British Paralympian and global inclusion expert Claire Harvey calls on sport’s national governing bodies to adopt grassroots diversity targets into their participation drive.
Sport has for a long time been a source of inspiration to the masses. It is one of the unifying forces that humanity has to offer, yet – if we’re honest with ourselves – there is a long way to go before we can say that sport is accessible to all, especially in London where opportunity also divides us.
This summer the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics exposed a wealth of new talents and events to the viewing public. Traditionally, the Games provides people of varying cultures, abilities, and backgrounds with a perceived level playing field.
However, when it comes to growing participation at a grassroots level it often feels like sport is on a merry-go-round, whereby affordable and accessible facilities are available only to the same few, while minoritised groups living with disabilities or under strenuous economic circumstances view physical activity as a luxury.
Striving towards better social equity is a powerful tool in growing an economy. We see it in other private and public sectors, where organisations are shaping their future around more diverse and inclusive workforces.
UK businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic will reap rewards by adopting workplace equality and could help increase GDP by £393bn by 2030, according to a report by Accenture. Creating an inclusive environment has the power to drive innovation and will be reflected in the customers they engage with too.
Although this movement is still in its infancy, I’d go further to say that, despite the ground it is making at an elite level, our sport and fitness sectors are behind the curve when creating policy tailored towards generating inclusive participation at a local level.
It is a common misconception, but no athlete ever starts out “elite”. They, like all of us, begin their journey at the grassroots.
Therefore, if sport is going to have a genuine impact on the push for equity and social justice, our national governing bodies (NGBs) should be setting diversity targets just as businesses are striving for equality – by setting minimum regulatory standards for inclusion aimed at widening participation and addressing barriers.
Organisations like London Sport are highlighting that sport has the power to break down other barriers people may be facing, increase networks and wellbeing, and support confidence.
This starts with those in charge harnessing change. For example, in the corporate world, we are seeing a subtle shift away from the rigid structure of engagement that big business was originally built on, and towards one that is more outcome focused. Similarly, sport must adapt to the changing climate, too.
That requires our NGBs to recognise that what their sport represents to them might be different to somebody else and that, in the same way businesses welcome feedback from customers, sport must also challenge its core values, and whether they meet the demands of our wider society.
Only then will we see greater levels of participation and seed more opportunity for those to engage in physical activity and enjoy life-long participation.
Claire Harvey, global inclusion expert and Paralympian, recently spoke at London Sport’s Active London 2021.