Sport activism commonly heralds sport’s transformative potential, providing a basis for human development through sport interventions that engage and promote progressive attitudes to social change. On several occasions this includes gender. Yet time and again dominant discourses within sport reproduce and reify notions of biological difference and essentialist attitudes regarding who can be an athlete and on what grounds they can or cannot be permitted to compete, despite arguable intentions of inclusivity. Current debates on transgender athletes being a notable case in point (see ongoing coverage on BBC Sport this week). However inclusive sport aims to be, whether in tackling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, certain ‘norms’ are reproduced. These normative frames surrounding gender are evidence of unequal power relations in sport and feminist critiques remain key to understanding and changing these.
Colleagues in the Carnegie School of Sport and the Research Centre for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, apply critical social science analysis in their work to challenge level playing field rhetoric and seek to contribute to sport activism that focuses firmly on working towards gender justice and social justice more broadly. They evidence how discriminatory practices result from the intersection of multiple factors (see e.g. Long et al’s 2017 ‘Sport, Leisure and Social Justice’ edited collection). Events marking and celebrating International Women’s day 2019 theme of #BalanceforBetter in the School of Sport and across Leeds Beckett provide valuable opportunities for the exchange of critical thinking, demonstrating how the university can lead debate and inform practice for bringing about well needed social change.