A new book questions the popular belief that sport builds truly inclusive communities.
Sport and Social Exclusion in Global Society presents case studies from around the world focusing on people who’ve experienced exclusion in sport.
Victoria University sociologist and lead author Associate Professor Ramón Spaaij said years of fieldwork for the book revealed how social prejudices were often mirrored and sometimes amplified in sport, while the assumption that simply pushing marginalised people into sport and expecting them to benefit was dangerously misguided.
“The very nature of sport as competition ingrains the idea that to be winners there must be losers, and for someone seeking confidence from sport to deal with a mental illness, for example, that may not help them at all,” he said.
Barriers to participation and enjoyment in sport were identified for women, unemployed youth, individuals experiencing homelessness, newly arrived migrants and refugees, and people with disabilities, amongst others.
Associate Professor Spaaij said the widespread existence of group-specific initiatives such as ethnically based sports clubs and gay sports teams was testament to the lack of belonging these groups often felt in mainstream sports clubs.
“The assumption that involving marginalised people in sport will bring benefits is only true if that sport is delivered in a particular way. In many cases it’s not and so we can say there’s a long way to go before sport delivers on its promise of providing social and emotional benefits to all participants no matter what their class, race, gender or other circumstances.”
Victoria University academic Dr Jonathan Magee and Monash University academic Dr Ruth Jeanes co-authored the book with Associate Professor Spaaij.
Each of the authors spent long periods researching the relationship between sport and social exclusion across several countries including Brazil, Zambia, the Netherlands, China, the UK and Australia. But in their travels researchers also found examples where clubs and leagues were being proactive in ensuring the barriers of society did not enter the sporting arena. These examples offer fascinating insights into how the promise of sport as a social good for all can actually be achieved.
One example was sports clubs being flexible in their approach to engage people with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds by using cultural brokers and ‘come and play’ drop-in sessions.
Another was the participation of young people with disabilities through clubs that catered for their specific needs.
“Key to this was the education of club leaders and coaches by the young people and their families regarding disability sports provision,” he said. “The clubs then offered a previously denied sporting opportunity, allowing the young people to experience a sense of inclusion and ownership.”
Sport and Social Exclusion in Global Society is published by Routledge and available now.