Improving equality in sport in Europe, one step at a time

Improving equality in sport in Europe, one step at a time

The Equality Within Sport workshops were held on 13-14-15 December 2021, in Rome, Italy and organised by the EQUIP project partnership under the initiative of the ENGSO EWS Committee.


The event was hosted and coordinated by OPES Italia.


The main objective of the workshops was to equip the sport umbrella organisations within the EQUIP partnership, to become equality mentors and initiate a sustainable change with local sport clubs and/or national federations in their respective countries (Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden).

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Discussions included presentations from experts and testimonies of sport professionals on several topics linked to equal opportunities in sport; disability, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic background and racial/ethnic discrimination. The workshops also focused on practical tools to support the participants with the planning of their national multiplying activities and the development of their mentoring programs.

Day 1; disability, gender, sexual orientation 


Jorge Pina, from Associaçao Jorge Pina (website) in Portugal, explained how sport played -and plays- a key role in his life, and how it improves the life of disadvantaged groups whether from low economic background or with physical disabilities. He illustrated his presentation with his own experience and described with passion the intensive work of his organisation at the grassroot level to give opportunities to all children and adults to access and practice sport and physical activity. Their goal: “bring sport to everyone”!


Tobias Staebler, from Special Olympics Europe-Asia (SOEE) (website) presented the impact of Covid-19 on the SOEE community, with testimonies from young athlete and leader Ryan who highlighted that it is crucial to “stay connected”. Tobias also presented the key programs of SOEE such as Unified Sports® and called on participants to tie in with their national actors to build long lasting partnerships.


Lara Lill, consultant from Global Active Ltd (LindkedIn), talked about “Closing the fairness gap for women and girls with a disability” and advocated for “a robust approach of duty and care, and safeguarding” to break down the existing barriers. Due to gender inequalities in sport, women are missing out the lifelong benefit and reward of sport.


Emine Bozkurt, Chair of the EU High-Level group on Gender Equality gave an overview of the situation in sport in Europe. She highlighted that “leadership matters not only to change the rule, but also to drive the organisational change”.


Elizabeth Pike, Research Lead-Elect of the International Working Group on Women and Sport (website) and Professor of Sport, Health and Exercise at the University of Hertfordshire, retraced the steps forward since the signature of the Brighton Declaration (1994) and the Brighton plus Helsinki Declaration (2014) in the development of a “more fair and equitable system of sport and physical activity, fully inclusive of women and girls”. She explained the importance of women representation in leadership and the benefit of diversity in hiring the most talented people – and not only the most talented men.


Day one ended with a presentation on on sexual orientation and gender identity in sport by Hugh Torrance, Co-President of the EGLSF – European Gay and Lesbian Sport Federation (website) and project partner of EQUIP. He denounced the culture of shame in which athletes grow up in, and highlighted the need for safe and welcoming spaces and communities in sport.


Day 2; socio-economic background and racial ethnicity


Day two began with a session on inequalities related to socio-economic status. Anne Schomoeller, German researcher at Sportopeadicum, presented the result of five studies that show the impact of socio-economic factors such as income, education, employment, community safety and social support, on the choices people make. Ultimately, these influenced the level of physical activity and access, participation, and representation in sport. Participants engaged in a fruitful discussion on what sport can do to reach the target groups that are missing out, both youth and adult.


Lene Knudtzen, from MentorDanmark and former OMBOLD, shared her experience with including disadvantaged groups and people in and through sport (see her TEDx), specifically isolated people. “Patience and persistence” are her key words to see changes on the field, as she believes that “the effort always pays off”.


The last focus area of the workshops addressed the racial/ethnic discrimination, with the representatives from Sport Senza Frontiere – Sport without borders (website), Alessia Mantovani and Giuseppe Storino (Italy) and testimonies from the athlete Besarta Malaj (Kosovo).


Day 2 continued; even the smallest steps count.


Day two ended with two working sessions on tangible project results from EQUIP that will be used by participants to build individual action-plans with sport clubs and federations. First, Laura May, from ICES – Centrum Ethiek in de Sport (website), led the work on the Index of Top Policies and Best Practices on Equality (IO1), whose first version should be published at the beginning of 2022. Finally, supported by Rachel May on behalf of ENGSO, ICES initiated and gathered the needs of sport umbrella organisations to build a Template Action-Plan (IO) that will be shaped by stakeholders across Europe.


Day 3; leading the change.


The sport umbrella organisations taking part in the workshops should now multiply by organising their own national workshops on equality within sport, targeting local clubs and/or national federations. OPES (website), the host and organiser of the EWS workshops, led the last working session for participants to become familiar with their role as mentors. The last hours of the event were dedicated to the planning and presentation of their actions in 2022-23: objectives, framework of national mentoring program, organisation of national equality within sport workshops, identification of key players, timeline, etc.

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Throughout the workshops, ENGSO introduced monitoring tools that will be used by sport umbrella organisations to track and measure their impact.

Special thanks to all speakers who shared their expertise, experience and knowledge with the participants during the workshops, and to OPES for organising a successful hybrid event, allowing everyone to join and actively participate.


After the EWS workshops, the EQUIP partners organised a hybrid transnational project meeting on 16. December 2021. Prior to the EWS workshops, the ENGSO EWS committee also held a decisive meeting in Rome, defining their long and short term goals and shaping their road map to improve equality in European grassroot sport.