Inclusion in sport – fair game for all?

Published on
3 min read

This year has been a great one for sport: the return of Wimbledon, and the delayed Euros, Olympics and Paralympics; there have been many sports headlines that have kept the nation gripped and talking. But in 2021 what’s been notable is that headlines have gone beyond reporting on scores, winners, and who is moving where. Many have put diversity and inclusion issues under the spotlight, but some have demonstrated that there is still much to do to fully embed diversity, inclusion and equity within sport.

It’s great that we’ve seen footballers taking the knee to draw attention to racial injustice but we’ve also seen the reactions of some fans against them doing so. The German Olympic women’s gymnastics team ditched leotards in favour of unitards to make a stand against sexualisation in the sport while the Norwegian women’s beach handball team were fined for refusing to play in bikini bottoms. Meanwhile, the men’s team can wear shorts!

Shortly before the Olympics began, the International Swimming Federation (Fina) rejected the use of Soul Cap, a swimming cap designed for natural black hair. Ahead of the Paralympics that took place last month, US swimmer Becca Meyers has withdrawn from the competition because of the decision not to allow her personal care assistant to travel with her. And notably, Naomi Osaka (French Open) and Simone Biles (US Olympic gymnastics team) have both put their mental health first by bowing out of media interviews and some competitions respectively, to mixed reactions.

There are many more stories that we could add and all have one thing in common: an underlying message that particular sports are not for everyone; that they aren’t for you if you can’t put your own comfort and wellbeing aside and conform to the way things have always been done.

The stories listed above show that much work is still needed in order for these sports to become more inclusive. Fina justified their decision in part on the grounds that there had been no previous instance in which swimmers needed larger caps that could cover different types of hair. 2021 is the first time a Black woman has qualified for the Team GB Olympics swim team. Inequitable decisions about sportswear imply that the female body is viewed as decorative or that individual’s cultural identities are not acknowledged, and it is clear that much more work and education is needed about racial injustice, mental health, and the huge range of adjustments and support needed by people with disabilities.

Creating spaces in which everyone – regardless of their background – feels welcomed and included is crucial, as is ensuring effective channels to feedback to organisations so people’s voices are heard. And not just in sport. At Mills & Reeve we actively seek to give people from traditionally marginalised communities a say through our reverse mentoring, a number of employee networks and regular surveys. We have reviewed - and continue to review – our recruitment and promotion processes to weed out bias, and we actively seek to increase representation across our firm of people from marginalised and minoritised communities. We put wellbeing at the heart of how we operate, with wellbeing supporters in place across the business, and adjustment plans implemented for anyone who needs them. We accommodate hundreds of different working patterns and invite speakers in regularly to share their thoughts and lived experiences on a range of diversity, inclusion and wellbeing topics.

It is every organisation’s responsibility to continuously enhance their practice regarding anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion and wellbeing. It may be daunting if you haven’t started the journey yet but as evidence has proven the return of investment in embedding inclusion will make organisations more effective, productive and successful. 

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