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Powerchair sports are played by people with disabilities who use power wheelchairs. Powerchairs make sport accessible to athletes with a range of disabilities and eliminate performance differences usually associated with gender and age. Because of this, powerchair sports are considered some of the most inclusive sports: athletes of diverse abilities, ages and genders compete together on one team!
Designing inclusive programs in sport is not an easy task. Inclusion requires intention, honest conversations, flexibility and innovation. It means using individual power and privilege to create safe and accessible spaces for all Canadians to engage in sport. Learn about how Canadian sport policies and programs have evolved to support the development of safe and inclusive sport in the SIRCuit.
Adoption in practice of research findings is often sub-optimal because of a disconnect between researchers and the individuals or groups overseeing and facilitating sport and physical activity participation.
To help bridge the gap between sport and physical activity research activities and the needs of those best positioned to apply those findings, we conducted a study to identify top research priorities of people involved in various sectors of sport and physical activity across Canada.
The study results highlight 8 high-ranking priorities for sport and physical activity research in Canada. They provide much-needed guidance to sport and physical activity researchers seeking to engage in impactful research. That is, research from the perspective of those in a position to apply the findings to promote greater participation in sport and physical activity across Canada.
Best practices and frameworks for effective knowledge translation are also shared. Here, knowledge translation means the sharing of research results and adoption or uptake of those findings to encourage improvements in sport and physical activity across Canada.
Until recently, a typical research process would include generating ideas or research questions, gathering and analyzing data to test hypotheses, publishing the results in scientific journals and anticipating that the findings would be adopted or applied in the “real world.” Then, this cycle would repeat, replacing old questions with new lines of inquiry.
True, this outdated approach generated new knowledge, although clearly at various levels of depth and breadth. However, that approach rarely resulted in uptake of research findings by the people or organizations best positioned to make use of such findings. They’re also known as knowledge-users or end-users.
Without that uptake, the findings don’t lead to meaningful shifts or improvements in how things are done. For example, despite a recent increase in research focused on sport and physical activity policies, programs and practices (Blamey & Mutrie, 2004; Faulkner et al., 2006), there have been no notable improvements in population-level sport and physical activity participation, according to surveillance data.
It’s undoubtably complex to effectively translate knowledge that stems from academic research findings and apply it to the real world of sport and physical activity participation. A disconnect between researchers and knowledge-users could be a factor that’s hindering the translation of such research into practice. In particular, it’s possible that sport and physical activity researchers pursue studies that aren’t valuable to knowledge-users, such as sport administrators, coaches, public health professionals or education specialists. Or, if they do, it’s possible that their results don’t find their way to those working to promote sport and physical activity participation.
Essentially that’s a gap between the research (on sport and physical activity) and the needs of those who can best apply or act on those research findings. To bridge that gap, we recently conducted a study aimed at identifying top research priorities of sport and physical activity among knowledge-users from various sectors across Canada. In this article, we’ll describe best practices and frameworks for effective knowledge translation (which guided our study). We also cover how we conducted our research and what we found to be the top research priorities of sport and physical activity knowledge-users in Canada.
Bridging the research-to-practice gap
Several studies previously reported that many people who work to promote sport and physical activity participation don’t feel well informed by current research (Coutts, 2017; Dale et al., 2016; Fullagar et al., 2019; Zenko & Ekkekakis, 2015). Similarly, sport and physical activity researchers felt they had observed a gap between research findings and related policy and programming (Faulkner et al., 2006; Fullagar et al., 2019; Holt, Camiré, et al., 2018; Holt, Pankow, et al., 2018).
As noted earlier, it’s thought this gap is partly driven by sport and physical activity researchers investigating issues that differ from the daily challenges experienced by stakeholders, practitioners and coaches (Fullagar et al., 2019). The gap may also exist because knowledge-users are unaware of research results that could help alleviate some of the challenges they’re facing (Holt, Pankow, et al., 2018).
To overcome these 2 challenges, and to maximize the significance of their research, researchers can now follow guiding principles that lay the ground for what is known as integrative knowledge mobilization. To understand that term, the Knowledge to Action Framework is the most widely used set of principles to guide integrative knowledge mobilization. It essentially promotes a research process that involves a knowledge creation cycle and an action cycle(Graham et al., 2006). The 2 distinct, but related cycles include multiple phases that are iterative and can overlap.
The knowledge creation cycle involves the traditional research process, but ensures consistent tailoring of the knowledge created. Specifically, tailoring it to cater to the needs of knowledge-users by engaging them from the onset and keeping them involved throughout the research process. In contrast, the action cycle identifies the activities required for knowledge to be applied in practice. The individual phases within the action cycle dovetail with one another. Those phases evolve as they move from identifying an issue that needs attention to determining whether the issue represents a knowledge-practice gap that needs filling. The next phases then include adapting the knowledge for the local context, assessing barriers and facilitators associated with the uptake of knowledge and implementing it. Monitoring and assessing the impact and sustainability of the knowledge implemented are the final phases of the action cycle. Naturally, tailoring knowledge to the needs of knowledge-users means its crucial to co-involve researchers and stakeholders in all phases of both the knowledge creation and action cycles.
