Dr Ramon Spaaij (Victoria University) and Dr Ruth Jeanes (Monash University) on managing diversity in youth sport - lessons from the field.
Ramon: So it’s just me for now but Ruth will follow shortly so as today’s talks indicate there’ve been a number of really positive developments and initiatives in the space of diversity and inclusion in sport yet I think we might also already maybe a bit prematurely conclude that there’s still a lot of work to do and this is an ongoing process and journey and so what Ruth and I want to focus on today is at a different dimension and focus specifically on what is happening at the level of community sports clubs and in particular in junior sport and so it in a way links back to Peter’s presentation about children and young people because we feel that when we think about diversity and inclusion in society generally but also in sport specifically that we need to recognise obviously that sport is a very powerful site where children and young people from a very early age are socialised into norms around diversity and inclusion albeit around gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and so on so I think the site of junior sport for that reason is a very good place to start really and also is a very good place to start making change.
So one of the things that’s very clear from our research and we’ll be talking about that today but also from International research is that there is still to a significant degree a gap between the way we talk about diversity particularly the policy messages and rhetoric versus what is actually happening on the ground in terms of practices at the local level and so we’re going to explore that a little bit.
What we also know is that sport can actually not just disrupt and subvert markers of difference and exclusion but can actually also reinforce them and so we’ve heard a little bit about that around how we actually define what is ability, what is masculinity but also as Tracy I think rightly mentioned around the labels that we use so I think that’s important to keep in mind and we’ll get to that as well.
So the key question really that we want to ask in a very practical way is how can diversity be effectively promoted and supported in community sports clubs and what changes are required to achieve this?
Now unfortunately, I’ve got bad news. We’re not going to solve that problem for you today. That would be great but we are going to I think what we really want to do is bring research into this discussion so I know Ruth and I are probably a little bit biased as academics but we believe that research and particularly evidence-based research and applied research has an important role to play in this discussion and in education in this space and so what we want to do is share with you some key findings from an ongoing project that we’re involved in and actually show you really what is happening at the local level in community sport and particularly in junior sports clubs.
So the project that we’re involved in is a three year project funded by the Australian Research Council with four Universities so it’s Victoria University, Monash University and Ruth and I are representing those Universities but also with Swinburne University and I think Dean is here - Dean Lusher, one of our Chief Investigators and also with Karen Farquharson from Swinburne University and with Dr Shaun Gorman from Curtin and also with the very important partner contributions by our community partners which are the Centre of Multicultural Youth so Carmel is here and Su Lin is here as well and are both involved in the project. Vic Health as well and the AFL so you get a sense of what we’re trying to achieve here.
Basically what we’ve been doing over the last two and a half years going really into the final stretch of the project is to really examine up close and personal through a range of complementary methods and approaches how junior sports clubs and their members from volunteers to players and parents etc are experiencing, understanding and dealing with and responding to diversity. What is actually going on in that space on the ground and we’re doing that in both Metropolitan and Regional Victoria working with a range of clubs so just to give you a quick snapshot, so far we’ve conducted over 400 surveys, over a hundred interviews, a social network analysis; we’ve done more than 300 hours of observations across different clubs to actually see not just what people say but actually what people do including the role of parents and also analysis of policy documents so we’ve analysed I think over 2 or 300 policy documents and then comparing that to what we’re actually finding is happening on the ground.
So on that note I will hand over to Ruth who will actually talk to you about some of the findings.
Ruth: Thank you Ramon. Okay, so as Ramon has indicated it’s a very big project that we’ve been involved in but in terms of the key findings that are coming out we can probably break them into three sections here and I think the first one that’s important for today’s session is actually what clubs’ understanding of diversity is is perhaps something that we haven’t drilled down to yet in terms of we know it’s complicated. We know it’s complex but what does diversity actually mean?
We can define it as a human variation based on particular axis - gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and ability but what we’re finding at the local level is clubs are incredibly confused about what diversity is for them. What does it mean? What does it look like in practice for them so whilst they also recognise that diversity is littered through sports policy documents, sports policy rhetoric they don’t really know well what does this mean within my club? What should I be doing as part of this policy agenda?
Where clubs are responding to diversity they’re tending to do that in isolated forms so they focus on one particular target group. Again, we’ve had some discussion about this this morning so you will have clubs that will develop an all ability section to work with young people with disabilities; you’ll have some clubs that might focus on girls and young women as their target area. You’ll have some clubs that focus on cultural and linguistically diverse communities but what we found from our sample was it was incredibly rare to have clubs that would go across the spectrum or see diversity as being about all of those groups.
Some of the clubs were very self-reflective of this and said, “Yes, we are working with people with disabilities but we want to do more. We want to go further and work with other groups”. Others saw that working with that one group was them being diverse so job was done. “We’re being diverse. We’ve got a girls and women’s section in our club”.
So I guess the key point to take away from there and Patty also touched on it earlier when she said about all the things being covered in the forum, it’s enough to blow the mind of sports associations. Well it’s even more so blowing the mind of club volunteers in terms of the breadth of what they’re having to deal with here and what they’re having to think about so I suppose the key thing to take away from this particular set of findings is how do we make this more accessible for our club volunteers on the ground? How do we make it so that they do understand what diversity is, what the big picture of diversity is whilst still congratulating and celebrating those that are coming in and doing something in this area? How do we then help them move forward and really progress to that wider diversity agenda?
