By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

As part of the 2021 Eurogames and the greater World Pride event taking place this week in Copenhagen, the Sports Leader Conference, as an extension of the Human Rights Conference, sought out to “consider inclusion and expansion of LGBTQI sport” meant to facilitate discussion about making sports more inclusive for LGBTQI athletes. The conference was a space to “share experiences, develop policies of sports clubs and encourage political action” to “strengthen the capacities of LGBTQI sports clubs and communities that provide important social spaces for LGBTQI people and impact political processes in the field.”

Our own managing sports editor and associate director of education, Dirk Smith (that’s me!), was invited by athlete activist, Copenhagen 2021 ambassador and contributor for Compete Sports Diversity, Amazin LêThị to discuss the intersectionality of LGBTQIA+ discrimination and racism in sports. The discussion highlighted that LGBTQIA+ discrimination and racism, both major problems at all levels of sports, are often two distinct conversations. During the discussion, LêThị pointed out that many athletes from all racial minorities and athletes who identify as female, non-binary, intersex and/or transgender often face a lot of these issues at the same time. A single athlete will face issues of LGBTQI discrimination, racism, and sexism/misogyny simply for wanting to participate in sport. As a result, this makes the sport culture more inhospitable for these athletes as they face an uphill battle for their right to simply be accepted and participate in the sport itself.

The discussion also highlighted that racial minorities are often stereotyped into certain sports, limiting their representation to sports that only fit within the stereotype and make it harder for athletes to break into “other” sports. This also means that the lack of representation makes it more difficult to encourage upcoming generations of young athletes to take up sports that they don’t see people they identify with. LêThị specifically cited examples of Asian athletes from western countries often being relegated to more feminine sports, such as figure skating or black athletes in sports like basketball; all of which further reenforces cultural stereotypes and limits the opportunities for diversity growth in other sports. Add onto all this an athlete who identifies as LGBTQIA+ facing the same issues, such as lesbian women typically in sports like basketball and softball, but rarely in sports like gymnastics.

During the Tokyo Olympics, we saw issues where black athletes, many of whom identify as intersex, faced questions regarding their eligibility and qualifications for competing. The kinds of questions that white athletes never experience, such as questioning the athlete’s gender. Performance policing was very pronounced at the Olympics, most notably with Simone Biles whose competitive advantage was mitigated because of her heightened athletic abilities above her competitors, the same happened with several African track athletes as well. Athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka (earlier this year) also have shown us just how these kinds of issues can add up and build the pressure to perform and compete, leading to increases in anxiety and issues affecting mental health which ultimately impact performance.

LêThị reminds us that as allies, it is important for us to create organizations and structures which truly represent diversity. Having diverse athletes featured in media and promotional campaigns in a positive light, doing outreach to minority communities, being active in those physical and social areas to recruit and making sure that leadership structures are represented by these communities to have equal say in the discussions and decisions affecting the group. Furthering this discussion and ensuring that we keep the conversation going are also important to build awareness and educate people about these issues and how we can all step up to ensure that sports are more accessible, diverse, and truly inclusive for all.