Last Updated 17 Jun 2020

Critically Compare the Concepts of Equal Opportunities and Sports Equity in British Sport

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Critically compare the concepts of equal opportunities and sports equity in British sport This paper aims to compare the ideas of equal opportunities and sports equity with regard to sport in Britain. Within this structure, there will be particular emphasis on the theoretical approaches that are used to look at equality in British sport. A key part of this comparison is the study of (social) equality; this includes formal, radical and liberal interpretations of equality. The arguments and suggestions will be reinforced and supported by literature and other texts outside of just the sporting context.

Many sports historians such as Holt (1989) say that sport, pre 20th Century, was almost private and restricted to the upper class minority. Recreational sports had a complex set of laws (i. e. tennis) this was to restrict participation from the lower classes. Another vestige of the times was the limitation of sport to women; this was not necessarily written law but was accepted none the less. Racism in sport was not tackled or even considered until well into the 20th century when the government introduced laws and legislation that banned prejudice based on race.

As a consequence of these legalities, many recognised sporting institution in Great Britain have introduced policy and recommendations to deal with the problems of ‘inequality’ within their respective organisations. Nevertheless, as indicated by Guttman’s analysis (1978), continuous development in recent years has slowly begun to break down certain barriers to equality. Should someone wish to investigate further into actual modern equality work they can access a variety of net resources. A quick look at equality policies of the Football Association for example demonstrates that work is being done for the purpose of equality.

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Guttman (1978) even goes so far to say that in many sports worldwide, participants of any circumstance and environment are encouraged to participate. He also states however that equality in sport and its aims is seen by some as a distant achievement, it remains unrealistic. Guttman’s (1978) study illustrates that as sport entered the 2nd half of the 20th century, systems that control other components of a balanced society would also affect modern sporting institutions in the same way In order to better understand the aim of this paper, a number of key terms need some more clarity. The first term that needs defining is ‘equality’ and more pecifically ‘basic equality’. According to Baker (2004) basic equality is the concept that people have the same worth and are consequently worthy of equal interest and value. Many would argue that certain individuals and groups have earned more respect than other people and therefore inequalities should exist. Maybe what we should be considering is a minimum level of equality, a fundamental idea of equality whereby people all exist at the same point of respect. This would mean putting a threshold on what it is to be human. As indicated by Craig and Beedie (2010) the study of equality is an area of fascination to many sporting sociologists.

Coakley (2003, p326) states, that this curiosity is established because many believe that sport goes beyond monetary and economic inequalities. A common belief is that sport is available to all; irrelevant of which equality strand someone may fit into (age, race, ethnicity etc). According to Craig and Beedie (2010) some consider the sporting domain a discrimination free arena; where a result is contested on fair grounds and the result goes to those with the most aptitude or skill. Another key term is stratification. This is a way of breaking down the different levels of society based on their sociological group.

This helps to highlight the in/equality that is present in sport. A number of actual examples have been highlighted by Craig and Beedie (2010). Examples of these stratification layers include; the system of class formation affects the poor, the working class, and the lower/ middle and upper classes, these structures all seem to be highly rigid. The concept of social class is best recognised by using Marxist ideas of capitalism, where the idea of equality is seen in financial terms. Feminism however opposes the theory that ‘class stratification’ is the most important foundation of social inequality.

Justifications about the gender distinctions in a sporting context vary from those concentrated on a biological argument to the arguments that place more impetus on the social understanding of gender. There is a repeated and constant emphasis in sport and society on the power of patriarchal arrangements; this too is present in sport. Liberal equality can be a little difficult to decipher in that it accepts basic equality but denies some other aspects of equality. The main principle according to Baker (2005) is that inequality of income and power cannot be alleviated.

Equality as a concept plays the part of controlling inequalities so that income and power are more fairly distributed. In a way it can be said that liberal equality requires supporting the bare minimum that people are allowed and have access to, whilst controlling the advantage experienced by those that have more. Baker (2005) further states that the main underlying belief of liberal egalitarianism is the upholding and support of the most basic rights that all should have access to. Equal opportunity of course plays a key part in this study. Liberal equality is often used in conjunction with equality of opportunity.

This is where groups or individuals have equal access to the opportunity to gain higher representation within their respective circles. It is rooted in the idea that inequalities in power will be ever present. Baker (2004) summarises this sentiment, he claims that the point of equality of opportunity is for everyone to get a fair chance in the sociological struggle, within a society that is unequal. Baker (2004) describes equal opportunity as the belief that everyone in society deserves a fair chance to contest over the positions in society that carry the most power.

