The High Stakes for Diversity and Inclusion in Amateur Sport
Updated: Jul 21
The stakes for diversity and inclusion (D&I) in amateur sport are immense. They are immense because in an age of corporatization and obsession with efficiency and measurable outcomes, the timelines for success of D&I actions are longer and less clear. Not only does true diversity and inclusion take time and cultural change but also, amateur sport organizations rarely possess the financial muscle to make large-scale, "quick fixes" in the way that a for-profit organization might. So, amateur sport organizations must invest in long-term actions in pursuit of true diversity and inclusion. While they will immediately experience pushback from their conservative stakeholders, they won’t see the benefits of their D&I actions for a decade or more. As a result, the stakes for these actions are massive.
One of the most common refrains that I hear in discussions around D&I-related actions is that “organizations cannot legislate a change of heart”. This is usually used as a deflection to dismiss the possibility of drastic, top-down measures to address inequalities within an organization. The idea is either that by trying to correct the problem, we might make it worse, or more simply, that the very idea of affecting social change is outside the scope of an amateur sport organization. While it is true that organizations cannot legislate the thought of its members, they do have a responsibility to provide opportunities for individuals to come to that change on their own, before an incident occurs.
Amateur sport organizations must be proactive because when an incident does occur, it is often too late to salvage the affected individual’s involvement in the sport. In speaking with a number of people who have walked away from what was previously a passion (sport, dance, theatre, music, etc.) because of a discriminatory environment or incident, one theme emerges: irrespective how well the organization responded, the discrimination quenches the passion. There is no remedy, no apology, that can undo the harm that was caused. Unlike other areas of life, amateur sport is completely voluntary; once the passion has gone, there is nothing to keep that individual involved in the sport.
Of course, organizations cannot magically conjure true diversity and inclusion in either their leadership or their actions. Nobody wants to be a token inclusion, which is why our organizations need to make intelligent decisions in 2020 that will bear fruit many years down the line. We cannot afford to continue losing our diversity on these thin margins. If amateur sport organizations expect to welcome Black and Indigenous coaches, empower female executives, and promote LGBTQ+ superstars, if they view their sport as a vehicle for the success of every type of Canadian, they need to do some work to make their sport a space that empowers those individuals.
In essence, directors and senior staff of amateur sport organizations are being asked to affect changes that they won’t see fulfilled during their tenure. They need to expend their organizational capital, budget, and person-hours on initiatives for which they won't be able to experience the benefits. The concern is that decision-makers do not fully appreciate the urgency of this moment. Every organization issued their statements (or not) in support of the "diversity" within their organizations and pledging to do better; but that was months ago: what has happened since then? If an organization has not taken any concrete steps since then, what guarantees that anything will happen in six months or a year when decision-makers no longer feel that urgency and public pressure?
Besides the moral imperative to ensure that amateur sport is safe for all, sport organizations cannot continue to exist if their members walk away feeling undervalued and discriminated against. Our youth are watching their leadership closely; they are observing their parents, relatives, teachers, and coaches. Our youth are possessed of greater social-emotional intelligence than any generation in living memory. The choices that leaders make today will decide not only how today's youth view our organizations but the sport as a whole and their long-term involvement therein. The stakes are immense and amateur sport organizations need leaders who will rise to the challenge.