When we join university many of us will be looking for ways to make friends, keep fit, or just get involved, and joining a sports club is a great way of doing that. But participation in sports, or any physical activity for that matter, is heavily influenced by a mixture of social and personal factors such as: social grouping, family, friendship, age, gender, disability, and ethnicity. And whilst we may do our best to limit the impact this has on participation numbers, these are factors and social expectations that can be difficult to overcome.
And yet sport is one of the most powerful platforms that we can use to promote equality and inclusivity. Whether that is gender equality, empowering women and girls or disability inclusions, involving everyone in a way that suits their needs and abilities best.
2020 kicked off a recent boom in inclusivity in sports, with the Tokyo 2020 Olympics the most gender balanced Games in history. All 206 Nations represented had at least one male and one female representative, with 49% of all athletes being female. This was a landmark for gender balance in sport.
Over the next years we saw World Cups in women’s football and rugby brought to the forefront of media attention. The Lionesses, the England women’s football team, have championed inclusion at all levels, speaking openly about their sexualities and gender identities on national television broadcasts.
These past years of female sport being shown and championed at the highest levels is an example of how sport can mobilise the global community and speak to generations. It unites us across cultural differences, teaching acceptance and inclusion, valuing teamwork and self-reliance. Sport challenges the exclusionary social norms we have come to accept.
When I started university, I picked up a completely new sport and I’ve never looked back since. Now, I can confidently say I haven’t met a more accepting group of people than those in the club. I’ve developed friendships that will last a lifetime, and discovered a love of physical activity I wouldn’t have without the sport. And not just that, but when I began questioning my sexuality, I was in an environment that accepted me regardless. I couldn’t have been more grateful for that. The team showed me the very best of inclusion in female sport: whether we made accommodations for injury recovery and the different abilities within the team, or we undertook charitable work supporting LGBTQ+ campaigns, the club put effort into including everyone. And in the process, it showed me just how easy it could be.
Anything from a fear of judgement, lack of confidence, lack of time or just the sheer amount of practical and emotional pressures, can stop us from being as active as we would like. But knowing there are places out there that hold inclusivity and the forefront of their values can help us all in entering spaces we may not have felt comfortable with beforehand. By shutting down exclusion in sport we can begin to be more inclusive in society, and we can challenge the norms that kept us away from sport in the first place. Regular activity can improve everyone’s own physical and mental wellbeing; an individual’s wellbeing often has an impact on the wellbeing of those around them, so everyone benefits.
We can continue building these inclusive spaces in sports through continuing to improve the visibility of non-male role models, accessibility needs being met, coaches using inclusive language, and recruitment practices that don’t have restrictive requirements. When this is done, we continue to showcase how female sports can be a space for all.
Sport propels empowerment across the board, rallying a global community and uniting us all. It is an extremely powerful tool that we can use to convey important messages in a celebratory and positive environment. If we want to see changes in sociocultural norms, one way to continue to battle them is on the sports field.
I look forward to seeing you all on the pitch someday.
By Teigan A (she/her)