In 1968, the careers of African American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith were sacrificed after they stood up for basic racial equality and civil rights at the Mexico Olympics, literally, raising their fists on the podium in front of the world.
And unfortunately for them, in front of Olympic officials. The Olympics movement deemed their act political, ostracised them along with the great Australian, Peter Norman, Bronze medallist who stood in support and it took many decades for their courageous act to be acknowledged by the International Olympic Committee.
It was an extraordinary stand for the Olympic movement to make, since sport simultaneously claims to fundamentally be about equality, humanity and making the world a better place. The Olympics, particularly, promotes what it calls the values of ‘Olympism’ which expressly includes humanitarian principles, and yet still today, in 2020, seeks to limit the right of athletes to speak out for the human rights of others in protest.
It’s time to make a stand
Why should athletes, who extend our understanding of human limits and inspire billions of people around the world, strip away their humanity when they pull on a pair of boots, a helmet, a swimming costume? Who decided that an athlete, and sport itself, does not have a core responsibility to uplift every human being, to protect our planet?
Colin Kaepernick would like an answer to this question. In 2016, Kaepernick’s NFL career was obliterated after he took a knee during the US national anthem to highlight racial inequities in the USA, believing that there are more important aims than simply winning another contest and that these must be prosecuted by high profile athletes on behalf of others. I happen to agree with him.
And despite contributing to a national, then international movement for racial equality and garnering support across the world, which now sees athletes everywhere ‘take a knee’ in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Colin still does not have a team. NFL has cut him adrift, even as it purports to support his cause.
This performative nature of sport, with inspiring slogans and banners, principles and value statements that extend no further than the sensibilities of the newest Chief Executive, Board, sponsor, or Government in power, needs to change.
It is time for sport to accept its social responsibilities so that individual athletes don’t have to bear the public, reputational and commercial risks by speaking out on their own. Institutional sport must surely commit to becoming a force for social good outside its own boundaries. To stand with, and for, all. And this has never been more important with humanity, and the planet, facing global challenges that necessitate every voice being raised as one.
Torrens University’s commitment to Sports for Good
I was pleased to join Torrens University which is an opportunity to further this mission for a new social contract for sport and to ensure that an education is the foundation of a life with higher purpose.
Torrens University commitment as a ‘B Corp’ to developing leaders capable of driving change and our ‘Here for Good’ mission statement to use education to change the world for the better were strong motivators to join the movement.
As Adjunct Professor of Sport and Social Responsibility at Torrens University, I’m working with our organisation and partners to extend our Here for Good mission – to build a Sports for Good agenda.
Through this lens, we’ll look at a broader vision of the growing field of social responsibility in sport – with a mission to bring sport much closer to social justice issues. To achieve this, we’ll develop a future generation of sport leaders including future sport management professionals who are comfortable with using the social power of sport for good.
We’re already taking steps in this direction through our partnership with Simon Black Academy to develop the next generation of AFL coaches, practitioners and administrators. The Sports for Good agenda will also reach out through our internships and other sports partnerships, such as Real Madrid Graduate School, GWS Giants, North Adelaide Football Club and the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Our students are also leading the way in social responsibility innovation. Recent Bachelor of Business (Sports Management) graduate, and long-time skater, Claudia Stanger started her own inclusive skateboarding school while she was studying. Olliesonny gave young people, and particularly girls, the skills, agility and confidence to drop into their local skate park. Claudia’s now working with the Australian Skateboarding Federation to increase female boardriding through grass root programs across the country.
Emergence of a new paradigm highlighting social responsibility
The Sports for Good agenda is as important at the community level as it is in the upper echelons of professional sport.
To ensure their employability, the new generation of sport administrators will need the adaptability to work with future athletes. In the same way that millennials are likely to choose a workplace with a strong commitment to environmental and social responsibility, the new generation of athletes coming through are not going to be quelled.
They won’t sit back and let Adam Goodes be racially abused, or watch Colin Kaepernick be sidelined. So, if you want to be a sports leader of AFL, A-League or Super Netball, you’re going to have to understand how to work with these forceful and influential athlete activists.
There is an emerging paradigm of sport and social justice and Australian education has to play a very key role.
Future Torrens alumni will be leaders in the global sporting industry and use the extraordinary power of global sport to help create a better world. They should have a clear framework of social justice and human rights. The Sports for Good agenda will empower them with the tools to work with the most high-profile athletes in the world, as well as navigate the requirements of governance and administration. And all the while they’ll ensure that sport helps shape a world of equality, opportunity and dignity for all.
The global sporting landscape is going to be very, very different in 20 year’s time. We all have a responsibility to ensure that it shifts for the better.
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