• Diversity and Inclusion in Australian Sport

    12m 28s

    Kate Palmer is a leading Australian sport administrator. She was appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Sports Commission in December 2016. Previous to this appointment, she was Chief Executive Officer of Netball Australia.

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Thank you very much for inviting me to speak and excuse my voice and I hope I can get through this.  Look, it’s wonderful coming here today and I must admit to see so many familiar faces and I wasn’t going to call anyone out but I have to say one of the people that influenced me most as a young, I wasn’t actually so young, I was a mature-age student but I thought I was young, was Geoff Walkley.  He first introduced me to disability sport and it’s become a life long passion Geoff because of how you influenced me those many, many years ago so thank you for that because it has made a big difference to how I behave now.  
 
As a relatively new CEO of the Australian Sports Commission I’ve been exploring how our organisation can have a greater impact.  What are the game changers?  What should we prioritise?  What contribution can we make to the community?  What’s our role in describing, designing and delivering a better future for Australians?  I would like to acknowledge the work of Merilee Barnes, Director of Culture & Leadership and her team at the Australian Sports Commission. In preparing for today Merilee and I discussed not only what inclusivity and diversity meant for sport but also what it meant to be Australian.  Two recent situations have strengthened my understanding and commitment to champing a fairer Australia. I’m working with an organisation at the moment and I won’t tell you who it is but they’re fairly prominent and I was really concerned about the lack of gender equality so it was raised.  
 
There were a couple of fairly passionate people on this group with me and we decided to meet and discuss it.  We had a really heated meeting actually and we didn’t really get anywhere. We drafted a paper and because we didn’t get anywhere I said “why don’t we get someone else to chair the meeting, get someone independent to come in.  I would recommend Liz Broderick.  She’s terrific in this space. She’ll get us through to a logical end point” and a very senior person in Australia turned to me and said “but she’s on your side” and I said “I don’t know what side you’re on but I’m on the side of equality”.  It actually set me back because I thought “oh gosh, we’ve got a long way to go.  Should we keep going on this issue?” and fortunately the CEO of this organisation was fantastic.  She rang me yesterday and said “Look Kate, it’s really interesting despite the fact we’re not there, we’re now putting a different lens on everything we do”.  I thought “okay, small steps”.  
 
The second meeting was at the Australian Sports Commission. We were discussing our digital transformation.  It doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with this but we realised that cultural change and a mindset shift was required in the area to move from thinking “we need a digital strategy” to “we need to be a digital business and we need to be a digital sports sector”.  It’s not about bolting a digital strategy onto the side.  Almost immediately I was thinking this is actually the same.  We actually don’t need an inclusivity strategy; we need to be an inclusive organisation.  It needs to be a way of thinking and a way of working and put that lens over everything.  It is a really interesting way of shifting the way you think.  
 
Now I want you to suspend reality for about the next 10-15 minutes.  I want you to come on a trip with me. I’m going to take you to a journey into the future.  It’s 2040 and Australian sports operates within a diverse inclusive sporting landscape where there’s equal pay, equal media exposure and corporate support for sport where females play, where people with a disability play alongside their able-bodied teammates, where indigenous coaches win international awards, where (4:05) umpires are the norm, where pride, multicultural and indigenous rounds are no longer needed and trans gender participants are no longer excluded.  
 
In the early decades of 2000, just look back to where we are now, the sporting spaces in which we interacted were either inclusive or exclusive by design, by designing diverse ways for people to participate.  By designing to the edges of sports populations we made our sports better for everyone.  Sport stopped bringing people into what already existed. They stopped inviting those overlooked groups to join in. They eliminated the stigmatism from the days where people with a disability were told “here’s an adapted version of our sport.  It’s a bit different to ours but there you go, you can play now”.  Instead, it made a new place, a better space for everyone because everyone mattered.
 
Sport applied the principles of universality to its program design and looked beyond the average. It sought out the different, confident that these underrepresented groups had already discovered exactly the solutions the majority of participants were looking for.  Sport reframed difference as an opportunity, an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to walk the talk of their values, an opportunity to strengthen their contribution to healthier and happier communities.  By recognising and accepting difference, sport started to build empathy for people who interacted with unwelcoming program design every single day of their lives.  Sports were encouraged to change the design, not change the person and they came at it from a user centred perspective and when sport started to include people in their design process those people had a range of abilities and experiences.  They discussed new solutions that benefited everyone.  
 
