The Olympics are a powerful reminder of the impact of sport, but they are often beyond the reach of racialized girls and youth



Olympians are inspiring. Their stories of hard work and courage can be especially inspiring, especially for children and youth.

Although not always.

As many young people are finally joining organized sports teams after the pandemic, some invigorated by watching their heroes compete in the Tokyo games, it is important to remember that not everyone has the same opportunity to participate.

This is a problem that deserves collective attention because the benefits of physical sport are manifold, not only on the health and well-being of young people, but on their overall participation in civic life.

“Often by accessing [sports] programming is secondary to things like food, shelter and clothing, then school supplies, ”said Sharon Jollimore in an interview last fall describing the challenges facing low-income families.

Jollimore is the head of the Ottawa Community Housing Foundation’s recLINK program, which promotes arts, sports and camp programs to youth living in social housing. She said more community groups should offer sports programs to underserved communities, but it is difficult to access grants and support.

In the meantime, it is often the parents who are the determining factors in whether or not their children participate in athletics. An in-depth study described in a 2007 article titled “Children’s Sport Participation in Canada: Is It a Level Playing Field?” Published in the International Journal of Canadian Studies, provides an important overview.

The study looked for the differences between working-class and middle-class children when it comes to leisure time. He revealed that middle-class parents were involved in “concerted culture,” which meant that they looked for opportunities to develop their children’s talents, skills and abilities through various organized activities, including the sport.

Working-class, low-income parents would engage in what has been called “natural growth,” providing children with basic necessities and leaving them to unstructured, child-led activities. These opportunities are often random.

In addition, a significant proportion of poor and low-income families in Canada are racialized, as noted in a 2019 report from the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives. The groundbreaking report concluded that there is notable income inequality between racialized and non-racialized Canadians, exasperated by discrimination in the workforce and lack of access to generational wealth.

This means much less disposable income to spend on supporting children’s dreams of Olympic glory. And while current Olympians like gold and silver medalists Damian Warner and Mohammed Ahmed had the chance to make their school debuts, not all athletes are so lucky.

“The exclusion, discrimination, and spatial inequality faced by racialized youth are replicated in the way traditional services are delivered,” wrote Anjana Aery, while a junior researcher at the Wellesley Institute, in an essay on inclusive cities.

“Racialized youth living in the suburbs may have less access to diverse artistic, sports and cultural programming. Less wealthy neighborhoods have less access to participation opportunities and different forms of civic engagement.

Additionally, a survey of 10,000 Canadians released last year by Canadian Women & Sport titled “The Rally Report” found that girls were much less likely to participate in sports than boys, with one in three girls dropping out. in late adolescence and with up to 62% of girls not participating in sport at all.

Indigenous girls reported the lowest participation rates of all at 24 percent, while black girls were more likely than girls of Asian, White and South Asian ethnicity to be involved. The study also found that girls were less likely to participate in sports if they came from families with incomes below $ 50,000.

When it comes to newcomer youth, there are even deeper barriers. In 2019, the findings of “The Syrian Canadian Sports Club: A Community-Based Participatory Action Research Project with / for Syrian Youth Refugees”, highlighted inaccessible programs and limited access to physical spaces as barriers.

“The fact that young newcomers to Canada (and the West) are under-represented in sport and recreation activities suggests that current sport and recreation programs and venues lack cultural diversity, if not cultural responsiveness.” , noted the authors of the project.

Canada’s performance in Tokyo was impressive, but it is providing equitable access to sport that will truly make this nation shine.

Amira Elghawaby is an Ottawa-based human rights advocate and freelance columnist for The Star.



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