Expert Opinion

Tackling discrimination in sport

Leeds Beckett University recently hosted the second annual Sport and Discrimination conference, which brought together academics, campaigners and practitioners specialising in examining and challenging racism, sexism, homophobia, disability and class within their sports and fields. Organiser, Dr Dan Kilvington, blogs about the successful event and looks forward to next year’s conference.

The second annual Sport and Discrimination Conference passed without a hitch. An event, which took almost a year to organise, passed in the blink of an eye. Ensuring presentations keep to time and hoping that IT problems stay at bay are just some of the issues you have to wrestle with. Despite one technical difficulty with a Skype presentation, the conference went successfully smooth and the organisers Dr John Price, Dr Aarti Ratna and I would like to thank each and every one of the speakers and guests who attended.

John, Aarti and I fully believe that discrimination in sport is a key talking point, and conversations in this field need to happen. Discrimination in sport is ever present. Although we hear cries of post-feminism, post-racialism etc, sport is not egalitarian. Tennis star Eugene Bouchard’s request to twirl at the Australian Open in January 2015 is an example of sexism while the under representation of managers and coaches of colour in English Football arguably highlights structurally embedded institutional racism. Discriminatory practices manifest themselves in various forms and sport is no exception. This Sport and Discrimination conference thus seeks to highlight, examine, discuss and challenge discrimination in sport.

The conference welcomed personnel from around the world including America, Holland, France and Italy. The presentations adopted an international focus as a plethora of sports were examined as well as a variety of discriminatory forms, e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia, and able-ism. Dr Hayley Fitzgerald, of Leeds Beckett University, delivered a superb and thought provoking keynote which asked the audience some key questions around inclusion and disability. Other presentations explored representations of people of colour in sport marketing, the abuse and harassment referees encounter in sport, the experiences of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) football coaches, and how gender and ‘race’ issues permeate and affect young people in PE spaces. The conference hopes to raise awareness of the intersectionalities of discrimination in sport. We hope that academics and practitioners who have an active interest in researching/challenging a certain discriminatory form, i.e. sexism, can learn a thing or two from someone researching/challenging a different type, i.e. racism. What are the differences/similarities? In what ways do different discriminatory forms manifest themselves?

A word used by several guests during and after the conference was ‘inspirational’. None more epitomise this word than our final keynote, Annie Zaidi, the FA’s BME Elite Coach Mentee. Annie, an award winning football coach who continuously breaks down racial, gender and religious barriers, spoke at length about the discrimination she had encountered in football. If anything, the saddening racism and sexism Annie has faced in the game has done little more than to spur her on. And, although she is heralded as a role model for many aspiring and current coaches, she seemed reluctant to accept this mantle, stating that “I don’t see myself as one yet. I still haven’t made it yet”. Working for the FA in any capacity might be the pinnacle for most coaches out there, however Annie strives for further success and aims to keep working hard and smashing barriers along the way. It is this determination, tunnel vision and work ethic that the audience and myself found truly ‘inspirational’.

The second annual conference aimed to build on last year’s debut, held at the University of Sunderland’s London campus. It was this event that inspired Dr John Price and I to create the forthcoming edited collection, Sport and Discrimination. Although this book, released early 2017, critically examines multiple forms of discrimination (e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia, and disability), in separate sections, within sport and media contexts, attempts will be made, where possible, to highlight the interconnected nature of discrimination(s), keeping to the spirit of the conference. The book provides an international, interdisciplinary and critical discussion of various forms of discrimination in sport. As a whole, it aims to a) Provide a critical review of the current issues and debates across various forms of discrimination in sport, b) Present a critical discussion of some of latest empirical research around sport and discrimination, c) Put forward common themes, issues, problems and successes across different areas of relevant research; and d) Offer recommendations for further action and research into sport and discrimination.

Plans for the third annual Sport and Discrimination Conference are underway and once again, we hope to build on the success of 2016. The 2017 event will also coincide with the Sport and Discrimination book launch. The conference series continues to grow largely because of its topical and timely nature – discrimination in sport exists and it is paramount that we continue to keep the conversation going and further challenge the discriminatory practices and processes that are endemic across sporting environments and institutions.

Dr Daniel Kilvington

Course Director and Reader / School Of Humanities And Social Sciences

Dan's research interests include anti-racism, social media and sport. His book 'Sport and Discrimination' draws on examples from football, rugby, cricket, tennis, climbing, the Olympics and the Paralympics to explore racism, sexism, homophobia, disability and the role of the media in both perpetuating and tackling discrimination in sport.

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