Given that researchers have relatively focused areas of expertise, they may be intimidated to work collaboratively with knowledge-users. Researchers may consider it risky if they realize the most pressing issues requiring attention don’t align with their scope of competence. Since the involvement of knowledge-users is essential for the Knowledge to Action Framework, it would therefore be useful for researchers to have an already established understanding of priority issues generally identified by knowledge-users. With access to a repository of knowledge-users’ main challenges, researchers could identify issues for which their skillset is best suited.
Being able to readily pinpoint a pressing issue they’re ready to tackle, researchers could then rapidly move to the step of seeking knowledge-users to partner with for the various phases, from knowledge creation to action. By identifying knowledge-users’ priorities, researchers have the potential to accelerate knowledge creation and align limited research resources with the needs of those in a position to act on the findings.
Listening to what the Canadian sport and physical activity community had to say
We recently conducted a study aimed at identifying the top issues of sport and physical activity knowledge-users from various sectors across Canada (Bélanger et al., 2022). Many different ways exist to identify research priorities, so we used a hybrid model. To generate a shortlist of research priorities, we combined various approaches that promote: congregating expert opinions, purposefully sampling stakeholders from multiple sectors and using an iterative process to collect and analyze data (Cowan & Oliver, 2018; Kelly et al., 2014; Sivananthan & Chambers, 2013).
For this national-level research program, we followed 3 consultation steps. Our consultations involved Canadian sport and physical activity knowledge-users. And in all cases, they were from multiple sectors (including health, education, sport, social development, governmental, and non-governmental). First, we brought together a group of sport and physical activity knowledge users for a 1 day workshop to identify a long list (68) of potential priority topics for Canadian researchers.
Secondly, we held prioritization exercises, during which workshop participants took an online survey about the priority topics identified earlier. For the survey, they reported the extent to which they felt each topic was: relevant, difficult to address, and representative of an issue for which more knowledge is needed. From the survey scores, we identified issues perceived to be the easiest to address (that is, issues perceived to be very relevant and with a low difficulty score) and the most important (that is, issues perceived to be very relevant and with a high need of knowledge).
Thirdly, we invited any Canadian sport and physical activity knowledge-user to take our next questionnaire, which was also delivered online. Participants were asked to rank the top 21 issues that met the threshold of ease and importance in our second step. In this final step, participants rated each issue with the same criteria of relevance, difficulty and perceived need for more knowledge. The average of scores obtained in this final step allowed a number of issues to stand out, ultimately highlighting knowledge-users’ top priorities for sport and physical activity research.
Priorities for sport and physical activity research in Canada
The multistep process of engaging stakeholders from various sectors led us to identify 8 research foci. In general, we found that Canadian stakeholders want more research on the financial barriers to participation, best communication strategies to promote participation, consequences of dropout, key characteristics of effective interventions, engagement of Indigenous populations, creation of positive and inclusive experiences, recruitment and retention of volunteers, and implementation of knowledge exchange strategies. More specifically, the top 8 issues stakeholders identified are described here, in no particular order:
Financial support for sport and physical activity. Several types of barriers can impede participation in sport and physical activity. Because of the inequity created by financial barriers for sport and physical activity participation, several government and community-driven financial aid programs aim to enable participation regardless of ability to pay. Notwithstanding, stakeholders identified financial support as a priority. They want communication gaps addressed to ensure that individuals who would need financial support know about the available programs and have access to them.
Communications for optimal sport and physical activity promotion. Stakeholders consider it a priority to find better ways of clearly communicating the importance of sport and physical activity participation. Targeted communication approaches may be more effective than wide-reaching strategies for promoting physical activity. So recognizing that, investigations relating to this topic could help identify targeted communication approaches to favour reaching different sub-groups.
Consequences of dropping out from sport and physical activity. Despite having a good understanding of the positive impacts of sport and physical activity, participants reported that it’s a priority to correct the current lack of information on the influence of dropping out from such activities. In particular, stakeholders called for more information on the moderate-term to long-term consequences of dropping out. Consequences could include mental and physical health, future participation, other behaviours and general development.
Characteristics of best interventions for sport and physical activity participation. This priority highlights that researchers must better communicate what’s already known with respect to most effective approaches to promote engagement of various population-groups when it comes to sport and physical activity. It’s also a priority to identify the best ways to keep individuals in sport and physical activity (retention) once they’ve initiated participation. For several sub-groups, this represents a need to better share what the scientific literature identifies as effective interventions. For other groups, it means disclosing gaps in knowledge and seeking evidence of effective approaches to sustain participation over time.
Physical activity and sport participation among Indigenous populations. Another priority emerged to address low levels of physical activity and sport participation. In this case, specifically to address this priority among Indigenous populations. However, the current study didn’t include enough representation of Indigenous people to provide a clear direction. The emergence of this topic among the priorities nevertheless highlights the need to further investigate research priorities related to sport and physical activity participation in collaboration with members, leaders and Elders of Indigenous communities.
Promotion of safe, inclusive and quality experiences in sport and physical activity. The need for researchers to identify ways to harness inclusiveness within organized sport and physical activity was also deemed a priority. In particular, participants wanted better knowledge on approaches to facilitate the development of a sport and physical activity system that respects and values diversity and inclusion. Through the study, stakeholders explained they’re seeking leadership from the research community to identify evidence-based strategies to avoid bullying in sports and promote safe, positive and inclusive experiences.
