Why Sport Needs Diversity

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[Written By: Anna Lumaca]

[Illustration: Sophie Bryer]

The Glasgow Guardian recently published an interesting article on United Glasgow: a unique football team that promotes inclusion and anti-discrimination policies. Their message stresses the importance of representing a broad variety of cultural groups in sport. But why should we aspire to diversity? And how much does it impact our University activities? I spoke about these issues with three Glasgow University students, all of whom have very different experiences but similar concerns.

Graham practices both boxing and Muay Thai. As captain of the boxing club, he has observed a great improvement in terms of diverse participation; boxing seems to attract students from various backgrounds. It appears that regardless of race, sexual orientation, or interests, we all like to throw punches at each other.

Even though it was born as a “man’s sport”, almost 40% of the University boxing club is female. This result was achieved largely in the past two years, through conscious choices of staff and coaching strategies. When I asked Graham about the importance of inclusivity, he talked about it not only from the captain’s perspective, but also as a student who joined boxing in first year, and never left. What inclusivity generates, in his opinion, is a friendlier environment within the club. With 170 members, many of whom start as beginners, it is easy to get intimidated by sparring and competitions. It is therefore vital to remind students of what really matters: the community experience of sport. When a variety of people come together to practice boxing and make it enjoyable, it becomes easier to focus on improving rather than winning.

I then talked to Natalie, an Art History student with a skateboard and lots of dedication. Together we discussed the challenges of creating a diverse community, especially in the context of a subculture like skateboarding.

Part of what makes skateboarding appealing – according to most – is the relaxed environment in which it is practiced. It is a sport with very little judgment, and where there is the possibility of learning openly from one another. Nevertheless, from a girl’s perspective, it can be hard to join a crowd of male skaters. Natalie was not subjected to any particular hostility, but the lack of women in the skate park was initially intimidating. By joining a group of girl skaters, she gained enough confidence to star practicing at Kelvingrove Park – where the community is mainly Glaswegian and male.

Viewed from outside, female collectives can be a debatable subject. Like other groups that represent oppressed or discriminated subjects, they can appear to be self-marginalized. Yet most of what they promote simply would not happen without them; it is Natalie’s group of female friends that introduced her to skateboarding. Now she, like many other girls, has found a stimulating environment and place of confrontation, which is hard to replace. From this passion they created Doyenne, a skateboarding brand, as well as organizing Queer Skate Nights to make “local skateboarding beautifully diverse”. Through peer-to-peer example, Natalie hopes that more girls will feel inclined to join the community, and have their bit of fun too.

Finally, I had a chat with Luke, who is part of the University Fencing Team and the team’s only transgender member. The issue of inclusivity is particularly relevant in the transgender community – often a minority even within LGBTQ+ groups. Luke introduced me to the problems of representation, and explained how sport can particularly benefit those who struggle with self-discovery and acceptance.

Luke’s thoughts about having a representational role in sport are conflicted. On one side, he recognises the importance of being an example, especially for those who experience similar problems. On the other, he feels the need to simply belong to a sports club without being questioned. For this reason, he finds that Queer or specifically trans-inclusive events could never be a solution to the issue of diversity – rather than eliminating a division, there’s the possibility they could reinforce one.

Sport can play a big role in the lives of transgender people, especially those who experience a strong sense of detachment from their bodies. Because of the constant confrontation it generates with one’s physicality, it can help a process of self-acceptance in a way that many other activities can’t. Luke talks about his experience in fencing as a positive one, and wishes for more trans students to join sports clubs. A stronger transgender presence would also make some questions compelling; for instance, the criteria employed to define Men and Women’s categories in competitions. This still an open issue in the University league, and one that can only be solved with the help of a diverse community.


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