This concept was first used officially in the French Declaration of human rights in 1789. It states that everyone can hold a position “within their abilities” (French Declaration of the rights of man 1789). These days institutions everywhere boast equality policies and equality laws that make the discrimination based on gender and race in social institutions against the law In support of this, equal opportunity claims that nobody ought to benefit or suffer from their social circumstances; any prosperity and expectation ought to come about due to personal skills and endeavours. Rawls (1971) labels this concept ‘fair equal opportunity’.

He believes that education should be used as a vehicle by the lower classes to develop the skills that would put them into a more advantaged situation. Equal opportunity is unachievable whilst those in positions of power use their influence to achieve hierarchy over others. Liberal equality approaches do not take into account the characteristics of structured inequality. Powerful social stigmas are not dealt with. We can therefore conclude that people’s opinions and beliefs (inequality) cannot change whilst such stigma still exist. Some would argue that this is good in theory but education doesn’t actually function in this way.

A different aspect of equal opportunity includes establishing policies and legislation to assist people from minority groups in getting work and schooling/qualifications. Were people from minorities perhaps not supported properly in schools or education institutions then this could be down to them not having ‘equal opportunities’ to progress as the majority do. Baker (2004) appears to believe that the biggest sign of equal opportunity within an organisation is seen in the participation rates. A more comprehensive liberal equality view is that of Rawls (1971).

This states that inequalities ought to favour those that need them the most. For those that believe in liberal equality this is not always the final solution however; improvements can be made to a number of factors contributing to equality, including: education, sport, the economy etc. A fine-tuning to these frameworks rather than completely overturning them is often the preferred way to achieve to equality. In order to understand liberal equality properly however, something to compare it to is required. Radical approaches to equality oppose the liberal view of equal opportunity.

It maintains that in order to eradicate inequality much larger steps should be taken. Inequalities should not just simply be dealt with after recognition. “The key to this much more ambitious agenda is to recognise that inequality is rooted in changing and changeable social structures, and particularly in structures of domination and oppression. These structures create, and continually reproduce, the inequalities which liberal egalitarianism sees as inevitable. ” (Baker 2004, 18) This handsomely describes the way in which radical equality aims to eliminate equality compared to the liberal view.

As oppose to the liberal view of concentrating on the power distribution allocated to individuals, the radical view allows for advantage to more than just individuals, but groups. On the contrary to liberal ideas of how power is allocated, the radical approach attempts find answers in the social connection between related parties. Another trend of the liberal approach is to reward individuals with their own triumphs and indeed failures. The radical approach on the other hand tends to attribute these triumphs and failures to larger social occurrences.

As indicated by Baker (2004) many argue that the liberal approach to equality differs from that of equality of outcome. However, the radical approach, as does the liberal approach encourages choice as the final outcome. There is no reason that both approaches to equality cannot allow for choice. In order to summarise the above comments “basic egalitarianism tends to concentrate on subsistence needs, liberal egalitarianism on the idea of a decent standard of living and radical egalitarianism on what people need for a full human life” (Baker 2004, 19) In order to fully understand this task, we must also look at the origins of sport in the UK.

During the late 1800s (Victorian period) Great britain went through a major reform, this is commonly known as the ‘Industrial revolution’. It was driven by invention, engineering breakthroughs and class restructuring. A movement from farming and agriculture towards Industrial urban based work meant that labourers moved from the countryside to the city. This mass movement of workers into factories allowed the newly middle class employers considerate control over the workforce and the opportunity to influence the way workers should spend their leisure time.

Throughout this era of reform, sport was still however considered an activity of the higher classes. The control exerted over the masses encouraged employees and workers into a different way to spend their leisure time. Structure in recreation became encouraged. According to Townson (1997) this became the norm as the middle classes had fears that the increasingly large urban population may become unruly. The idea of ‘rational recreation’ became the name of this notion. Over the years the bourgeoisie anticipated discomfort among the working class.

Towards the end of the 19th century in Great Britain the concept of ‘Muscular Christianity’ (Holt 1989) was established in order to distract the masses from want to reform (Holt 1989) “The very idea of a play discipline would have seemed absurd, yet this is what a growing band of bourgeois idealists advocated during the second half of the century” (Townson 1997). Sport and recreation had been introduced by the bourgeoisie. This helped maintain a healthy labour force and diverted masses away from ‘urban radicalism’.

