December 2022

 

By Ben Cork (He/Him)

About the Author: Ben Cork is a Project Officer at Pride in Sport. Pride in Sport is a national not-for-profit sporting inclusion program specifically designed to assist sporting organisations of all levels with the inclusion of employees, athletes, coaches, volunteers and spectators with diverse sexualities and genders. For more information and support please visit our website or contact us directly at [email protected]au.

Significant strides have been made over the last decade to develop more inclusive policies and practices in sport, and as a result, sporting cultures continue to evolve towards more sophisticated acceptance and inclusion. Pride in Sport works with sporting organisations and communities to encourage a welcoming and inclusive environment at all levels of sport in Australia.

The resources funding those improvements have often been allocated and justified using an argument focused on the business case for inclusion[1]. And it is a strong argument. Because it works.

Dr Ryan Storr, Proud 2 Play Co-Founder, commented in 2021 that often Australian Sporting Organisations (ASOs) approach inclusion of people with diverse sexualities and/or genders with a focus on “brand, bottom line, and goal to increase participation, rather than the desire to enrich the lives of LGBTQI+ people or ultimately achieve the elusive goal of creating social awareness, widespread change, and positive community impact.”[2]

As National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) continue in their trend towards corporatisation, good governance, and growth, ‘brand and bottom line’ can be considered key reasons for increasing participation and inclusion. It’s an agreement of sorts; sport invests in LGBTQ inclusion, to produce a tangible, financial measurable benefit. But does this take into account the humans at the core of your organisation?

It can be a big ask for the LGBTQ community to expect major sporting codes to support inclusion and use their (significant) social reach to enact progressive social change, particularly when ‘increasing participation’ might not seem vastly different to ‘enriching lives’. When in fact weaving recognition, inclusion, and acceptance of the LGBTQ community into the values of a club is about much more than simply bringing more bodies on board in order to increase participation targets.

There have been clear wins in the last decade. LGBTQ visibility has improved for marginalised communities. Policies and procedures have been updated to reflect evolving societal attitudes and changes to legislation. An ever-increasing number of out and open LGBTQ people are role models for the next generation of emerging athletes and are celebrated by their communities. The last decade has been inspiring and it has seen change beginning to emerge in the sporting arena. But there is still much to be done.

Even with the best of intentions, as within society, communication and advocacy, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attacks will continue to occur in sport. The translation of policy to culture, from the boardroom to the field of play (or pool, course or court), takes time – and even then, it is never perfect. Sport is a microcosm of our society, and it is unrealistic to think that all such unwanted behaviours can ever be completely eradicated.

At Pride in Sport, we believe it is an organisation’s response to discrimination, bullying, harassment, and vilification that establishes their credibility as an inclusive sport. This is where the why is vital.

When sports are faced with high-profile incidents of homophobia, biphobia or transphobia, the lens through which these situations are viewed drives the conversation, the process, and the response. That lens, and the response of the sport or club at that time, says a lot about the sport’s values system.

Homophobic conduct should not be weighed against business outcomes. But often it is. Transphobic statements should not be considered in the context of brand and budget. But often they are. Zero tolerance should mean zero tolerance, even when it affects the bottom line.

Inclusion for the purpose of enriching the lives of LGBTQ people in Australia is a very different goal – and one which ultimately puts the humans first.  This should be the goal of every sporting organisation in Australia – above and beyond the bottom line or reputational considerations.

The LGBTQ community has been actively targeted in campaigns to reconnect with organised sport using a promise of inclusion and respect. When sports do not live up to this promise[3], they risk being called out for tokenism and ‘non-performative institutional speech acts[4] and this is why putting the values of the sport or club first is so important. It is in these moments of conflict and crisis when it’s important to understand what drives inclusion in your sport – and making sure those drivers are values based and clearly defined, for everyone.

The development of professional, well governed sports has benefited millions of Australians, and created opportunities for participation we should all be proud of. However, there is a limit to what cost can be measured, and what benefits can be captured within a KPI.

Truly visionary sports recognise the broader role NSOs play in our communities. Truly inclusive sports understand the limits of, and move beyond, the business case for LGBTQ inclusion.

Business case-based motivation is not always a bad thing and has brought us Pride Rounds, Mardi Gras floats, jerseys, and merchandise, amongst many other good things. However, arguably, any time profit takes precedence over progress, it is visibility at the expense of real change. So, the question we need to keep asking is: are you putting the humans first? How, and more importantly why, can your organisation effect change in this area, and why is it important to you and participants in your sport?

Once you know the why, the rest becomes much clearer, and real change can begin.

 

Please visit prideinsport.com.au for more information, resources, initiatives and news.

For further support and advice, please contact the Pride in Sport team via [email protected]


[1] Cunningham, George & Hussain, Umer. (2020). The case for LGBT diversity and inclusion in sport business.

[2] R. Storr, The poor cousin of inclusion: Australian Sporting Organisations and LGBT+ diversity and inclusion, Sport Management Review (2020), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.smr.2020.05.001

[3] Storr, R., Parry, K. D., & Kavanagh, E. (2018). “We are a sport for all Australian's” : exploring the non-performativity of institutional speech acts around LGBTI+ diversity in Australian sporting organisations.

[4] Ahmed, S. (2007) ‘“You End Up Doing the Document Rather Than Doing the Doing”: Diversity, Race Equality and the Politics of Documentation’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 30(4): 590–609.