Sustaining volunteer engagement in sport and physical activity. Researchers can also contribute to helping sport and physical activity organizations find ways to address volunteer shortages. The sport and physical activity sector relies heavily on volunteer engagement for managing and delivering programs. Stakeholders from this sector consider it a research priority to better understand how to engage and retain volunteers. Researchers could help by identifying reasons for which individuals engage in volunteering and what contributes to them remaining involved over the long term.
Knowledge exchange between researchers and knowledge-users. The need to enhance the involvement and integration of knowledge-users into the research process was also identified. Although this gap may not need to be addressed through research questions, all sport and physical activity researchers should consider it as a sign at the outset. Their research processes must engage those who’ll have the power to adopt or apply their findings or those people most affected by their research.
What can sport and physical activity knowledge-users expect from their involvement in research?
As recognized and integral members of a collaborative or co-involved research team, knowledge-users are encouraged to:
express their right to have input into research meant for them
enhance research’s efficiency and value of research by improving relevance, recruitment and retention rates, and dissemination of findings beyond academic audiences
contribute to increasing accountability and transparency of research and possibly even help attract resources
Co-involvement may be new to both the researchers and to knowledge-users. Before knowledge-users can successfully contribute to research, let alone adopt research findings that improve their programs, researchers first need time to work out which priority research needs they’ll address and how to address them.
Once the researchers are ready to tackle issues, they’ll need to seek knowledge-users to partner with them. When that happens, knowledge-users will have a say about the specific research objectives. So that way, the objectives are truly tailored to those knowledge-users’ needs.
This study identified 8 high-ranking priorities for sport and physical activity research in Canada. These priorities provide much-needed guidance to sport and physical activity researchers, specifically those seeking to engage in research from the perspective of knowledge-users from various sectors. By acknowledging and implementing these findings, research will more accurately reflect the burning issues identified by multisectoral representatives in sport and physical activity promotion. This is particularly true if that’s done while adhering to best practices in terms of knowledge exchange. Canadian sport and physical activity participation will hopefully improve if collaborative research efforts address the priority topics identified by Canadian sport and physical activity stakeholders.
The “who” is as important as the “what” when sport organizations are planning for data, analytics and evidence-based change related to equity, diversity and inclusion.
When it comes to race and intersectionality, the power of data practices is its ability to help an organization better understand the realities and experiences of those too often neutralized by the majority.
Sport practitioners, policymakers and funders who don’t embrace intersectional data strategies carry a heightened risk of their decisions and actions perpetuating a status quo they want to change.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a popular saying in leadership circles. However, knowing what to measure to inform change is a craft altogether.
To advance equity and inclusion in sport, the “who” of measurement is fundamentally as important as the “what.” Indeed, it’s important to understand the perspectives, realities and lived experiences of the people who experience sport as well as those who are pushed away, left on the sidelines, or chose to opt out. And that understanding has never been more important as sport organizations from coast to coast work to reinvent themselves to be safe, inclusive spaces for all.
This article draws on research findings from the Change the Game research project, by the MLSE Foundation with the University of Toronto. The project aims to clarify the value of embracing data practices concerning race and other identity factors for organizations working to achieve greater equity for youth in sport. At the same time, while calling attention to the systemic and many decision-making risks of not doing so.
Sport, society and social justice
MLSE LaunchPad is a youth Sport for Development (SFD) facility in 1 of Canada’s most socioeconomically and culturally diverse neighbourhoods. The facility is located steps from a university that’s undergoing a renaming exercise, because its namesake was an architect of Canada’s Residential Schools system. Just steps away in another direction, a major thoroughfare’s street name is under review for its namesake having worked to delay abolishing slavery.
Social justice movements actively reflect communities’ and individuals’ lived experiences with institutions. A long overdue, social justice reckoning across society has been sparked, within and beyond sport. That spark comes in the cumulative aftermath of: George Floyd’s murder, the discovery of thousands of unmarked graves of residential school children, and the compounding effect of racist incident after incident.
Organizations across Canada have released many statements, hashtags, and commitments to change. These have come from professional sports to national sport organizations and from SFD programs to municipal, physical activity opportunities for youth. Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) roles and committees are commonplace. “Build Back Better” is a popular mantra on social media with implicit acknowledgement that the status quo is no longer acceptable if sport is really going to live up to the promise and potential of sport as a force for good, and for all.
Changing the game: For whom?
If this is truly a watershed moment, where it’s possible to reinvent sport equitably, then the issue before sport providers is how to operationalize such change. How do we dismantle systems of inequality and centre our sport sector around people it’s intended to serve? And crucially, what data exists to guide where to begin and how best to allocate increasingly limited resources? The unfortunate truth to the question of data sources is there isn’t much available. Although data on sport is routinely analyzed through the lenses of age and gender equity, there’s limited (if any) publicly accessible demographic data to support meaningful insights related to race, geography, household income and other intersecting aspects of marginalization.
These are some of the issues that MLSE Foundation explored when launching its Change the Game research program on access, engagement and equity in youth sport. MLSE Foundation collaborated on this research program with Simon Darnell, Ph.D., and the University of Toronto’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies. Amidst slogans and voices calling for change, the fundamental ethos guiding the Change the Game research team was a clear-eyed commitment to understanding the reality of who we’re aiming to change the game for and what practical and concrete success looks like to them.
