Equality, equity and the role of fairness in inclusive sport.

At the centre of the conversation about social inclusion is the concept of disadvantage. Inclusion happens when the barriers and challenges that lead to disadvantage are removed. In doing so everybody has a fair opportunity to participate. In other words, no one has an undue advantage or disadvantage in a given setting.

Another word frequently associated with inclusion is “equality”. Equality is often considered as part of the solution to achieving successful inclusion. A lot of the time equality is included in our definitions of what social inclusion and indeed inclusion in sport, really means, i.e. “Inclusion in sport means everyone is treated equally.”

It seems logical that by ensuring all are treated equally we can make inclusion happen in any setting. In sport, if we treat everyone equally then this means we ensure everyone gets the same resources, same support, same information, same equipment, same choices, same coaching, same rules, same facilities, same pathways etc. After all treating everyone the same is fair and this leads to inclusion, right?

Now, if we consider the social model of inclusion that says the disadvantage a person faces is attributed the barriers presented by the world around them (physical, social, cultural etc.) and not from their own intrinsic characteristics (such as impairment, age, gender, culture etc.). Then the question arises, is pursuing equality a true solution for achieving inclusion? Perhaps there’s more to it.

For inclusion to happen we need to consider the unique circumstances of individuals and groups…

Let’s look at this from another perspective. For inclusion to happen we need to consider the unique circumstances of individuals and groups, build an understanding of the causes of disadvantage and then take steps to decrease or ideally remove that disadvantage. Importantly, in practice this may or may not mean treating people the same.

Lets explore this in more detail.

  • Equality
  • This image presents a metaphor. The fence represents a barrier, limitation or threshold that impacts true inclusion. In this case the goal is everyone being able to watch the baseball game. The boxes represent the resources and supports available which could be used to overcome the disadvantage faced.

This illustrates the idea that equality is all about making sure everyone gets treated the same. In this case everyone gets a single box each; everyone gets the same resources and supports. That’s equal. Intuitively this seems to be an approach that leads to fairness or does it? The middle spectator can see the game and is now included, while (despite receiving equal treatment) the smaller spectator still cannot see the game and remains excluded. However, they both remain at a disadvantage to the tallest spectator who has an even better view than before. Is this fair? Have we achieved true inclusion for everyone? In this situation we are limited by the availability of boxes (resources and supports) so for inclusion to be achieved for everyone more resources or supports are required. In real life this is not always possible and doesn’t guarantee that the disadvantage will be addressed. Imagine if the fence was built even higher!

Equality provides everyone with the same resources and supports to overcome a barrier or reach a threshold. It’s only fair if everyone starts from the same point.
  • Equity
  • In this case the two shortest spectators are given enough boxes to see over the fence. Now everyone can see the game. This illustrates the idea of equity. Equity is all about ensuring everyone gets what they need. Is this fair? Have we achieved true inclusion for everyone? In this case you could argue yes!

But what if there were only two boxes? Or only one box? Could we still allocate resources in a fair way and address the barriers and achieve inclusion? Equity relies on having enough resources to go round and assumes they can be shared.

Equity provides individuals with the resources and supports they need to overcome barriers or reach a threshold. It caters for individual need. This is only fair when there are enough resources to go around.
  • Liberation
  • This image illustrates the idea of liberation. Liberation is all about removing barriers and thresholds completely. In this case the fence. By removing the fence everyone can see. Some might argue this is the ideal as it doesn’t necessarily require resources and supports to overcome barriers or thresholds.

Is this fair, is everyone included and does this address the underlying disadvantage? Achieving liberation assumes the barriers and thresholds can be removed completely, however this may or may not be possible in every situation for everybody.

Liberation represents the removal of barriers or imposed thresholds that cause disadvantage rather than provision of resources and supports. This is only fair when the barriers or limitations can be removed for everyone.

So there is more than one approach to addressing the barriers that cause disadvantage. In sport it isn’t as simple as saying that there is one “right” approach for all situations. We need to consider the context and the goals of our activities. We need to understand our participants, what barriers, limitations or thresholds exist and the resources and supports that are available.

In designing sport activities that address the challenges of realising inclusion we need to consider many points of view. Equality, Equity and Liberation approaches may help navigate some of these challenges. Perhaps there are other perspectives.

Whatever route we take we need to ask: Does it address disadvantage? Is it fair? Does it achieve true inclusion for everyone? Then take an approach or mix of approaches that achieve our inclusion goals.

Image source: Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.

For more information and resources on this concept check out the following links:

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What are some of the barriers and thresholds people experience in sport and recreation? Can you think of ways to address them through equality, equity or liberation approaches? Share in the comments!