Written by Professor Hanya Pielichaty, Active Partnerships National Organisation Board Member and Professor of Sport, Gender & Inclusive Education, University of Lincoln, UK.
Sport is a valuable lens in which to view the world. It shows us the highs and the lows of human endeavour, often without needing to leave our front rooms. Sport rewards us with the most precious of gifts, such as a shared identity, a warmth in victory and a sense of belonging in defeat. But sport also teaches us that society is imbalanced. It is underpinned with injustice which makes it difficult to ensure inclusivity. So how do we tackle this?
I am interested in the interwoven imbalances that contribute to our view of both sport and society. This means the intersecting issues that impede equality and equity from a holistic perspective. It is commonplace to address issues of inequality in a focused manner through streamlined projects and initiatives. There are many reasons why this happens, and it does allow for particular areas of injustice to be granted full attention. This separatist approach to tackle issues of social injustice, however, will not provide a unified picture of the problems and desired solutions.
My recent involvement with the Women in Sport Inquiry, led by the Department for Sport Media and Culture, allowed for a specific, focussed examination of the issues impacting on women and girls in sport. I argued that wider societal issues surrounding misogyny and inequality should be viewed in conjunction with problems in sport. Sport does not operate in a vacuum. If we only see inequalities as separate threads of human existence, we will never have the resources or the knowledge to weave these into something useable.
What are interwoven imbalances?
Interwoven imbalances are intersecting issues that interact with one another in a social dialogue. An imbalance may not necessarily mean an injustice, but they are worth exploring all the same. Let’s take the example of sport and representation. There are many different ways in which sport features in our society, such as through playing, governing, coaching, education, through the media and so on. There are similar patterns that permeate each of these areas that can contribute to a social imbalance.
For example, boys are more likely to play sport (Sport England), men are more likely to be in sports leadership positions (Evans and Pfister), men are more likely to study sports-based degrees (Velija and Phipps) and men’s sport is more likely to feature in our news (UESCO). Each of these areas interact with one another and are daily features within our society. This example of interweaving imbalance consolidates the idea that sport is not for girls and women. A rather archaic view you may think (and I agree) so what can we do about it?
Top 10 ways to tackle gender inequality in sport and beyond
- Consider society and sport to be related, acknowledging you cannot change one without challenging the other.
- Create an interweaving network – bring together people in health, social care, transport, travel, policing, sport, education and so on to discuss shared social issues.
- Take a proactive approach to destabilise these interwoven imbalances – seek out stories from underrepresented groups, find different news features to promote, change the narrative.
- Be an ally – proactively offer support, resource, or time to local and regional initiatives and projects.
- Make the environment inclusive, such as reviewing longstanding guidance (official and unofficial) on dress-codes, etiquette, and socialising.
- Do not ignore patterns of imbalance, but instead find data, insight, and intelligence on where they exist and what they might be telling us.
- Ensure your club, organisation, business, or institution has appropriate policies, guidance documents and structures in place relating to inclusion and diversity.
- Resource and fund projects and opportunities that combine social and sporting inequalities.
- Use sport as a platform to challenge wider social injustices with an underpinning of organisational buy-in and infrastructure for long-term gains.
- Ensure an ethos of shared responsibility in tackling issues of injustice – people who have been on the receiving end of discrimination should not carry the burden of sorting out society’s issues.
I still believe sport has the power to transform people’s lives for the better. It has a way of stirring emotion and belief in the self and others that is unrivalled. Balance is sought in sport and also society, there is much to admire in an existence that centres on harmony.