In the year 2040 sport now follows this principle in everything it does.  It’s basically the user-centered design of everything with everyone in mind.  By taking this approach and learning about how these groups adapted to the world sport has created better products and programs for everyone.  Put more simply, in the year 2040 everyone matters.  This user centre approach and the adoption of universal design principles have assisted in the implementation of programs and services to ensure accessibility for all.  Not just for those with disability but also women, girls, youth, the elderly, and LGBTI participants.  Sport has successfully instituted a process of valuing all individuals by designing diverse ways for people to participate.  Designing to the edges we’ve made our sports better for everyone.
 
What do I mean by designing to the edges? It means taking into account all elements of product design, how to get there, facilities, delivery, communication.  We don’t realise how unwelcoming our city streets are until you experience this personally.  This is not a sport example but I was travelling on business recently with a colleague who uses a wheelchair. It was in Melbourne.  Her driver had pulled into a laneway.  It’s a very busy street.  It’s on a hill so he pulled into the laneway. It was really the only safe place for her to unload her wheelchair and to unload herself.  I was at first shocked and then really angry when one by one, lycra-clad executives – I hope there are none in the room today – on their $10,000 bikes rode into their office building, they swore, they threatened, they bullied us and her very patient smile told me this was usual.  She was well used to interacting with very unwelcome cityscapes.  
 
Examples like this forged a set of guidelines, standards of rights for sports to live by over the last 23 years.  Australia has had a long and shining tradition of pioneering rights, citizen rights, democratic rights, human rights, that’s what I really love about our country.  Australia is a uniquely democratic creation in the history of humankind.  It’s the first country in the world to vote itself into existence when it federated the six States into a single nation.   Australia was the second country after New Zealand to give women the vote and was the first country to allow women to stand for parliament.  That really surprised me that fact actually.  Women were given the vote in Australia in 1902, a right that was only accorded to women in Britain 26 years later.  These Australian innovations in the progression of rights all went on to become world leading examples and firmed Australian foundations.  Australia is a tradition as a social laboratory or it’s an incubator, a pioneer in the evolution of rights for humankind.  
 
In this regard sport in Australia has for the most mirrored the values of Australian society.  It is infused with modern Australian standards.  It celebrates the best of our past as well as the lessons from the worst.  Sport expresses our hopes for our future.  Sport reflects the promise to all people with a disability that will include them in our sports and they can play beside their teammates with dignity.  A flashback to 2017, the story of Mark Wright-_____ is both heartwarming and quite sad. Mark has Down’s syndrome.  He’s integrated into mainstream schools and local sporting clubs in the Yamba Community.  They have embraced Mark.  In actual fact he plays soccer with his mates as the 12th man.  The opposition teams have never had a problem with this.  As a 16-year-old in an under 14 year-old competition he can make a contribution.  He is a lot smaller than his peers and has some coordination issues.  Sadly an opposition club made a complaint that was ultimately upheld by the local association. 
 
Now look I’ve been a volunteer so I know how hard it is. I know how black and white is so much easier but I think the thing for me were the words from Peter Fitzsimons was that this is a kid’s sport, this is about fun, it’s about inclusion, it’s about community.  Sport reflects a promise to people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds that they are welcome in our sporting groups.
 
Another flashback – as a young sports administrator I was dismayed and I didn’t actually really know how I was going to handle it, to receive a message to call back a very well known indigenous footballer.  His daughter had been discriminated against.  The irony was this young woman wanted to play netball at a private club that had specific qualifying criteria.  No, it wasn’t because this young woman was indigenous; it wasn’t that at, it was because she was not a member of the club.  The irony is that she couldn’t be a member of the club because she did not practice their religion so this was a really complex situation to deal with as a very young sports administrator but I remember it to this day and that was about 25 years ago.  
 
Sports reflects a promise to the elderly, to women and to the LGBTI community that sport is a safe and fair place to play that affords the same rights as other Australians.  It reflects a guarantee to our children of the care they have a right to expect from their participation in Australian sport not just the minimum standards of respect that sport is expected to afford its participants, but standards that sport proclaims to be inherent in being Australian drawn from the history and character of the nation’s rich history of sporting achievement and being given a fair go.
 
Prepare for landing for we’re well and truly back in 2017. I know where I would rather be.  I suspect I might be preaching to the converted here today but that doesn’t mean I can’t challenge you and I’m happy for you to challenge me and our organisation about how we can do this better.  The beauty of describing that future, the beauty of describing 2040, is that now we can map out how we get there together. 
 
Congratulations on the contribution that you all make and I know that you all must make and good luck with your learning over this seminar.  It’s fabulous and let’s hope that we get to that place before 2040.
 
Thank you.