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A football with the stitched panels representing Intersecting themes in sport: Gender, Income, Culture, Ethnicity, Race, Age, Sexuality, Geography, Ability, Race and Education

Being inclusive: is the policy aware of its context?

Did you know, by age 14, many girls have dropped out of sports at a rate twice that of boys, in North America?

You might think this means more policy is required. Policy that focuses on keeping girls engaged in sport.

But this is more than just biology. Gender differences in participation are worsened when other factors are considered too: ethnicity, disability, low economic status, social stigma, lack of access or issues of safety provide different additional barriers. Girls in North America experience a different social experience to boys, even if enthusiasm for sport is initially comparable. (Research by Women in Sport)

When we think about issues of inclusion, often we are drawn to individual factors. We look at issues in isolation. Disability separate to race, separate to gender. In reality, our identity is made up of the interplay between many different inseparable attributes. 

“Nothing for us, without us”

This is a phrase used a few times already, but for good reason.

Unless you are part of the community group, it is very difficult to fully understand the full context they are operating in. Even if you are part of the community, you are unlikely to be able to represent all the groups within it. And even if you could, you are only one voice. Diversity and inclusivity is key to successful implementation and effective change.

When considering sport development initiatives, from initial scoping through to implementation and evaluation, it is important to not only consider single-issues but to also apply an intersectional lens. This strengthens policy and makes it more sensitive to real-world realities.

“For example, analysis from Sporting Equals showed that in the adult population Asian and Black females have the lowest participation rates (34.3% 33.9% respectively), compared to White British females 40.8%. Broken down by gender and religion Muslim Females have the lowest participation rates (25.1%) compared to those who have no religion (51.8%). Only by understanding the intersections between aspects of identity such as faith, gender, ethnicity and culture will we be able to generate strategies that genuinely lead to broader participation in sport.

A single-issue lens will never create a lasting solution for complex issues of exclusion. In order to challenge and tackle a problem we need to be able to define it and the term intersectionality provides a language for us to do this.” Michelle Moore

Being aware of the power-interplay between issues - such as disproportionate impact of gender-religion on sport participation or the social-construct definition of ‘gender’ and its impact on how boys and girls experience ‘sport’ differently around the globe - specifically within the community a policy will affect, rather than assuming one-size-fits-all is at the core of sustainable development practice and producing policy with integrity.

Key resources

The Sport for Generation Equality Framework is an example of how to leverage sport for gender equality.

A repository of links on access to sport for people with disabilities is available on the UN DESA website.

A comprehensive study on access to sport for people with disabilities was recently released by the European Commission - Mapping on Access to Sport for People with Disabilities. This study identifies problems in terms of individual, social and environmental barriers, and highlights opportunities and solutions including more conveniently located facilities, better trained staff to facilitate access.

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This article is from the free online course:

Sport for Sustainable Development: Designing Effective Policies and Programmes

The International Platform on Sport and Development