Is there Discrimination in Sport?

9th August 2019
During the last few years, discrimination in sport has been a hot topic. Minority athletes keep showing the world who they really are and what they are capable of. Do you know what some of the anti-discrimination policies are?

Discrimination in sport exists and it’s become more evident than ever due to public scandals. Beyond sporting passion, we still witness discriminatory acts based on race, gender, religion or political ideas. Paradoxically, many sports claim to be a place to reunite and accept everyone as equals.

Despite this discourse, sports seem to both unite and segregate. Lately, sports institutions and authorities have started developing large campaigns to educate the population against discrimination.

What is discrimination in sport?

Discrimination includes actions and thoughts that segregate one group of people from another. This judgment is made upon certain criteria, and always entails the discriminatory group assaulting those individuals they consider ‘different’. Specifically, discrimination always implies offending and violating others.

Due to their popularity, sports gather an immense amount of followers. Unfortunately, sports aren’t an exception when it comes to discrimination. Throughout the years we have come across many cases of both athletes and followers participating in discriminatory acts.

A discriminatory past

Through history, leaders, athletes, and sports institutions have mixed sports practice with issues of ideological and political nature. This happened a lot in the past: Nelson Mandela used rugby in South Africa as an integrating element. Still, there will always be people who try to use sport in a negative way.

discrimination in sport

Discrimination in sport is a much more extended practice than you may believe. Hooligans and baseball teams are a great example of racial segregation among sports. Another example is NBA players: 80 percent of them are African-American, but not too long ago they couldn’t be hired due to their origin. Also, the first soccer clubs in Mexico didn’t allow Mexicans to participate, as there could only be English players.

As you can see, the social realities of the early twentieth century were very different from the current ones. What was appropriate some decades ago definitely isn’t now, and there have been some serious efforts to eliminate discrimination. However, this doesn’t mean discrimination in sport has stopped being a problem.

Right now, there are some athletes who are still being segregated because of their skin color, their gender, sexuality or physical disabilities.

How to combat discrimination in sport?

These are some ground rules to keep in mind if we want to try and eradicate discrimination in sport:

  • Sanctions and educational campaigns: disciplinary sanctions and educational propaganda are essential in the eradication of sports discrimination. However, these sanctions have been criticized on the grounds that they have few practical consequences. That’s why other types of anti-discrimination actions have been created in the last few years.
  • Anti-discrimination funding: one of the problems of discrimination is that marginalized groups have fewer opportunities. For this reason, the development of sport in these groups is currently encouraged by sports institutions. One example is the current growth of women’s leagues in sports such as soccer, basketball, and wrestling. Paralympic Games are a great example of anti-discrimination initiatives.
  • Inclusion of minorities in sport: the inclusion of historically discriminated groups in traditional sports structures is currently being evaluated. This is, perhaps, the most controversial and difficult position in the fight against discrimination in sport.

Current challenges for the fight against sports discrimination

Sports usually present dual realities, and these are difficult to reconcile to avoid discrimination. On the one hand, sports must serve to unite and action is taken in this regard. On the other hand, competitive reality encourages a necessary differentiation.

So, for example, it would be very different to have disabled athletes compete with people in full faculties. Something similar happens with inter-genre competitions. This is the problem that arises in the inclusion of transgender men in women’s competitions.

However, steps are already being taken to promote the fight against discrimination in sport. We can see this in soccer, with the appearance of the first women referees and coaches in the men’s leagues. Likewise, other competitions and alternative divisions are promoted.

racism in football

Looking for an anti-discriminatory standard

As always, the problem is to identify where the discrimination ends and the imbalance begins. This will be the challenge of sports institutions worldwide. To determine this, experts have to take into account a variety of factors such as culture and religion, as in the case of Islamic countries and the female practice of some sports.

Many experts believe these policies will be successful in the long run, and so institutions must maintain them. Minorities are starting to take their rightful place in the spotlight.

  • aldarte.org. Identidad, género y discriminación en el deporte. Extraído de: http://www.aldarte.org/comun/imagenes/documentos/identidad%20genero%20discriminaci%F3n%20en%20el%20deporte.pdf
  • Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte. Discriminación y deporte. Extraído de: http://recursos.cnice.mec.es/edfisica/publico/articulos/articulo16/discriminacion_y_deporte.pdf