Considering the personal challenges of refugees


4.3.3. The most important meeting places for change

In order to create actual change in our sports organisations we need to identify the most important meeting places. Then we can identify which norms and structures apply and what we can do to change them.

Training and competition

Training and competition are the essence of sports - to compete and race against oneself and others is an integral part of sport’s appeal. But, as we explored earlier, and as mentioned in the chapter on Intercultural Dialogue, the will to win can also lead to an increased risk of the exclusion of other participants, meaning that competition in itself is a double-edged sword. The fact that competition lies at the heart of sport provides a real challenge to clubs and coaches. One solution is to modify or include more flexible models of competition, such as drop-in programmes, which offer a more informal access point to sport.

Both within training and competition it is traditional for us to divide participants into male and female teams. That automatically creates a hierarchy where one group is rewarded before another. And because a majority of leading people within sport are white men, they are usually the ones who are better rewarded through, for example, more financial aid or better space and time to train – even at a grassroots level.

Norms within sport can also be expressed through specific gender-coded clothes or, for example, the prohibition of religious apparel (i.e. hijab). While some clothes are accepted and others are not, the standards are set for what is seen to be normal and what is considered problematic. As you can see, whether we realise it or not, our norms can provide all kinds of challenges to our aim of broadening participation.

The locker room

The locker room is not always a physical room with walls, showers and other facilities. It can be wherever the athletes meet before and after a training session or competition. In the locker room, different norms are applicable and they can vary hugely between different groups or sports. Some people will take up more space, whilst others will keep a low profile. But the norms are expressed through the way we speak, the jokes we make and how we behave. It can be about having the ‘right’ clothes, saying the ‘right’ things or how we look at the people that are not part of our group.

There are different expectations between how girls’ and boys’ teams should behave, both in the locker room and other places. The expectations of girls are that they should be strong and powerful in sport but more feminine outside of it, while boys have similar norms and standards both on and off the field. They are often expected to be hard, strong, ready to use violence and not demonstrate emotions other than anger and frustration - both inside and outside of the sports environment. The expectations of boys are closely linked to violence, which is important to be aware of.

Coaches and other adults have a great responsibility to prevent harassment in teams where some participants become dominant at the expense of others. It’s for this reason that many clubs put a lot of time and effort into teamwork in order to strengthen the bond between teammates. Encouraging activity in a safe and inclusive group not only benefits individuals but is likely to have a positive effect on team performance too.

Sports organisations

For many sports organisations, their centre of power lies in the board or committee room. This is where authority is accumulated and also distributed, so the board is probably the most important group of people to harness when working for change.

A board with a traditional view might choose to continue down its current path and whilst this may promote diversity and inclusion to some degree, it is also important to take the time to view the organisation with a critical, external perspective.

One of the biggest challenges for reformers is that it is usually those who follow the norms of an organisation most closely who are in charge of it. They usually wield most of the power and make most of the decisions. This, in turn, means that it is sometimes their own perspective that needs to change and, alongside this, their own power they need to cede to welcome others. One possible way to sensitise the board members of sports organisation is to involve them in different qualification workshops and reflective exercises such as those in the chapter on “Intercultural Dialogue”.

Tradition in transition

Sport’s rich history has helped to build fantastic opportunities for both participants and supporters. But it has also created obstacles and challenges when it comes to inclusion. For example, sport has traditionally been governed by men and the activities it has provided have been primarily aimed at young males.

This male dominance was not unique to the sports movement, of course, but today we must try to think differently about gender equality and equality in general. Yet even though women have an obvious place in sport today, taking leadership roles of all kinds, men's norms still persist. For example, in many cases there are still different prize monies for women and men in certain sports, whilst in others – like tennis, where there is equal prize money - those norms have been successfully challenged.


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