Participating in sports is one of the best ways to look after your health. It can reduce your risk of cardiovascular problems and mental health issues, and increase your overall life expectancy. It’s also a lot of fun.
But what if you’re put off because you don’t feel confident there is a sport you can participate in where you’ll be accepted and supported? This is something that can affect people from all sorts of backgrounds due to prejudice around race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender and even age.
Prejudice can reduce opportunities and limit diversity in sport, and society as a whole is poorer for it.
Learning to be a team
Diversity in sport is important because it helps us to respect and value one another in wider society. When you’re focused on winning, there is no room for prejudice – everyone involved has to anticipate the behavior of teammates purely on the basis of their abilities.
Even in individual competitions, sports teach us to admire others for what they do regardless of who we think they are; they break down barriers and create relationships that might never have been formed in other environments.
Promoting diversity in sport
How do we encourage the opening up of sporting opportunities to a wider range of individuals? It starts with schools making an effort to ensure everyone gets a fair chance, and with sports clubs and gyms making an effort to identify and tackle potential barriers, from clamping down on prejudiced comments to altering dress codes so hijab-wearing women can participate to training coaches to communicate better with deaf people.
Those unsure about how best to approach inclusion can consult an expert like diversity and inclusion management business information company DiversityInc’s CEO Luke Visconti, DiversityInc helps organizations understand the benefits of diversifying their workforces, and Visconti specializes in identifying issues that may have been overlooked and creating spaces in which those concerned about prejudice or discrimination feel safer coming forward to seek help.
Why sports diversity matters
Why make the effort to make sports more inclusive? There are many reasons:
- If you want your team to succeed, you need to make sure you have the biggest possible pool of talent to draw from.
- Playing sports makes people happier, helps them deal with stress and makes society better for everyone.
- When children see people they identify with playing sports, it expands their horizons and makes them believe they can be anything they want to be.
- Playing sports makes people fitter and healthier, decreasing the strain on health and welfare services, which helps the economy.
- Succeeding in sports gives people with social disadvantages the confidence to succeed in other areas of life.
- Sports create a template for wider society, showing what’s possible when we all work together and talent from all walks of life has the opportunity to flourish.
Kick it Out
Kick It Out is an organization that started as the ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’ campaign in English soccer in 1993, when racial prejudice was prevalent in the sport. It focused on educating players and fans, mentoring those who were at risk and making it easier to report problems, as well as making sure those in charge of English soccer took them seriously.
The organization has been credited with revolutionizing the game, with soccer in England having progressed from there being just a handful of ethnic minorities at the biggest clubs to almost every team in the top being racially diverse.
Transgender people in the Olympics
In January 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled that transgender athletes could compete in the Olympics without undergoing sex reassignment surgery, with male-to-female transgender athletes only needing to demonstrate that their testosterone level has been below a certain point for at least one year before they compete instead.
The knock-on effect of this decision was that the governing bodies of other sports and sporting events were encouraged to put in place rules defining the eligibility of transgender individuals, helping them to participate with confidence.
The Paralympic legacy
Since it was founded in 1948, the Paralympics has gone from strength to strength, and has been enormously important in demonstrating that disabled people can participate in sports, and that many only need limited assistance in order to compete at the top.
Although there’s still a long way to go for disabled people in sports, the success of the Paralympics is encouraging school, clubs, gyms and more to create more opportunities for them.
There’s still a great deal that can be done to make sports more inclusive, and this is something everyone involved in sports, not matter what the level, can contribute to, helping to build a healthier, happier society that benefits from everyone’s talent, making us all better off as a result.