movement to increase dialogue and awareness.
“I think when we think of community sport, what we want it to be is that it's available for everyone, no matter what your background, no matter what your level of ability,” Ben Gauntlett said.
“If you want to play, you can. And for that to occur, it needs to be accessible. And accessibility is not just about ramps and people in wheelchairs for people for disability, [it’s also about] communicating in an accessible way. If we communicate excessively about what are the opportunities for playing sport, people will come forward and they'll understand what exists.”
All of the panellists urged sports to look at the pandemic as a time to recreate and redesign the world they want to live in and to question the status quo.
The challenge is for every single human to educate themselves and to not necessarily rely on the underrepresented group to teach or to create awareness or to fight the good fight,” said Sam Turner.
“How are you enabling other people’s voices? Who do you talk to that’s not like you?
“I always say if we could get just a little more curious about difference and a little bit less judgemental, inclusion would skyrocket.”.
Panellists’ tips for sports
The full recording of the 2020 Diversity and Inclusion in Sport Forum can be seen here.