Episode 10:

Inclusion in Sport and Recreation Clubs

Published: September 2011: Updated: September 2013, September 2017


Here we consider some broad inclusive strategies that all sport and recreation clubs could consider when looking to include more people with disability in what they do. We ask the six million dollar question “What does inclusion mean for your club?”

People with disability participate in sport and recreation clubs all over the world.

They do because (1) they have a right to, and (2) many clubs have addressed and embraced inclusive practices.

But many have not, either.

Today we’ll consider some broad inclusive strategies that all sport and recreation clubs could consider.

To talk about ‘Clubs’ generically is a little difficult with a world wide audience that we have here at The Inclusion Club. However, let’s just say that we will try to look at some broad concepts and strategies that would apply to any club—large or small—wherever they may be.

“But we’re doing that already!”

One of the most common expressions when talking about inclusion to clubs over the years has been “but we’re doing that already!” If you ask a group of people from a club if they consider that their club is inclusive 99.9% of the time they will say that they are and that they welcome anyone into their club, regardless of disability, age, gender or cultural background. They will say that because it is the right thing to say.

But you might know different. You may be very aware that the club you are talking to is not very inclusive and do not provide many opportunities for people with disability.

So how do you start a conversation about inclusion?

Acknowledge clubs willingness to be inclusive—the love sandwich!

It’s important to acknowledge a clubs willingness to be inclusive even if they are not practicing inclusion very well. It’s unlikely they deliberately ‘exclude’ anyone—unless they are set up that way (for example, female only club)—it’s just that they do not recognise the disadvantages that their club (and society) imposes on some people.

The ‘love sandwich’ tactic will work here. Start with a positive and recognise a clubs willingness to provide opportunities for people with disability as a good thing. You might see how they are not being very inclusive but they may not be seeing the same thing. But you want to start on a positive and begin to outline what can be done to make the club more inclusive—and hence increase membership—in the long term.

NOTE: In Australia you can have clubs that discriminate on ‘reasonable grounds’ for specific populations. For example, there are clubs for women only or for seniors only. This is a ‘reasonable exemption’ under equal opportunity legislation. You cannot, of course, have clubs that exclude people with disability—this would be against the Disability Discrimination Act. (Quick disclaimer: we are not giving legal advice here!)

What Does Inclusion Mean For Your Club?

What does being ‘inclusive’ mean for your club? How would you define what an inclusive club is?

Here is an example of how a club might define itself in terms of inclusion:

“Being an inclusive club means being a welcoming and friendly club and making people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, characteristics and attributes feel invited, valued and an integral part of our club.”

Note that the ‘process’ of defining what inclusion means for a club is more valuable than the actual statement itself. So, this statement should not be something that the Club President or Secretary comes up with alone. The Club Board or Committee—at least a ‘collective’ of club representatives need to discuss and determine what inclusion means to them.

Also, you’ll notice that the example above is not specific to people with disabilities. It addresses inclusion from a broad perspective. This recognises the broad positive benefits of inclusion across multiple populations.

A good starting point for this conversation is also asking the question…

“does the membership of your club reflect the diversity of your local community?”

If the membership does not reflect the diversity of the local community then you can probe a little further to consider some of the specific disadvantages some people might have in joining and being part of the club.

Make a list of the potential disadvantages the club might face, for example:

  • Possible additional financial costs to the club of providing more diverse programs;
  • The differing perceptions of what people can and cannot do (for example, we do not encourage people who use wheelchairs to be part of our club because we are a football club and people who use wheelchair do not play football);
  • Access to facilities;
  • Transport availability and cost;
  • Individual membership fees may be too high for certain groups;
  • A real or perceived lack of skills from club coaches and officials;
  • Language and communication barriers;
  • Scheduling and timing of club activities may not suit certain people;
  • Lack of training for facility staff on disability/diversity awareness;
  • Concerns over safety issues.

It’s a funny thing—once you start to explore the various disadvantages it soon becomes clear what needs to be done to address them and make the club more inclusive.

Benefits of an Inclusive Club

Another positive way to explore inclusion for a club is to articulate the numerous benefits a club will get from being more inclusive. These include, but are not limited to:

  • It may seem obvious but can easily be overlooked—being more inclusive as a club will increase membership and, hence, club revenue;
  • Increased membership will mean increased competitions and events;
  • More competitions and events means more spectators and support volunteers;
  • Potential increased sponsorship revenue;
  • Greater levels of community involvement;
  • Compliance with any legislation relating to issues of discrimination, harassment and vilification;
  • A better image and reputation for the club in the local community.

What Can a Club Do?

The Inclusion Club—Episode10 Post-it NotesLots! It’s important to consider all possibilities on how a club can make itself more inclusive.

A good activity if you are doing this as part of a club is to use butchers paper (large pieces of paper) and Post-it notes (small sticky notes).

List each disadvantage on the top of the butchers paper and then have a group of people write what the club can do to address this disadvantage. You want lots of ideas and you should not worry at this stage how feasible or not that idea is.

The Inclusion Club—Episode10: To-do List with Post-it Notes

Each person writes at least one idea down on the sticky-note and sticks it onto the butchers paper. Not too many ideas here as you don’t want to descend into sticky-note hell!

WheThe Inclusion Club—Episode10 Post-it Notes aplenty!n you have done this for all disadvantages then you can go through each one and put them into a priority and a feasible list.

Basically, you are deciding what is important and what is doable.

Some of the things that can be done to make clubs more inclusive are:

  • Consider applying for funding grants to improve access to facilities or to help meet the cost of training staff and volunteers;
  • Develop partnerships with local groups that represent people with disability;
  • Form an Inclusion Committee within the club specifically to consider how the club can create more opportunities;
  • Create a ‘buddy’ system for new members. The buddy is responsible for introducing the new member to others in the club and to making sure the new member is familiar with how the club operates, when things happen and where facilities are;
  • New members should be encouraged to invite family members and significant others to come along to social functions and to watch games;
  • Consider more family friendly or discounted membership fee structures.

These are just a few of the ideas that people within a club might come up with. Again, it is important that people in the club go through the process of determining what they can do for themselves. That way there is a deeper understanding of what being an inclusive club means.

Just to round off this weeks episode and to continue on from last weeks fetish on Checklists—we have developed a Club Access Checklist here for you to download below.

Episode10—Inclusion in Sport and Recreation Clubs (Part 1)

We hope you enjoyed this episode of The Inclusion Club.

Until next time…

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About the author: Peter Downs

About the author: Peter Downs

Founding Director - The Inclusion Club

Peter is Founding Director of The Inclusion Club and Manager of Play by the Rules – a national initiative to promote safe, fair and inclusive sport. Peter has worked for over 25 years in the field of inclusive sport, disability sport and physical activity including 17 years managing the Australian Sports Commission’s Disability Sport Unit.  In 2013 Peter was fortunate enough to receive a Churchill Fellowship to study models of best practice in inclusive sport and physical activity.