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Diversity and Inclusion

Sports who invest in Diversity and Inclusion - win the race

Wednesday, September 16, 2020
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Sport Australia

Current situation – COVID-19

The scale and enormity of COVID-19 has significantly changed our lives since Australia had its first case of the virus on 22 January 2020 (1, 3). This pandemic has impacted almost all facets of our community – business, education, health and sports and recreation.  

Latest ABS data indicates the official unemployment rate is 7.5 percent (2) the highest level since November 1998. The recovery is expected to take all of 2021 to get Australia’s output and employment back to December 2019 (3).

COVID has forced all of us, to rethink and challenge the way we’ve traditionally operated and importantly to have honest conversations around the world we live in and what is the sustainable way forward.

While anecdotal evidence points to substantial loss for the bigger players of Australian sport: NRL, Cricket Australia, AFL, Netball Australia, A-League, Australia’s government funded National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) and the National InstituteNetworks (NIN – these include the state and territory sports academies) remain reasonably resourced.

The Federal Government injected $314 million in April 2020 to Sport Australia, of which $53.1million was invested in high performance sport, including athlete well-being and improving culture and well-being within communities.

Undoubtedly, these remain testing times for our sports and our community grass root sports who have been impacted by the pause on sports across the nation. This is the time for our National Sporting Organisations to show true leadership. Now is the time for our NSO’s to show they care about their communities. This is not the time to digress from a comprehensive Diversity and Inclusion (D&) programs..  

Renowned Diversity and Inclusion advisor and D& Lead Executive for the London 2012Paralympics, Stephen Frost (4) describes that while there are organisations who will cancel, de-prioritise or downplay their D&I, others are putting more emphasis on their D&I efforts as they recognise the value to help their stakeholders through the crisis.

NSO’s who invest in D&I will be more likely to achieve a more resilience organisation (5). Organisations who have invested in Diversity & Inclusion are the ones who are better equipped to support their employees, their customers and their key stakeholders (5).

Within Australian sports you could segment our NSO’s based on their investment in D&Iprograms by the following:

1.    Early Adopters - It’s in their DNA: These companies have gone beyond the marketing ploy and compliance requirement of D&I, rather it is part of their DNA.

2.    Moderates - All in, when all is well: These are organisations who have set up ‘entry’ level D&I practices or programs, but they are programs which may be compromised or scaled back if the organisation’s emphasis remains on the immediate ROI, rather than longer term gains of D&I.

3.    Late Adopters - Laggards: These are organisations who have talked about D&I, have perhaps implemented a once off program or initiative, but they haven’t committed or implemented policy or values around this.

These companies have neither planned or considered how they can improve the working experience of their employees, or the stakeholders they engage with.

Evidence points to those organisations who are invested will be more sustainable and able to navigate their stakeholders more effectively through the pandemic (4).

Recently, we heard Sam Mostyn talk about what sustainability looks like in a post pandemic world, on ABC One Plus One (6). Her comments give further case that sustainability is about investing in D&I.

“Sustainability to me are the issues around our response to climate change, to social inequality, to issues around who belongs on the table of a boardroom, what does new power look like in a world, where people really do have a chance to participate in the decisions that affect their life, how do we deal with issues of domestic violence and the Black Lives Matter around the globe.…” Sam Mostyn – ABC One Plus One

The key areas Sam mentions here are explained in the context of how it is applicable in a D&I context:

·       Climate change – if organisations such as the Parks Australia, home to many recreation activities, had integrated and embedded Diversity and Inclusion program into their organisation, we might’ve seen a different response to the land management in fire prevention (7).

·       Social inequality – an embedded D&I program would enable Rugby Australia to achieve greater participation across the demographic spectrum and beyond the traditional playing grounds of Ruby in GPS schools.Rugby Australia are at a critical phase with the demise of the Wallabies, and they are the 9th ranked sport at grassroots level. Yet, a review of theRugby Australia board includes nine Directors. One female and eight males, all of white Caucasian appearance. (8)

·       New Power and Boardroom – we know SportAustralia has mandated for funded National Sporting Organisations to have no more than 60% of one gender on the board. It is also advocating now for NSO’s to demonstrate a commitment to achieving diversity targets within its board composition including: Geographical locality, Aboriginal and Torres StraitIslander, CALD, Age, SES, Disability, Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity,Race, Religion (9).

·       Domestic violence – sports such as RugbyLeague and AFL have supported awareness campaigns around Domestic violence. Still much more needs to be done. Sports must challenge a traditional male-dominated structure with associated and perceived cultural norms.

·       Black Lives Matter – there has been ongoing investment by sports in Indigenous programs and there is still a way togo for equal participation in sports. Further the investment of sport for indigenous women has been poor. The Sport for all committee report, noted comments by Professor Colin Tatz who ‘emphasised his concern with the disparity of funds being spent on Indigenous men and women in sport. He commented: … let me say to you that, for every $100 that is spent on Aboriginal male sport, you are lucky if $1 is spent on women's sport (11).

Two other key D&I areas for a sustainable way forward:

·       Disability – Australian sports mostly have inclusive and para-sport programs across the spectrum with theNational Disability Sporting Organisations (NDSOs) providing support and guidance to National Sporting Organisations (NSOs) on their programs. This investment needs to extend beyond participation to also include building positive culture and leadership, to equal rights with prize money and equal opportunities to participate at the same level of competition as able bodied athlete.

·       LGTBI – Diversity of gender and sex must continue to be elevated as a conversation on and off the sporting fields of Australia.

Within the sporting context, we know of the significant investment by Sport Australia this year in high performance sport including athlete well-being. The AIS has since released a report (12) which indicates the challenges around culture in sport including the recognition that culture, wellbeing, and optimum performance are inextricably related.

Closing remarks

A crisis is the perfect opportunity for organisations to think about what their organisation provides for their community and how they are going to lead, nurture and carry their members through these unprecedented times.

The question is which Sporting Organisations will continue to invest and develop their D&I programs. The ones that are willing to meet their full obligations and to by embracing and celebrating the full community in their reach from those of culturally linguistic groups, refugees and immigrants, disability, LGBTI and religious groups amoung others will win the race in the long run.


1. Australia & COVID-19 The Economic Story So Far - August 2020

2. Unemployment edges up despite massive coronavirus jobs bounce-back

3.The Costs of COVID: Australia’s prospects in a wounded world

4. Doubling Down on Diversity and Inclusion


5. The role of diversity in organisational resilience: a theoretical framework


6. One Plus One: Kurt Fearnley with Sam Mostyn, 30 August 2020


7. Ancient Indigenous burning practices could help fight bushfires


8. Rugby Australia Board:


9. Sport Australia Sporting Governance Principles:


10. All talk, no action from Gill and the AFL on violence against women


11. Sport– More Than Just A Game Contribution of sport to Indigenous wellbeing and mentoring House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and TorresStrait Islander Affairs, June 2013 Chapter 3: Participation in sport for Indigenous Australians file:///Users/kathleenkelly/Downloads/


12. AIS High Performance Sport System: Well-Being Review Executive Report

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