Informally referred to behind the scenes as a “youth sport census,” nearly 7000 youth, and parents and guardians of youth, responded from across Ontario as a representatively diverse sample for the research program. The sample spanned race, gender, household income level, ability, geography, immigration status and other demographic variables. It became the largest demographic survey of youth sport access and engagement to date in Canada. The survey explored barriers to participation and ideas for building a better and more equitable sport system for the diversity of Ontario’s youth, in the words of youth. A publicly accessible, open-data portal contains a summary report, interactive results dashboard, and an anonymized data set. Stakeholders who are interested in mining the data, may download the data set for their own learning, planning, funding decisions and policymaking.
The rest of this article isn’t meant to repeat the overall findings. Instead, this article will showcase the value of embracing data practices concerning race and other demographic factors, in pursuit of advancing equity and inclusion goals for youth in sport. By making a case for how race and identity-based data can help drive meaningful action toward a more equitable future, let’s pay homage to the great long-form basketball analysts. To do so, we’ll take a deep dive into 2 specific questions from the original Change the Game study and the insights we can draw.
Understanding blind spots
A series of “I” statements formed a 4‑item, Likert-style questionnaire about youth experiences with racism and discrimination in sport. The questionnaire was aligned with MLSE LaunchPad’s MISSION measurement model for youth data collection. Respondents were asked to select whether they strongly disagreed, disagreed, agreed or strongly agreed with each statement.
For example, 1 of the statements read: I have experienced racism in sports. Overall, 10% of youth in the study agreed or strongly agreed to having directly experienced racism in sport. Although perhaps meaningful in a dialogue about equity, is 10% on a survey enough for a sport organization, funder or policymaker to meaningfully change course in their decision-making or strategic plan? Hard to say.
Consider now the same statement through the perspective of specific segments of youth in the study.
How does your interpretation of the data change with this additional perspective? If a sport organization is genuinely interested in addressing anti-Black racism or forging right relations with Indigenous communities, does this new story unfolding help to convey a different level of urgency for action?
This is the power of demographic data: enabling one to look in-depth to better understand vital stories and perspectives that are otherwise at risk of being neutralized by the majority.
Now let’s consider a different example.
The fallacy of averages
Against the backdrop of “Build Back Better” becoming an increasingly popular slogan or hashtag, youth were asked to shed light in practical terms on what that might look like in their reality. A total of 9 thematic areas (or factors) received greater than 10% of support among youth overall, as follows:
To be clear, each of these 9 factors is an important and sound investment area to improve accessibility and experiences in sport, including the 3 factors that polled the highest.
However, equity isn’t a first-past-the-post concept. In many respects, the opposite is true. To get real about advancing racial equity for youth in sport in an authentic way, one must align their data practices accordingly. Doing so can help by enabling a deeper awareness of the issues and perspectives of constituencies whose relative size may not be large enough to move the overall averages.
With that in mind, let’s explore 2 of the factors in more detail. “Coaches who look like me” and “Organizations that respect my culture” were each called out as important by less than 20% of youth in the overall sample. Do any interesting insights emerge when race-based and Indigenous-identity data lenses or filters are applied?
As it turns out, yes.
Having “coaches who look like me” was identified by approximately 10% of youth overall, the lowest among the 9 factors. However, a closer look affirms this item as having outsized importance to specific demographics within the sample, notably South Asian youth (more than 20%) and Black youth (more than 30%). When reflecting on this 9‑factor list of Build Back Better, how do these additional details inform your own decision-making or perspective on the most critical issues to prioritize addressing?
Exploring who selected “Organizations that respect my culture” through a race-based and Indigenous-identity lens is also interesting, for a different reason.
The distribution pattern is obvious, especially when compared to the Build Back Better table in Figure 3. More than 1 in 5 youth from all 8 of the unique BIPOC categories in this survey called for respect for their culture, even though that rated proportionally much lower in the overall sample of youth.
Neither of these examples discredits the importance of any of the other Build Back Better factors cited above. They’re all vital components of a healthy future for youth sport and need attention from providers, policymakers and funders. These examples are provided to reinforce the value of intentionally including demographics in an organization’s data collection plans. Those demographics can shed light more meaningfully on how different experiences and ideas can show up for different segments of the population. If instead of race, the variable of interest had been gender, household income, ability or other intersectional factors of identity, then the results displayed may have told a different story. The core purpose or value proposition is for an organization’s EDI strategy and decision-making process to be informed by the people they intend to serve.
Applying demographic data collection in your organization
Before you can improve an organization’s measurement and evaluation plans, you require some baseline competencies in data management, including privacy, ethics and analysis. Those competencies can help you apply some of the methods and tactics to integrate intersectional demographic lenses to your organization’s plans. Here are tips an organization can consider when getting started. They’re grounded in 4 pillars of transparency, trust, trying it out and talking it out.
If you’re collecting demographic information from staff, coaches, athletes, families or other stakeholders essential to your organization’s success, it’s key to be open and honest with them. For example, openly share why you’re collecting identity-based information, how you’ll handle the information, who will see it, and what you’ll do with the insights you learn. Engaging your core constituencies in these ways can help demonstrate respect, enable meaningful and informed consent to share data, and encourage active partnership on a shared journey to shape a more equitable future.
