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SIRC is pleased to be working together with Sport Canada to share current research on topics informing policy and promoting quality sport programming. This week we are sharing highlights of a recent article examining MANAGEMENT OF DIVERSITY AND CULTURAL SAFETY TRAINING FOR INSTRUCTORS IN SPORT PROGRAMMING.

Managing Diversity to Provide Culturally Safe Sport Programming: A Case Study of the Canadian Red Cross’s Swim Program. Rich, K.E, and Giles, A.R. (2015). Journal of Sport Management, 29(3), 305-317.

Full text of this article can be accessed here.

SIRC Highlights from the research

Using the Canadian Red Cross (CRC) Swim Program as a case study, the goal of this research was to create and evaluate a program for instructors that is “culturally safe and consequently more welcoming, inclusive of, and accommodating for ethnically and culturally diverse populations in Canada”.  The authors view the CRC Swim program as an ideal case for a number of reasons, including: its well-known role in promoting water safety; its key role in long-term athlete development (LTAD) through the training of fundamental swimming and fitness skills; and, finally, its role in the pathway to many other sports.


The CRC’s Swim Program trains and certifies its instructors through a national-level program that reaches roughly 20,000 Water Safety Instructors each year.  Once trained, however, instructors are hired and managed through municipal or private organizations to deliver the CRC programming. While the CRC is responsible for the training and program content, they are not responsible for the supervision or monitoring of the programming implementation. Therefore, while Instructors are trained in programming for ethnically and racially diverse populations, the challenge is that the nationally based CRC cannot control the effectiveness of aquatics programming for participants from culturally and ethnically diverse backgrounds at the implementation level.

The authors used the diversity management framework proposed by Doherty and Chelladurai (1999), which suggests that the management of diversity is indirectly a function of an organization’s culture as the context. The current observations hold that sport organizations typically adopt a culture of similarity, which generally means that organizational cultures and management practices contain barriers to embracing cultural and ethnically diverse approaches to sport participation. The CRC adopted a “train the trainer” approach with their Cultural Safety Training Module to evaluate the potential of cultural safety training to equip CRC instructors to offer programming for culturally and ethnically diverse populations. They also recognized the importance of organizational culture and examined this role in the programming’s success.

The authors used an intrinsic case study with the intention of studying the Training Module solely within the context of the CRC Swim Program, and without the explicit intention of generalizing results. Thematic analysis of interviews with program participants (Water Safety Instructors) and facilitators provided the basis for evaluation.


Two themes were identified out of an analysis of the transcripts of the interviews:

  1. Inclusion was valued by the trainers and the instructors being trained, and its importance in programming was recognized.
  2. Adapting programming to accommodate cultural and ethnic diversity was perceived as difficult and, in most cases, not supported by organizational culture and employers’ expectations.

Thematic Discussion

1) Inclusion

  • Both new and experienced instructors saw the cultural safety training module as useful and is some cases as necessary.
  • Due to the core principles of the CRC and its efforts to incorporate these into their training programs (humanitarianism, universality, etc.), the organizational culture is conducive to acceptance of diversity and cultural training. This may set them apart from other sport organizations.
  • While the organizational culture is conducive to valuing diversity, the “level at which the CRC controls the implementation of its programming  (i.e., training and certifying instructors rather than hiring instructors and monitoring the implementation of the program) creates complexities in the enactment of this organizational culture and associated inclusion and accommodation practices”.
  • There is a misalignment of organizational cultures between national programming and local implementation – with national level valuing principles, and local levels valuing business practices.
  • For many of the instructors the word inclusion has many definitions. Definitions of diversity are often restricted  (e.g. persons with a disability versus cultural diversity, etc.,) causing confusion.

2) Accommodation

  • Instructors were open to accommodating diversity conceptually, but more hesitant when it came to practical implementation in programming.
  • More experienced instructors were more likely to exhibit hesitation in their ability to accommodate diversity in programming.
  • Instructors did show hesitation in attitudes to accommodation, as standards and expectations of employers are currently based upon a standardized model or normalized approach that assumes all participants have the same needs.
  • Hesitation in attitudes towards diversity programming may also stem from the complexity of navigating multiple organizational cultures simultaneously (national values, local programming)
  • More experienced instructors commented that accommodation might lead to more “grey areas” for instructors which was less desirable in an organizational culture which values structure and similarity
  • Organizations with more control over hiring and orientation of staff, and which have an organizational culture that values diversity, may have an easier time removing barriers to adapting programming to accommodate diversity
  • Suggestions such as hiring and retaining culturally and ethnically diverse individuals as instructors and administrators may be more practical in a setting that allows for contextual control of accommodations, rather than a standardized system.

Overall, it is evident that the social views of today, which encompass a multicultural perspective, are more open to valuing inclusion and diversity. From this research we see that implementation of the values and strategies within programming will be less complex if there is alignment between organizational cultures of those sharing the same programming. Training on cultural safety (as in this case study) for both trainers/managers and decision makers (leadership) would allow them to better understand and accommodate the complexities of offering inclusive and accommodating programs. Since this was a pilot study, further research in these areas is recommended.

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