The power of sport for inclusion: Including persons with disabilities in sport


Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become the elements that define sport in the 2020s. This special collection assembled by sportanddev on including persons with disabilities in sport brings that third element – inclusion – into focus.

Sport has the potential to be a catalyst for inclusion and people who work in sport have a responsibility to make this happen. Sport is better when its purpose and direction aim toward inclusion. Inclusion in and through sport means providing every person full respect, dignity, value and belonging in any roles they may play – athlete, coach, official, administrator, or spectator. Inclusion encompasses all populations across race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. Sport for inclusion matters because it promotes the values, ideals and vision for acceptance, human rights and non-discrimination. Sport for inclusion questions and challenges the very notion of exclusion.

Inclusion only becomes inclusion when persons with disabilities are not just present but engaged in meaningful ways. Persons with disabilities need to be a part of all inclusion initiatives in and through sport. When sport is not fully inclusive of persons with disabilities, it neglects a critical population that has a rightful and central place in the sporting environment.

By including persons with disabilities, sport also provides opportunities for innovation and recognizes the range of diversity within the disability community itself. Sport can provide a variety of mainstream and disability-specific opportunities across the inclusion spectrum for persons with disabilities.

Furthermore, including persons with disabilities can be approached from the perspectives of empowerment, innovation and opportunity while challenging the status quo of pity, stigma and fear. When sport includes persons with disabilities, it becomes transformative not just for the participants, but also for families, coaches, administrators, spectators and event or program sponsors.

When we design sport for inclusion we begin to recognize and realize the full potential of sport for all. It is important to note that when we design environments for persons with disabilities we are often designing for everyone. The framework of sport for inclusion, and not sport for exclusion, is critical to the sustainability and the future of sport and particularly sport for development and peace. The power of sport for inclusive environments works to create the vision of a better world for all.

We would like to thank all the people who contributed to this special collection focusing on including persons with disabilities in sport. Insights poured in from around the world showcasing the amazing work people are doing to build full inclusion of persons with disabilities in and through sport.

In a world at times beset with division and disarray, what people are doing in everyday ways illustrates that we are all one and true change happens from the ground up. The work we have read about in their voices provides hope for a better, more inclusive society. While some people may say “Hope is not a strategy”, hope powered by the hard work of everyday people is the equation to create a more inclusive world. Persons with disabilities have much to offer and sport provides a vehicle to make their powerful presence known.

Eli A. Wolff directs the Power of Sport Lab, a platform to fuel and magnify creativity, diversity, connection and leadership through sport. Eli is also an instructor with the Sport Management program at the University of Connecticut, the Sport Leadership program at UMass-Boston, and is co-founder and advisor to the Sport and Society initiative at Brown University. His work has been at the intersection of research, education and advocacy in and through sport, with a focus on sport and social justice, diversity, disability and inclusion. Eli has co-founded Disability in Sport International, Athletes for Human Rights, the Olympism Project, and Mentoring for Change.


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