Trust often makes all the difference between complete and incomplete information on a survey or profile page. Whether a respondent has a trusting relationship with the sport organization or its staff will often determine whether that respondent fills out all the fields on their registration or profile forms. Without that trust, they may only complete the required fields. It’s the difference between responding fulsomely to a multiple-choice question on a survey versus just selecting the “prefer not to answer” option. Individual respondents (data contributors) must believe the organization has their back and will use their data to make meaningful improvements. Sometimes this can take time, and it’s OK to be patient.
For example, at the MLSE LaunchPad SFD facility, this is a pattern seen when new members sign up for the first time. Youth, parents and guardians often fill out the minimum required information to get started on attending programs. Then, what and how much they’re willing to share changes over time. Their feedback and sharing practices grow after having built a trusting relationship with staff and the organization. When new members have gained an understanding of how data contributes to understanding and improvements, then that also contributes to enhanced sharing.
Try (it out)
To echo Courtney Szto, Ph.D., of Queen’s University at the 2021 Anti Racism in Hockey Incubator: Do something! Too many ideas for change get left on the sidelines. Trying to do right typically trumps inaction, even if a concept is imprecise or not fully formed. Even if it’s a small step forward, take a shot. If you don’t achieve your intended outcome, learn from it, regroup, change your approach and try again. Progress can take unusual paths, but there’s tremendous value in letting stakeholders see that you’re actively trying to make a difference.
Talk (it out)
Data practices don’t come naturally to everyone. If you’re considering a new idea, direction or practice, we encourage you to reach out to someone in the field to help critically assess your approach. If you’re a sport or SFD organization interested in having a sounding board on what an intersectional approach to demographic data collection could look like in your setting, then reach out to a member of the MLSE LaunchPad Research and Evaluation Team.
In closing, sport providers, funders and policymakers want to prioritize meaningful action toward equity, their toolkit to shape the future of sport should include embracing intersectional data collection practices, including race and other equity-related demographic factors. However, keep in mind that there’s potential risk if sport leaders are relying on data featuring top line averages and rankings without an intersectional approach. The data informing their decisions carries a heightened risk of being influenced by the majority and increases the likelihood of actions that perpetuate the very systems they’re supposedly seeking to reshape.
MLSE LaunchPad is a 42000 square foot Sport For Development facility in downtown Toronto built and supported by the MLSE Foundation to advance positive developmental outcomes for youth, aged 6 to 29, who face barriers.
Over the past few years, the racism and discrimination brought to light throughout society and within the sport sector have forced a necessary reflection on policies and practices.
There’s a renewed urgency for sport stakeholders to adopt new policies and programs to bring about cultural change that can ensure the future of sport includes all Canadians.
With the renewal of the Canadian Sport Policy (2023-2033) on the horizon, this article discusses how sport policies and programs in Canada have evolved and how they contributed to the development of safe and inclusive sport for all Canadians.
Over the past few years, the racism and discrimination brought to light throughout society and within the sport sector have forced a necessary reflection on policies and practices. While the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion were seeded in government policy many decades ago, the context has evolved significantly. Today, these terms have new meaning, in light of events in broader society and our responses to them. There’s a renewed urgency for sport stakeholders to adopt new policies and programs to bring about cultural change that can ensure the future of sport includes all Canadians.
In this article, we discuss how sport policies and programs in Canada have evolved and how they contributed to the development of safe and inclusive sport for all Canadians.
The past: Policy development
As early as 1971, the Government of Canada adopted an official multiculturalism policy to recognize the contribution of cultural diversity to the Canadian social fabric. The policy’s goal was to promote inclusive citizenship. In the next decades, the focus shifted to language of social exclusion and supporting specific groups who were identified as particularly vulnerable to economic and social marginalization, such as recent immigrants, “visible minorities,” religious minorities, sexual minorities, “urban Aboriginal peoples,” and individuals with disabilities. (Note: Certain terms above are drawn from that policy. Over time, the terms have evolved to reflect ongoing updates to appropriate, inclusive language.)
Through extensive collaboration and consultation, and over 2 years of work, the first Canadian Sport Policy reflected the interests and concerns of 14 government jurisdictions, the Canadian sport community and countless other sport stakeholders in Canada. That policy introduced the guiding principle that “sport is based on equity and access” as in:
Sport is welcoming and inclusive, offering an opportunity to participate without regard to age, gender, race, language, sexual orientation, disability, geography, or economic circumstances.
CSP 2002, p. 13
While consultations didn’t target specific groups, there was a noted effort to pay “specific attention to the issues of inclusion and equity” throughout the consultation and policy development process. That process welcomed and sought to involve everyone who didn’t currently consider themselves a part of the sport community or system, but who had the potential and desire to contribute.
The first Canadian Sport Policy reflected a new approach to shared leadership and collaboration to enhance participation, excellence, capacity and interaction in sport. The accompanying action plan prioritized the increased “participation of women, persons with a disability, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities.” The commitment from all governments for a common vision was an important step in aligning and committing to advancing sport equity in Canada.
A decade later, the renewal of the Canadian Sport Policy took a stronger approach. The Canadian Sport Policy 2012 (CSP 2012) expanded upon and embedded “inclusion and accessibility” in the policy’s values and principles:
“Sport delivery is accessible and equitable and reflects the full breadth of interests, motivations, objectives, abilities, and the diversity of Canadian society.”
