Resistance to Diversity

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In many ways, sport should be a space that is diverse and inclusive. Consider that governments and policy makers value participation by people from all segments of the population. Agencies like the World Health Organization, the National Institutes of Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation fund programs designed to remove barriers to being active. 

One might survey this scene and expect that sport and physical activity are spaces where diversity and inclusion are robust. This is not the case, though, or so suggests a recent study from Ramon Spaaij, of Victoria University in Australia, and his colleagues. They examined why this disconnect occurs, interviewing over 100 people involved in recreational sport. 

The researchers pointed to a number of leader behaviors that ultimately constrained diversity. Some leaders spoke of valuing diversity, but did so in ways that were actually ineffective, such claiming color-blindness or gender-blindness.

Other leaders focused on deficits among members of underrepresented groups, suggesting they had a poor work ethic or were lazy. 

In some cases, leaders emphasized things that served to promote the status quo. Examples include their organization’s tradition or core business objectives. 

In other instances, leaders denied the presence of privilege or discrimination. Still other leaders engaged in what the authors called self-victimization, noting that they could not make certain jokes any more.

Finally, other leaders emphasized that they would accept women and racial minorities, but only when they assimilated to dominant group norms.

In all, the research showed how sport leaders can engage in actions that undermine diversity. The leaders’ words and actions help shape the culture and tone of the sport organizations, ultimately limiting diversity and inclusion efforts. Education, the authors suggest, might be key to reversing this trend.