Diversity in sports: Is it still a major problem in Ireland?

Many campaigns have been launched to combat the lack of participation by some minority groups but has anything really changed?
Diversity in sports: Is it still a major problem in Ireland?

Rebel Wheelers' Adam Drummond in action against Southeast Swifts recently. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

ACCESS to sports has become a serious topic of conversation over recent years, with many organisations attempting to rectify the problem.

Irish Paralympians have continued to rise to the top supported by the excellent work being done by Special Olympics Ireland, but it seems that the people in the middle are still being left out of the equation.

These people are not elite athletes or those in the category for the Special Olympics, but people who just want that camaraderie that comes from playing sports, and an overall urge to stay fit.

In May of 2022, Sport Ireland launched the ‘Changing the Game’ campaign to support their diversity and inclusion policy which expresses its vision for a sport sector that celebrates diversity, promotes inclusion and is proactive in providing opportunities for lifelong participation for everyone.

This ambitious campaign aims to target organisations at both a national and local level to eventually inspire people to enjoy their lives involved in sport, and improve their quality of life.

But do these campaigns really help anyone struggling to keep active or are they just an easy way for sport originations to tick an inclusion box?

Access to sporting facilities does not just stop with the middle group of people whose aim is to keep active long into their elder years, it also must include people with disabilities, people from the LGBTQ+ community, and people from ethnic minorities.

It is widely known that bodies from these groups have a significantly lower participation level in sports.

This is of course a complex area of research because each group listed above faces different barriers and challenges when it comes to partaking in sports.


Sports of any kind should be a welcoming environment for any group pf people, but more often than not they seem to be narrow-minded and slow to change their perceptions on what an athlete should look like.

Our society has been conditioned to view sports people as tall, muscular, foreboding individuals, whose physique must mirror their sporting careers.

For example, athletes like Jason Smyth (Paralympic sprint runner), Ellen Keane (Paralympic swimmer) and Michael McKillop (Paralympic middle-distance runner) are some of Ireland's top athletes in their chosen fields.

Just because they don’t appear like other athletes that compete in the same sport, does not make their achievements any less incredible.

If anything, these athletes are paving a way for children who may have similar disabilities as them.

How are children meant to feel included in sports if they can’t witness people who are like them already competing?

The problem of inclusion and diversity within sports is one that will not be fixed with a single solution as different groups require alternative methods of help.

Ultimately more must be done at a local level to allow more inclusion to take place. Children and teenagers must be able to see that there are opportunities in their locality for them, rather than just at the high-performance centres.

Everyone should have an equal opportunity to part take in any sport they choose and if local clubs allowed this experience to take place there would be a higher uptake of participation from theses minority groups.

It may seem like an impossibility for smaller clubs to be able to facilitate groups, as more volunteers and manpower will be needed to offer specialised camps and training sessions, but should minority groups not receive the same treatment as others?

It feels like an uphill battle for minority groups who want to get involved in sports.

There just seems to be a gap between the overall groups who make up the numbers in our sporting bodies and then the ones that get left behind.

People from every background and ethnic group should be encouraged no matter what the reason to part take in physical activity, not only for their mental well-being but also their physical and social health.

Sometimes these groups may feel isolated and cut off from the public when they should be united through their genuine passion for sports.

Why should their experience of sports be any different from anyone else’s?

Hopefully campaigns like ‘ Changing the Game’ will encourage everyone to maintain some form of exercise regardless of their disabilities, age, or ethnic group.

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