CSP 2012, p. 6
The consultation process introduced targeted questions relating to under-represented populations and participation in sport. Additionally, it included questions about the lived experience of participants as well as the availability of accessing sport programs and services in both official languages. The answers provided valuable insight into inclusive and accessible sport, and the ability and likelihood for participation.
Important findings were that most consultation participants felt efforts should be made to increase the participation of under-represented groups in sport. In particular, these groups included: Indigenous people, racialized people, women and girls, persons with a disability, children and youth, new Canadians, and people who were at an economic disadvantage. Consultation participants felt that increasing participation would be a positive effect on health, community-building and personal development. It would also reinforce the priority of accessible sport.
As a result, increasing diversity was identified as a Policy Objective and desired outcome in the CSP 2012:
“Opportunities provided for persons from traditionally underrepresented and/or marginalized populations to actively engage in all aspects of sport participation including leadership roles.”
CSP 2012, p. 9
Sport Canada policies evolved along a similar trajectory. In the decade following the launch of the first Canadian Sport Policy, Sport Canada introduced several new policies targeting the same areas of inclusion and access:
The present: Policy implementation through programs
When policy meets program that’s when inclusive sport can happen. The Canadian Sport Policy is delivered through the collaboration, engagement and commitment of provincial and territorial governments that advance this work within their unique jurisdictions. Bilateral agreements between the federal government and all 13 provincial and territorial governments are in place to support policy in action. Inclusive sport participation is the overarching objective of the bilateral agreements. Specifically, they:
support sport participation projects and activities for children and youth
provide opportunities for persons from under-represented or marginalized populations to actively participate in sport, including as athletes and participants, coaches, officials and volunteer leaders
contribute to strengthening Indigenous capacity and leadership
increase culturally relevant sport programming for Indigenous children and youth at the community level
The International Multisport Games for Aboriginal Peoples and Persons with a Disability (IMGAPPD) component of the Hosting Program is inclusive by design. It provides competitive opportunities for designated under-represented groups in Canada facing systemic barriers to sport participation. Specifically, IMGAPPD supports the hosting of 4 eligible events in Canada: the North American Indigenous Games, the Arctic Winter Games, the Special Olympics World Games and the Deaflympics.
The Athlete Assistance Program provides grants to eligible, high performance Canadian athletes, including women and girls, athletes with a disability, those with any number of intersecting identity factors. Sport Canada works with National Sport Organizations to identify objective and merit-based evaluation criteria for athletes.
Under the Sport Support Program, policy has historically been implemented to eligible and funded organizations through reference-level funding (formerly called core funding). National Sport Organizations, Multisport Service Organizations, and Canadian Sport Centres are allocated protected funding to promote equitable access to information for Canadians in both official languages with accompanying accountability measures. Organizations recognized as providing programming and services to athletes with a disability are also provided funding that is protected for this purpose.
Historically, while Sport Canada’s approach to programming and funding has provided reasonable stability to support official languages and athletes with a disability, it was recognized as insufficient in terms of supporting inclusive sport. Over the past 5 years, Sport Canada has been considering funding differently, expanding programs, and making space for innovation. As a result, there has been a significant shift and investment in creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable sport system in Canada to align with the goals of the CSP 2012.
Sport Canada is beginning to see meaningful impact on inclusion in sport across Canada. This is happening through project-based funding to support new organizations that are piloting programs or working in communities. There are also new protected funds being allocated to existing funding recipients.
Here are examples of this ongoing, inclusive work:
Gender Equity Secretariat: Sport Canada has supported, administered and monitored existing and emerging gender equity initiatives and programs. The initiatives and programs are aimed at attracting and retaining women and girls in sport as well as introducing women and girls to sport at all levels, including athletes and participants, coaches, officials and leaders. All this with the goal of meeting the target to achieve gender equity in sport at every level by 2035.
Innovation Initiative: This part of the Sport Support Program provides funding to eligible organizations to test innovative approaches to sport participation and retention challenges, as they pertain to equity, diversity and inclusion. In 2022 to 2023, these projects will particularly seek to support Black, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQQIA+, new Canadians and low-income groups.
Sport for Social Development in Indigenous Communities: This is another part of the Sport Support Program, which aims to expand the use of sport for social development in more than 300 Indigenous communities. The purpose is to achieve outcomes in the areas of health, education, employability and at-risk behaviour. New funding will ensure that Indigenous women and girls have access to meaningful sport activities.
Community Sport for All Initiative: A brand new part of the Sport Support Program has the goal of supporting community-based organizations to deliver organized sport projects for equity-deserving groups. In particular, delivering such projects to Black, Indigenous and 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities as well as to newcomers to Canada. The objectives are to increase sport participation and retention; remove barriers to participation in sport programming; and help make organized sport safe and accessible to all.
Beyond program funding, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Parliamentary Secretary for Canadian Heritage (Sport) held a general Sport Town Hall and a series of roundtable discussions on sport in fall 2020. They covered the following topics to advance Government of Canada priorities relating to diversity and inclusion:
Advancing equity and anti-racism in the cultural, heritage and sport sectors
Diversity discussion on women and LGBTQ2+
High performance sport
Those discussions included women’s groups, LGBTQ2+ organizations, Indigenous organizations, as well as sport organizations. Sport Canada has continued the discussion by engaging with experts, including the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat and the LGBTQ2 Secretariat. Those engagements had to happen before embarking on a series of consultations to support the development of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Sport for All Strategy. Lived experiences shared through consultations and data collected (for example, qualitative data from stakeholders, and disaggregated data) will ensure that evidence-based decision making is well supported in the future. Sport Canada will use collated evidence to evaluate how to update, adapt or improve its policies and programs to support the identified needs of Canadians. This marks an important shift in the way progress will be measured and in how funding and programs will be delivered. The shift aligns with the necessary move toward prioritizing safe, welcoming and inclusive sport.
