The Sport, Diversity & Race project, led by Dr. Richard Norman and Dr. Cheri Bradish, is pleased to release its report of insights and findings from the 14-month study which began in winter 2021. The study involved interviews with 32 participants, ranging from executives, senior leaders, sport practitioners to student athletes, revealing common themes concerning race and sport.
The project began by examining Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) within the Canadian commercial/professional sport landscape. Delineating boundaries between sport sectors, however, was challenged by participants’ lived experiences and impacts of racism and discrimination in their sport life. This report presents considerations about race and marginalization in Canadian sport and the conditions surrounding it today, offering insights into the spectrum that is Canadian sport, including commercial/professional, Canadian public sport and community sport sectors.
This is a unique study as it examines notions of racism and discrimination in Canadian sport from the perspectives of racialized participants, implicating their lived experiences not only as a source of primary data, but also as an approach to explore the fluidity, interconnection and effect of those experiences as a continuum throughout their involvement in sport. The project arises in the aftermath of the May 25, 2020 killing of George Floyd and ensuing global outcry for racial justice.
“The events of 2020 reshaped me; they made me question my very being, my place in academia, and mostly my understanding of race. We, as academics, have a tendency to put persistent, rigid boundaries around conceptual structures to describe, interpret, and analyze. But this can be problematic. For me, I cannot disassociate my life from my work. The boundaries between are permeable, reflexive, and overlapping. So too is trying isolate impacts from racism and discrimination in sport and the sport industry. The impacts are messy, intermixed, historical, biographical, and pervasive.”
– Dr. Richard Norman
Race was the primary critical focus for the study using tenets of critical race theory as its theoretical base. Omi and Winant (2015) describes race as “a way of ‘making up people’” (p. 105) to illustrate that racial formation is a social construct designed as “a template for the subordination and oppression of different social groups” (pp. 105-109). Critically, race represents a socially defined categorization, but is in no way passive or insubstantial:
“Race is also not an illusion. While it may not be ‘real’ in a biological sense, race is indeed real as a social category with definite social consequences.”
– Omi and Winant (2015, p. 110)
100% First-hand experience or knowledge of racism and/or discrimination in sport
100% Indicated sport has a dark side and negative impacts on individuals
94% Believed in sport’s positive outcomes regardless of negative experiences
94% Participants identified as racialized
90% Said sport has a significant impact on their lives
46% Stated racism in Canada is the same or worse than the United States
56% Participants identified as female
44% Participants identified as male
Racism and discrimination manifest throughout society in a relational capacity and intersect with broader systems and associations to past legacies. The scope of the study is an exploration of sport in Canada, with appreciation of its multiple, intersecting networks. Equity initiatives must contain provisions that allow external, systemic relations to be interconnected, involving multiple contexts. Shifting toward this anti-racism and anti-oppression framing reoriented the inquiry’s approach to question deeper, more troubling issues.
“You can’t say that sports is fair and equitable for everybody because it’s not. And we have issues of racism. We have issues of stereotypes. And that language should not be invited in any environment, not even sport.”
– Participant (Black, Female)
Sport is perceived as providing positive benefits to physical and mental well-being.
Racism (and other forms of discrimination) are pervasive within sport cultures.
Racism is complex, interpersonal, relational, historiographic and systemic.
Racism must be considered in relation to other identity constructs such as gender, sexuality, ability or in combination.
Racism in Canada has been downplayed in comparison to conditions in the United States. Racial incidents and injustice, however, are prevalent in Canadian society.
Implications of racial and/or other forms of discrimination must attend to legacies of racial and discriminatory traumas.
Eradicating persistent, systemic inequities necessitates a shift toward more fulsome anti-racism and anti-oppression framing of challenges for racialized and marginalized persons.
Innovative and compassionate approaches are necessary to dismantle systemic conditions and persistent inequities.
The suggested recommendations were designed as responses to critical areas revealed from the analysis and offer perspectives to help shape concrete actions:
Reframe DEI initiatives to include anti-racism, anti-oppression and decolonial framing to address historical, systemic interrelationships.
Attend to the new realities of diminished mental health as a result of extended COVID-19 restrictions and intergenerational traumas.
Incorporate alternative world views in the design of sport programming to accommodate cultural differences based on shifting Canadian demographics.
Introduce systems thinking as a component of designing services for racialized and marginalized communities to be mindful of needs and differing value arrangements.
Consider possibilities related to segregated or culturally exclusive sport programming to satisfy conditions of representation, advancement and safe(r) sport environments for racialized and marginalized persons.
Emphasize representation within organizational structures to be responsive of participants and facilitate career advancement.
Identify culturally specific skill development to expand services for racialized or marginalized groups in order to achieve greater success and ensure advancement opportunities.
Norman, R. & Bradish, C. (2022). Exploring Sport, Diversity & Race: Reflections and Possibilities, Ted Rogers School of Management, Toronto Metropolitan University
Keywords: Sport, Racism, Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, COVID-19
This project is generously supported by the Ted Rogers School of Management at Toronto Metropolitan University, the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI) and the Future of Sport Lab (FSL).
Special thanks to MLSE LaunchPad and MLSE Foundation for their support throughout the project. This project would not have been possible without their involvement.
The project’s advisory team, including thought-leaders from the sport industry – Jason Badal (Disney+), Justin Bobb (MLSE), Ashley Curran (Canadian Tire), Rob Depodesta (Sportsnet, Grand Slam of Curling), Devin Heroux (CBC Sports), Bryant McBride (Burst), Letecia Rose (Canadian Tire), Marika Warner (MLSE LaunchPad) and John Wiggins (Toronto Raptors) – was integral to its success.
Dr. Richard Norman is a researcher, lecturer, futurist and strategic consultant who works with people to effect change towards a more socially just, sustainable and resilient future. His work is focused on the lived experiences of peoples who have been marginalized in our society. Richard’s research explores the intertwining of race, whiteness and colonialism in sport, and the deconstruction of dominance within sporting cultures. His commitment to research continues now with the “Sport, Diversity & Race Project” as a postdoctoral fellow in the Ted Rogers School of Management at Toronto Metropolitan University.
Dr. Cheri L. Bradish was the Loretta Rogers Research Chair in Sport Marketing with the Ted Rogers School of Management from 2013-2018. She is currently Director of the Future of Sport Lab and Chair of Marketing Management. She comes to Toronto Metropolitan University after 16 years at Brock University where she was the first faculty hire and founder of its successful Bachelor of Sport Management (BSM) degree. During her tenure at Brock, she served in several leadership roles, including in the chair capacity. A sport marketing expert, her area of scholarship interest is with regards to sport business strategy and trends, including innovation and entrepreneurship, sport and social impact, and women in sport leadership. Among several conference proceedings and publications, her research has appeared in leading journals, including Journal of Sport Management, International Journal of Sport Management and Marketing, Sport Management Review and Sport Marketing Quarterly.