Governing bodies

One of the most disappointing experiences I have had in a sporting context was while attending a hockey coaching course aimed at new coaches looking to contribute to training sessions at clubs, schools and in the community. The course was held at a local village school which also serves as a ground for a major club in the area with a wide range of men’s, women’s and junior teams.

In preparation for the sessions, we were all asked to complete an online training question-and-answer activity. This was focused on child protection, inclusivity and accessibility to the sport, and outlined the FIH (hockey’s governing body)’s policies on these concerns. As you would hope from a modern governing body, these were emphatically positive and widely called for awareness and the greatest possible involvement of all enthusiastic people, regardless of gender, sex, social background, sexuality, race, etc.

Given this emphasis on fairness and inclusivity, it came as a big shock when, after a brief preamble and introduction to the course contents, the course leaders made several statements which seemed to immediately contradict these values.

The two organisers, both male-presenting, stated unironically to an audience largely comprising female-presenting prospective coaches that boys make better hockey players than girls. Their reasoning? Because ‘boys naturally like to run around outside and play with balls and sticks, while girls prefer to stay indoors and help out with house chores and cooking’.

Naturally, quite a few of us there present objected to these comments, and after discussing it afterwards, we submitted a complaint to the sport’s governing body as part of our feedback for the course. Unfortunately, we never received a response to this, and I have no way of knowing whether this was followed up.

For me this was representative of a common prejudice held by more traditional-minded individuals. Even when sports’ governing bodies enshrine equality and celebrate diversity in their codes and rules, there remain personal opinions which can affect the delivery of these messages, such as in this instance. Of course social factors do play a part in childhood development, but the assumption that these preferences stem from biological rather than societal expectations is a significant factor behind the massive disparity in sporting uptake and enjoyment between men and women.

Questions arising from this week: how can we combat individual prejudice when senior/authority figures in a sport express such unhelpful opinions? How do we encourage more girls and women to get involved in sport when faced with disparaging remarks?

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