The future: Where to next?
This is only the tip of the iceberg of the work that must be done. Sport Canada recognizes that the work can’t be done in isolation. After all, Canadian sport is a complex and dynamic network of intersecting systems that integrate context, geography, organizations, people, places and infrastructure. In December 2021, the Mandate Letter from the Prime Minister to all Ministers provided clear direction on the importance of incorporating the views of Canadians when considering our systems:
“We must continue to address the profound systemic inequities and disparities that remain present in the core fabric of our society, including our core institutions. To this effect, it is essential that Canadians in every region of the country see themselves reflected in our Government’s priorities and our work. As Minister, I expect you to include and collaborate with various communities, and actively seek out and incorporate in your work, the diverse views of Canadians. This includes women, Indigenous Peoples, Black and racialized Canadians, newcomers, faith-based communities, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ2 Canadians, and, in both official languages.”
This is a clear driver for all policy in Canada in the years to come. In the Mandate Letter specifically to the Minister of Sport and Minister responsible for the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, the Prime Minister provides an even more specific commitment. He outlines the importance of ensuring “a holistic and balanced strategic approach to sport development in Canada that supports the purpose and goals of the Canadian Sport Policy, including improved health and wellness for all Canadians through community sport, increased accessibility to sport programs, reduced barriers and the achievement of social and economic goals through the intentional use of sport.”
Work is underway toward the next iteration of the Canadian Sport Policy with consideration for incorporating the diverse views of Canadians. The inclusive nature of the engagements to be undertaken by the federal, provincial and territorial governments will help shape the future of the Canadian Sport Policy. The sport environment has changed since the development and publication of the first 2 policies. However, sport in Canada continues to require a policy for aligning the activities of the many organizations making up the sport system and for creating a shared vision for sport’s future. Fill out the Canadian Sport Policy Renewal Survey to have your say.
The intent of the Canadian Sport Policy is to continue to serve as the roadmap for progress to the desired state of Canadian sport. It’s informed by current evidence and by stakeholder consultations around various themes (including diversity, equity and inclusion).
The implementation is the challenge to policy makers, program deliverers and the Canadian sport community as a system. In acknowledging that diversity is defined differently in different contexts, we must also acknowledge that equity, diversity and inclusion are products of design. They’re necessary to see meaningful change, especially at the community level where the vast majority of Canadians participate in sport.
It’s no easy task to design inclusive programs. It requires intention and listening to the needs of those you wish to serve. It requires learning to have difficult and honest conversations. It requires flexibility and innovation. It requires willingness to try and fail forward. It means using individual power and privilege to create safe and accessible spaces for equity-deserving Canadians to engage in sport. All this must happen while also recognizing that sport policy in Canada is supported by limited resources, built on the backs of volunteers, and it requires sensitivity to the unique needs of each group.
It’s certain that the language of diversity, inclusion and equity will continue to evolve. As that happens, new terms and concepts will better describe intentions. What matters most is that the language doesn’t distract from the critical goal of effecting grassroots change to ensure all Canadians can access safe, quality sport and feel that they belong.
In an analysis of sports news on Twitter, less than 4% of tweets focused on women’s sport. Of the women athletes that were featured, the majority competed in “gender-appropriate” sports. More coverage, and diverse coverage, of women’s sport is needed to challenge gender-related biases and promote gender equity in all forms of sport media.
Young adults who identify as LGBTQI2S are “game to play” sports, but frequently report experiences of discrimination and exclusion. Sport programs that are not based around biological sex or gender, but rather provide inclusive and affirming spaces that celebrate diversity, have strict zero-tolerance approaches to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and emphasize fun help to create positive sport experiences for LGBTQI2S participants.
The Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games are in the books, with the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games (Beijing) and Commonwealth Games (Birmingham) just around the corner. Our 128 Canadian Paralympians competed in Tokyo, bringing home 21 medals. Canada’s team joined 4,275 high performance Para sport athletes from 62 countries for 12 days of competition in 22 Paralympic sports.
Despite the unprecedented challenge of hosting these Games during a global pandemic, the Tokyo Paralympic Games were hailed as a success. However, many Paralympic athletes experienced uncertainty about their participation at the Games. If these Games hadn’t been controversial enough, some Paralympic athletes weren’t classified yet as they boarded their flights to Tokyo.
Classification is mandatory for an athlete to compete in Para sport competition. Classification informs athlete preparation and development and has a material impact on competitive success. It determines which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition.
This blog describes the classification process and explains how the COVID‑19 pandemic disrupted classification for Para sport competition. It also discusses how the pandemic exposed and worsened existing constraints in the classification process, limiting equitable access to Para sport classification and competition. Finally, it highlights opportunities to do classification differently, during and in a post-pandemic world, with the promise of improving access to classification and enhancing Para sport participation globally.
