Sports professionals often lead their employers in response to social movement

24 Feb 2021

Sporting organisations often lag behind in their practical response to social change, according to new research.

Professionals employed by sporting organisations often take the lead in showing practical support to social movements, while organisations themselves, and particularly those who manage them, trail in social movements in, for instance, areas such as marriage equality.

Published in the Journal of Sociology and led by University of Winchester and Bournemouth University experts with Western Sydney University, the research shows that sports organisations draw cultural capital from speaking out in support of wider episodes of equality, but often fail to promote internal inclusion. Well-established organisations are not likely to promote cultural change. So, while athletes often support these social movements, managers, who make the promotional materials and policies of sports organisations, are slower to catch up with social changes.

The research cited examples such as organisations making statements in support of the LGBTI+ communities via social media but often not being able to provide evidence of sanctions, remediation and reporting processes specific to LGBTI+ harassment. The study also identified the continued use of generic references to 'equality' and 'inclusion' more broadly that ultimately render the LGBTI+ communities invisible.

This gap between what organisations say in support of social movements and what they do has been conceptualised as Organisational Cultural Lag.

Research co-author Eric Anderson, Professor of Sport, Masculinities and Sexualities, in the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, University of Winchester, said: "On a pleasing note, we have seen positive developments and steps toward inclusive practices within sport in the last two decades. Evidence of lag is actually evidence of change and a growing number of athletes are speaking out in support of issues such as marriage equality."

Lead author, Dr Keith Parry, Deputy Head of Department in Sport and Event Management at Bournemouth University, added: "Our research has identified that players are often more progressive in their attitudes and actions than the governing bodies of sport. We also highlight a gap between how these governing bodies wish to be perceived, and what they are actually willing to do. Our findings may explain the failure of anti-homophobia or racial vilification policies in sport."

Co-author, Dr Emma Kavanagh, also of Bournemouth University, added:"Finding that organisations engage in equality talk through 'happy speech' on social media and in press releases is encouraging but national governing bodies of sport may still not be at the forefront in the fight for sexual minority equality."

For more information about the research, visit:

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