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  • 21 May 2015 00:00
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Inclusion, Diversity and the Power of Sporting Role Models

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The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games provided many powerful role models from diverse backgrounds. It was great that athletes like Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, Christine Ohuruogu, and Hannah Cockroft were celebrated but the common conclusion that this "proved” Great Britain was at ease with diversity was a fantasy.

Despite the positive black, asian, brown, LGBT and disabled sporting role models on the field of play, off the field this representation only goes so far. If we want to achieve genuine equality then inclusion must be about representation at all levels. Research from Sporting Equals is startling; only 2 out of 45 individuals on National Governing bodies are black and minority ethnic people, with 35 white males and 8 white females.

Sport has a huge cultural and global presence and therefore provides a platform to shine a light on inequalities in a way few other cultural practices can. So sport itself comes to be seen to represent wider societal values, just as elite sportswomen and men become responsible as powerful role models.
You will be hard pressed to find someone who denies the transformative nature and symbolic value that sport has. From Billie Jean King and the struggle for equality in tennis and women’s sport more broadly in the US, to the Tommie Smith and John Carlos salute for the Olympic Project for Human Rights at the Mexico Olympics in 1968, sport is often at the forefront of social movements.

Sportswomen in particular are powerful role models and an inspiration to other girls and women. When Lizzie Armitstead won silver in the London 2012 Olympic cycling road race she used the opportunity to courageously speak up about sexism in her sport. It’s not just the power of the words that athletes have but also the extent of their reach. Sport provides the space to have the discussions that people don’t want to talk about. Sport crosses divides and talks to those who don’t even like sport.

The media across the board are slowly recognising the sporting success of women, the captivating characters and the stories to be told. Movements, agitation, and collective and shared responsibility all have a place in the pursuit for equality. We all have a contribution to make and sport provides us with an environment where we can play our part. 

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