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It's time to make sport more inclusive

Copyrights: Scott Sloan

It's time to make sport more inclusive

Scott Sloan writes about his experiences running the School of Hard Knocks charity in South Africa and how they are challenging societal norms and striving to produce a more inclusive environment.

I’ve played sports all my life and despite being mediocre at most, I’ve adored every minute of it from cricket on the Pacific coast of the US to football in the remote Kafue National Park in Zambia. Sport opened doors to new cultures, and allowed a space to be physically creative, to become close to my peers and to unwind and care for myself.

This is why I started School of Hard Knocks South Africa (SOHK), a charity that uses rugby to provide access to mentoring and one on one counselling for the hardest to reach young people in Cape Town. I wanted others to share the experience I was so lucky to have and get healthier in the process.

However, since emigrating to South Africa in 2014, I’ve consistently met people traumatised by sport. If this isn't you, it is likely that you know someone who has endured the indignity of school-sanctioned hero-worshipping of teenage (mostly male) sports stars, or who has felt ostracised or excluded by the ‘locker room’ talk and ‘macho’ driven world of the male dressing room, or witnessed or experienced senseless violence on (or indeed off) the field of play.

I don’t wish to condemn all sports, but it’s important to realise that while sport can play a positive role in overcoming adversity and demonstrating personal growth, it is also a central stage where problematic notions of masculinity (hyper-competitive, hetero, winner-takes-all mentality) can be learned and rehearsed . This is particularly true in all-boy environments and none more so than in South Africa’s elite schools.

Sport may seem trivial, but the installation and perpetuation of dominant forms of masculinity comes at great cost - by normalising hyper-masculine male behaviours such as dominance and aggression in our sporting lives, we perpetuate and justify the cultural support system of patriarchy, that places men above women and some men above other men). 

Further, in associating happiness and success with outright victory rather than sharing or cooperation sport we instill an aggressive, competitive, us-against-the-world attitude on the pitch that easily spills over into environments off the pitch, making stadiums, clubhouses and changing rooms violent or exclusionary spaces. When my beloved Ireland beat the Springboks at Newlands for the first time on South African soil in 2016, my host hurried me out of the Railway stand, fearful for my personal safety. 

We at SOHK believe that challenging patriarchal structures through making sport more inclusive is therefore vital if we want to reduce trauma in sport and make an impact on gender-based violence.                                                                                                                                    
We’ve already made a fantastic start. Our players have demonstrated improved well-being and are attending school more. More so, we have normalised boys being coached by women with many having expressed open admiration for girls’ athleticism for the first time.

We therefore recommend the following actions for any sports programmes who wish to reduce toxic behaviours:

  • Increase opportunities for co-ed sports sessions
  • Introduce women coaches for boys
  • Introduce gender consciousness training for all coaches
  • Create emotionally safe spaces for all players to express themselves on and off the field
  • Equip players with tools to understand and react to emotions that prevent young people from ‘snapping’ or triggering their fight / flight response
  • Encourage participation and cooperation and not winning, reward caring
  • Encourage healthy body image through positive reinforcement and an emphasis on health, and a broad range of strengths and abilities above aesthetic “athleticism” 

Scott Sloan is the Founding Director of School of Hard Knocks SA . He also proudly plays cricket for the Spin Doctors, who hardly ever win.

Instagram: @sohk_sa
Facebook: @sohksa
Email: scott@schoolofhardknocks.org.uk

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Thursday, July 30, 2020 - 18:07