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Introducing intersectionality in sport instructing

“I’m just a girl”, Gwen Stefani sang in the 90’s. But that’s hardly the case.I’m more than a girl. I’m so many things more than some of my actual or assumed qualities. I’m also white, shortsighted, cis-woman, mom and sensitive yet temperament in nature. But also many, many more things.

We’re all bundles of intersecting features. Holistic entities that are made of more than our single attributes. And these traits intersect.

Intersectional differences in one person.
Identities are made up of various aspects, some of which may in certain social context afford privileges while some may lead to oppression.

Yes. I said the I-word! Intersectionality means that we understand that our background like gender, race or economic class can make a HUGE difference on where we get on our daily struggles in life. To understand the I-word better, we also need this P-word. Privilege. 

The P-word

Privilege is “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others” . These rights or benefits are often forms of power in society. People have privilege based on characteristics like gender, race, wealth, or sexuality. For example in a sports context, it’s a privilege to afford to attend fitness classes. We also have different abilities that help us to enjoy sports – for example physical or psychological ones. 

Oppression happens. Our society’s structures automatically put some of us with certain traits at a disadvantage. It’s harder for oppressed people like girls or people of color to advance in our society. 

To tackle this a famous example is the “Rooney rule”, which is an American National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.

Social change demands intersectional understanding

Social change that thrives us towards equality. The world is changing and so must sports. Recent phenomena show this. For example, #metoo teaches us to ask permission to touch. Black lives matter taught us to fight racism and microaggression. Pride movement teaches us to see diversity in gender and sexual orientation.

I believe that intersectionality is the key component to more inclusive sports. Instead of simply classifying single attributes and making groups for guys and gals, we must look further. Even international sports brand Les Mills introduced their code of conduct in 2020 and promised to increase representation in their coaching materials. So don’t see just white, thin and able bodies in their videos and marketing for example.

Four steps towards intersectional sports instructing

What can you do to boost equality in sports? I believe that everyone working in the field of sports and fitness can promote social change by starting from oneself. My advice is: Lead the change, be the change!

The four step program offers our method on how to embrace intersectional way of instructing in everyday situations in sports. The core components are:

  1. Decentering instructor-led action
  2. Acknowledging complicated identities in our group fitness classes 
  3. Promoting social justice in sports instructing context 
  4. Understanding privilege and power in everyday instructing (institutional, bureaucratic, hegemonic & interpersonal) 

Still complex? It doesn’t have to be.  As a sports professional you just have to keep asking yourself the questions below:

Can I join in? Do I let others join in?

Intersectional sport pedagogy and lived equality as an ongoing process. Aho & Huumonen 2021.

The picture emphasizes that there is a difference between legal and lived equality. The individuals’ experience of being included is the key. We should ensure that the lived experience of equality is supported by our everyday instructing choices. Intersectional sport instructing acknowledges that equality is an ongoing process that needs to be reinforced by thoughtful pedagogical decisions.

It’s okay to struggle with themes of diversity and inclusion. Being an intersectionally aware coach gives one an advantage in the fitness market. This model is a tool for all instructors across the globe to promote accessibility, equity, parity and equality in sports. Let’s welcome intersectionality in sports.

You got the power to promote equality. As rap-artist Ice Cube puts it: “Check ya self before ya wreck youself.” The change for more equal sports starts by looking at the mirror. Use your privileges for good. Be kind and understand the intersecting differences. As we cannot just look above to Brighton declaration and wait for miracles to happen by themself.

We must be the change and lead the change. 

Further information and a video presentation here.

Hanna Huumonen

Member and chair of Section for Non-discrimination, Equality and Sustainable Development in Finland’s National Sports Council 2019-2023

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Kaisa-Riitta Aho ja Hanna Huumonen, Intersektionaalinen liikunta pedagogiikka

Kaisa-Riitta Aho is a Master of Arts, teacher and PhD student at the University of Turku. In her dissertation she examines the exercise experiences that arise in the gym. The key interest is to reflect on the lived equality and ways of enhancing it in this context. She uses a multidisciplinary approach and utilizes e.g. concepts of philosophy, gender studies and cultural studies. Kaisa has a long career as an entrepreneur in the sports industry as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor.

Hanna Huumonen is Master of Social sciences, group exercise instructor and equality trainer. She is currently completing her degree of Master of Science in Technology. She also serves as a member and chair of Section for Non-discrimination, Equality and Sustainable Development in Finland’s National Sports Council 2019-2023

Does your organization need inspiring training on equality issues in sports? We customize the training package according to your needs.


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