In terms of attitudes to diversity they were on the whole very positive. We didn’t speak to any clubs that were turning round and saying, “No, we don’t want those sorts of people to come in here. We don’t want that. We’re happy as we are”. All of them saw the value of diverse communities within their clubs. They thought it was an important factor and they thought it was something that should be happening so in terms of attitudes we’ve got a good platform there with our clubs and that they do think this is important and they think it’s a positive thing for them to do.
What was really noticeable though and as I’ve just hinted talking about the previous set of findings was that work in this area is really really uneven so I suppose again the key thing coming out of our findings is that clubs are on a real continuum with this idea of diversity work. You have some clubs that are just not engaging with it at all that just work with a particular set of people and they don’t want to get engaged in this area right the way through to clubs that really are trying to work with a range of different groups and be more inclusive and more open and then you have ones all the way in between so if we’re looking at supporting our clubs we really need to understand what entry point they’re at at the moment because it’s going to take a different type of set of resources and help to help those clubs that haven’t even engaged with diversity through to those that are working with two or three different types of communities but again want to do more and want to go forward.
So the terrain of diversity is really uneven within the club sector. Again, as we’ve said this morning and commented a lot, clubs have really limited resources. We all know this. We know that volunteers are stretched to absolute capacity. I guess the key thing here is why is this important for diversity work? It’s important because clubs don’t see diversity work as core business so what they see as core business is getting their teams on the pitch, competitive success and the day to day running of the club. Unfortunately diversity work doesn’t fit within the day to day running of the club so if we’re looking at trying to get diversity much more on the agenda and much more moving forward this is a key gap that we have to bridge. How do we make it so that diversity work isn’t a separate agenda, isn’t something that happens over there within the club. It’s actually a whole focus of what they do and what they want to do and they don’t see that as being at odds with their core business.
Diversity is their core business and I think that’s the key challenge in this space. As soon as we can nail that one and clubs think it’s important that diversity work is central to everything they do then a lot of these challenges go away and a lot of the issues about “We don’t have enough resources” go away because we always find resources for things that we think are the most important and the most central.
In terms of how clubs that have engaged with diversity actually make this happen, again it’s very uneven, very ad hoc. Most clubs approach this in quite a haphazard way. We didn’t really speak to many clubs who’d gone about it in a review/strategic/plan out how they were going to work in this space. Often they started working in the area of diversity due to a number of external drivers. It was rare that these were policy-related. Often they were to do with things that were happening in their local area so a change in the makeup of the local community where more culturally diverse people were coming into the local community and clubs were recognising that if we’re going to survive here, we’re going to have to engage with a different type of person.
Clubs where apparent with a child with a disability had come and said, “You know, my child really wants to play this sport. Can you offer it for us? Can you do this?” and this had sparked an interest in the club and a consideration of “Yes, we can do this. We need to make some adjustments and we’re going to start doing it” so the diversity work in this instance was usually led by one key individual, by a champion of change who was either committed to a particular area; might have come from a diverse community and enjoyed participating in sport but wanted that to be wider for others.
It might be the parent of the child with the disability. It might be driven by the female siblings who’d been watching their male brothers playing sport the whole time and parents decided they wanted to change things there so this individual can lead the way and they do all the groundwork. They get the things going, they get activities going and they promote the activities and really push things going at the club but again what we found was although these individuals are fantastic people doing amazing work they’re not really having the opportunity to make whole of club change so they do their thing, they run the all abilities team for example and have great participation and engagement but they don’t actually make significant changes within the wider club to get the whole club to buy into a diversity agenda so again the key thing for us to think about is how do we bridge that gap? How do we move from the individual championing diversity to a whole of club approach?
So I’ll move back to Ramon now to just conclude.
Ramon: Thanks Ruth. Yeah, I’ll just sum up some of the key issues so the key take away there as Ruth just mentioned is thinking more holistically about this and also so on the one hand how can we for example celebrate and support the individual champions who actually play a critical role yet also recognising that we need to address some of these issues more structurally - whole of club and dare I say whole of sector where actually we think more in partnerships also with the State Sport organisations and other key agencies in this space that can work with clubs so I think there the point is to actually make it more structurally embedded within clubs and this becomes part of the core business and it’s not a zero sum game with winning or fielding teams.
It just becomes part of what people do. It becomes just part of culture change really and as part of that as well and I will just go back to some of the previous presentations, questions then also about how this will also mean in the leadership of clubs, really thinking about issues around power inequalities and power relationships and changing that and how can we make sure that diverse voices and perspectives carry significant weight and are actually part of the strategic planning and implementation of some of these initiatives and don’t just stay peripheral as in some cases they are.
So really also a differentiated approach so clubs sit in different positions on that spectrum and if you think about what practical strategies can we develop, it really depends on where the club is at and so what we really think as a general sense, really encouraging having those conversations at the club level. We’ve been lucky enough to be part of some of those conversations with clubs. Actually okay, we as a club - what is our vision, where do we want to go? Do we agree on this and then the more practical implication of that - how do we get there but actually we found in many cases clubs are not really having those conversations with the exception of a few clubs that are well established in the diversity space.
So the other thing that we’re really trying to encourage is to promote more peer learning across clubs and actually helping clubs and facilitating at least dialogue between clubs to learn from each other across different sports I must say so our project is actually - I think I forgot to mention that across five different sports and so the whole point is actually clubs learning from each other rather than the feeling that they’re being told what to do for example by a State Sport Organisation or by the State Government. Very much what can we learn from each other and we found in the workshops that we’ve run is that a lot of clubs are really inspired when they see best practices happening really in the next suburb down the road.
So just to sum up there I think thank you very much.