Culturally Responsive and Safe Swimming Programs: The Case of the Canadian Red Cross

There are some sports that are more closely associated with certain races than others. A graduate student of mine, for instance, observed in a study that people closely associated golf with Whitness, and marginally related to Asians. That is, when people thought about who played golf, they were most likely to think of Whites and sometimes thought of Asians. They did not, however, think of Hispanics or African Americans.

These associations not only influence who we think participate in various sports, but also the sports in which we can see ourselves being involved. This is important for a number of reasons, including efforts to get people physically active and engaged in certain sports. Swimming is one such example, as in many cases, it is considered a White activity. As a result, efforts to engage ethnic minorities are sometimes met with resistance. What's more training that might be appropriate for some groups might be totally inappropriate for others. 

Recognizing these potential difficulties, Kyle Rich and Audrey Giles recently conducted a study examining the Canadian Red Cross's swim program, and specifically, its cultural safety training module.* To do so, they conducted interviews with participants, as well as facilitators of the program. The authors observed the importance of strategically managing diversity to ensure an inclusive environment. Specifically, the participants noted the importance of safety and inclusion in delivering instruction, while at the same time acknowledging the difficulty in accommodating cultural and ethnic diversity in the swim setting. 

Based on their findings, the authors argued that cultural safety training, by itself, was insufficient in creating a culturally safe and diverse sport. Instead, they suggested a complete cultural shift, where Whiteness as the norm is interrogated and challenged. What's more, they suggest sport organizations develop "an organizational culture that is facilitative and supportive with respect to inclusion (i.e., is welcoming) and accommodation (i.e., is flexible and adaptable) of cultural and ethnic diversity in aquatics programming."

Until such efforts are made, we will continue to see segregated sports.


Rich, K. A., & Giles, A. R. (2015). Managing diversity to provide culturally safe sport programming: A case study of the Canadian Red Cross's swim program. Journal of Sport Management, 29, 305-317.