Classification: Confusing, expensive and essential
Classification is a system of athlete evaluation used to minimize the effects of diverse impairments on sporting performance and the outcomes of competition (Tweedy & Vanlandewijck, 2011). It’s intended to “level the playing field” for Para athletes and ensure that success on the field of play results from an athlete’s skill, fitness, tactical ability and mental preparedness.
To clarify, athletes are classified not by physical impairment, but by that impairment’s effect on sporting performance. An athlete’s classification is sport-specific, determines where they ‘fit’ in their sport, and who the competition will be. Though implemented by each International Sport Federation (IF), all sport classification processes must comply with the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) Classification Code and be conducted under the auspices of the IPC.
The process isn’t always straightforward. While protocols for classification vary between sports, presently an athlete must physically appear before a classification panel. The panel consists of highly trained, sport-specific Classifiers, who conduct standardized physical and technical tests to determine an athlete’s classification. If the panel deems an athlete eligible, the panel assigns that athlete a sport-specific, alpha-numeric classification category. For example, in Para athletics, a T54 classification represents a track athlete who uses a wheelchair, has full function of their trunk and arms, with moderately-highly impaired leg function or has absent legs. Athletes may need to be re-classified at multiple points throughout their career.
Since 2014, the IPC hasn’t allowed athlete classification to take place at the Paralympic Games or other major Games including the Commonwealth Games. The IPC’s zero in-Games classification policy ensures that all athletes are appropriately classified pre-competition, ensuring the credibility of the competition and number of participants for each event. Pre-competition classification avoids spending resources necessary to bring an unclassified athlete to competition, and the possible disappointment for the athlete and their entourage.
However, in the lead-up to Tokyo, the COVID‑19 pandemic forced the cancellation of countless sporting events and shut down international travel, both requirements for many athletes to access classification. In response, the IPC suspended its longstanding in-Games zero-classification policy and allowed athletes (in 10 of the 22 sports on the competition schedule for Tokyo) to be classified at the Games.
Classification during the COVID‑19 pandemic
Current circumstances and the foreseeable future suggest a grim forecast for global travel. In fact, in the lead-up to Tokyo 2020, a number of small island nations withdrew from attending the Games due to pandemic-related concerns. Such concerns include the gamble of spending already limited resources to send yet-to-be-classified Para athletes to the Games without guarantees that these athletes would receive the desired classification necessary to participate.
Sport administrators around the globe face questions around how to host local, regional and national events. These events have historically been locations to train sport classifiers and for athletes to be classified. In Para sport circles, there’s much discussion and valid concern that access to classification will be very limited for the immediate future. This reality will have the most impact on athletes who didn’t qualify for Tokyo, who compete in sports other than those on Tokyo’s agenda (such as lawn bowls and 3‑on‑3 wheelchair basketball), and athletes from developing nations.
If athletes weren’t classified in Tokyo, then where and how? Two large-scale sporting events for Para athletes will happen in 2022: the Beijing Winter Paralympic Games and the XXII Commonwealth Games.
The global pandemic has forced the sporting world to think critically, cleverly and creatively. In response to the historic challenge of athlete classification and the current state of inequitable access to classification, now is the time to consider how to do classification differently.
Doing classification differently?
In 2020, Western University partnered with Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) on an ongoing research project in the Commonwealth region of the Caribbean and the Americas. Its goal is to identify factors that drive inclusion in Para sport and to develop a high-performance pathway for Para athletes in the region. Preliminary findings show that access to athlete classification currently limits both Para sport participation and a sustainable high-performance pathway.
Given the uncertainty of international travel and future sporting events, access to athlete classification hinders Para sport participation more than ever before. To this end, Western University has launched a pilot project to examine ways to do classification differently: rigorously, effectively and accessibly.
Still in its early stages, the project involves collaborations with International Technical and Medical Classifiers to develop and evaluate hybridized frameworks to deliver classification, including elements of virtual classification. The aim is to consider approaches requiring fewer resources and creating greater levels of inclusion and accessibility to Para sport participation.
The pilot project presently focuses on alternative processes to provisionally classify athletes in the 8 Para sports on the schedule for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Trials of virtual athlete classification in Para table tennis, Para lawn bowls and Para cycling are underway. If the athlete is eligible, sport-specific International Classifiers will give the athlete a provisional classification. At the first opportunity, in-person confirmation of the provisional classification will be completed.
Classification and resource dependency
Provisional classification as an alternative process isn’t new. Research suggests that a number of sports have used ad hoc provisional classification, without formalized processes and rigorous empirical evaluation. Due to the pandemic, many Para athletes require classification or confirmation of an existing classification. This project presents an important opportunity to consider and evaluate how the process by which an athlete obtains classification might be done differently.
If Para sport is to realize the IPC’s vision to “Make for an inclusive world through Para sport,” stakeholders must embrace more equitable, inclusive processes around classification, for the global Para sport community. Accessing classification creatively and differently holds promise to drive Para sport participation and support high performance development in countries large and small, developing and developed, and to enhance equity in the Para sport movement.
Today marks Canada’s inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, an opportunity to recognize and commemorate the legacy of residential schools in Canada. Take some time to learn and reflect by visiting the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR), an online place of learning and dialogue where the truths of residential school victims and survivors, and their families and communities, are honoured and kept safe for future generations.