Racism in Sport

Racism in Sport

Racism in Sport

George Floyd’s death has brought the world’s attention to prevalent issues of societal racism and racial inequities. These systemic inequalities exist everywhere, and there is racism in sport too. Many people and organizations, including sport clubs, are wondering whether they should comment about their commitment to diversity and inclusion. If public comments haven’t been made before, people are questioning whether now is the time. What should be said?

Commenting Publicly

I cannot stress this enough: do not comment before you’re ready to do so in a thoughtful manner. Empty words will be seen as meaningless and will likely provoke negative criticism (for example, international level figure skater Asher Hill’s public reaction to Skate Canada’s racial equality commitment statement). 

When you are ready to voice your organization’s statement, be thoughtful in your approach. Plan your messages and anticipate follow up questions, and prepare responses to those questions. Then, plan how your messages will be delivered- will this be through a social media post, a comment on your website, a video, approaching the media, or by a combination of methods? As well, name one or two spokespeople and direct all comments and questions to them, and do not allow anyone else to comment at any point. This will allow all communication to flow through one point of contact, ensure that all messaging is consistent, and will equip your organization to navigate the landscape more quickly.

Authentic Action is Key

Your comments should be based on the actions you are prepared to take. Now is the time to take a deep dive into your operations and figure out where you could improve diversity and maximize your inclusion initiatives. Be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations and be honest with the current state of things.

Consider the values of your organization, and your organization’s mission and vision. Are you strictly a sport provider, or are you a club that develops and supports the community? What action can your organization actually take? What are you prepared to do? How much capacity can you dedicate to doing research and implementing initiatives? Taking action consciously and sincerely, within your capacity, is key.

Marketing, Branding & Visibility

Consider your marketing materials. Do your photos and graphics reflect a diversity of participants? Do you use photos that contain images of people of different colours, genders, abilities (including those with disabilities), and different sizes of bodies (including those who are thick, thin, tall, and short)? Visibility matters- when people see themselves, they are more likely to believe that they belong in that space.

Consider your organization’s name, mascot, and language. Athletes at Simon Fraser University have been publicly calling for the university to change its ‘Clan’ nickname since 2017. Although the nickname has origins in the Scottish roots from the man the university is named after, because they play in the NCAA, many of their competitors believe that it references the Ku Klux Klan.

Consider your branding and imaging. Dr. Richard Norman comments on how curling lacks diversity, although the sport has been trying to revitalize for years. He states that bagpipes hanging in curling centres can be seen as “dominant whiteness” and how someone who is not Scottish or doesn’t have any European background could have no association to this symbol, thus weakening their personal association to the sport.

The Land of TRC

Five years ago, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released 94 calls to action to build reconciliation between Canadians and Canada’s Indigenous peoples. This included 3 calls to action specifically for sport: funding for community-based and professional sport initiatives, providing education on the history of Indigenous athletes, and developing policies for cultural awareness and anti-racism training. Recently CBC hosted an online panel of experts to discuss the work that’s been done to answer those three calls to action. Their conclusion? Not enough has been done to reach those goals. How can your organization contribute to those calls?

Listen Intently

Are you prepared to listen to the concerns of your stakeholders? Undoubtedly, your stakeholders will have opinions about what should be done, and if they are stakeholders that are underrepresented in your organization, they likely have valuable feedback to provide. American athlete Gwen Berry has been stripped of winnings because of raising her fist in solidarity to Black Lives Matter at last year’s Pan Am Games. Just yesterday, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport publicly opposed the International Olympic Committee’s Rule 50, a rule attempting to enforce political neutrality at Olympic Games. The CCES states that it violates the freedom of expression under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Are you providing a platform to allow your stakeholders to voice their concerns, or are you squelching those opportunities (and thus creating the perception that you are not, in fact, genuine in your commitment to anti-racism).

We Have Work to Do

The unfortunate truth is that Canada has a dark history with racism interlaced through its foundations, and sport is no different. Sport is political. Many times, sport has been used as a vehicle to navigate the political climate of many points in history. We are all responsible to do anti-racism work and break down barriers that divide us, in order to create greater diversity and inclusion within our sport organizations.

Although I have written this commentary today, I am not an expert in this area in any way. However, I am committed to learning more about how Canadian sport has been racist throughout history, and how sport’s systems propagate systemic racism today. I am committed to anti-racism. I am available to assist your organization to do work in this area. Black Lives Matter. Indigenous Lives Matter. Let’s work together to #SparkPlayForAll.

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