It was during this time that the upper classes and more advantaged started to consider the importance of fairness through reform and education. While sport for the masses still took on a rational recreation edge, sport was undergoing a period of change. A combination of factors leading to this change included an emphasis on health through exercise (due in part to inferior performances from the British forces in South Africa) and an increasing emphasis on professionalism. Sports clubs and facilities were made available by middle class.

Key factors that occurred during the Victorian period according to Davis (2000): •An ethical code produced by the bourgeoisie became associated with sport •Realisation of fair-play (introduction of rules and equal conditions) •Freedom at weekends gave people more time for recreation. •Sport in education was limited to gym and discipline The second notable phase in british sport history swaying further towards equality was the establisment of the Wolfenden report of 1960. This was written for the Central Council of Physical Recreation by an autonomous group of individuals to determine the state of sport in the UK.

According to Rous (1960) it was published to demonstrate the inequalities and problems that existed in UK sport in comparison with its peer countries. After the publication of the wolfenden report the government took yet a further step towards a more interventionist approach by establishing the GB sports council in 1972. Collins (2003) claims that this was an important step for the government, as it allowed authorities to make social and welfare provision for public sport After new labour came to power in 1997, sport was given a new social status.

The organisation of UK sport structure at the time was considered an obstacle to governments recently set out aims: •Increased youth participation •Increased succes in elite sport This quote taken from Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) demonstrates the awareness that some had of the state of sport within the UK “There is a need for a radical rethink of the way we fund and organize sport, we offer a modernizing partnership with the governing bodies of sport” (DCMS 2000 p19).

In the same review they also threaten Governing Bodies within sport with withdrawal of funding should they not meet required governmental targets. The 3rd and perhaps most important stage of movements towards equality came in the shape of sporting equity. Sport England (2000) very broadly defines sports equity as fairness in sport. According to Sport England (2000) sports equity is in place to make sport more accessible to everyone period. It is a concept larger than sports equality and all strands of equality are made irrelevant. Equity: In its simplest sense, ‘fairness’; the process of allocating (or reallocating) resources and entitlements, including power, fairly and without discrimination. It may also use positive action initiatives and measures to address existing inequities. ” (Sport England 2000 p39) As already stated inequalities date back to the beginnings of sport, in some ways they were institutionalised (Sport England 2000). After all the development in sport however, cases of inequality do still exist. Even in todays modern society there are still only a handful of for example; ethnic minority ‘power’ in sport.

Coaches seem to remain white, middle class. However, these inequalities are now recognised and agencies are putting in structures to improve the situation for these inequalities “Sport England is committed to supporting governing bodies in their quest to overcome inequality in sport” (Sport England 2000, p3). Equity in sport came around relatively late. A number of thngs happened which really pushed the equity movement forward. Equity issues came under the spotlight during the Macpherson Report and the stephen Lawrence inquiry.

Both of these highlighted the extent of discrimination still present in society. Sporting campaigns and government iniatives have pushed for further equity in sport and according to Sport England (2000) but have committed to further action in the future. “It cannot be assumed that any sport is open and accessible to all members of the community” (Sport England 2000, p4). Even the sport england equity page recognises that more needs to be done to secure access to sport for all. Further policy will be encouraged and implemented. Society is changing and the existence of organisations, societies or clubs that exclude large sectors of the population from their activities, whether directly or indirectly, is viewed as anachronistic and increasingly unacceptable”. (Sport England 2000, p3). This quote demonstrates that the government is aware of the mass change in stance towards inequality. Despite the emergence of sports equity policies and propositions; inequalities still exist in sport. This can be seen in the recent Luis Suarez racism case and the John Terry racism case. These examples demonstrate that equality exists at the highest level.

Equality work needs further development, much in the same way sports equity has developed. References •Baker, J. ; Lynch, K. ; Cantillon, S. ; and Walsh, J. (2004) Equality: from Theory to Action London: Palgrave. •Coakley, J (2003) Sports in Society: Issues and controversies. New York: Mcgraw-Hill •Collins, M. F. with Kay, T. (2003). Sport and social exclusion. London: Routledge. •Craig P and Paul Beadie (2010) Sport Sociology. 2nd Edition. Active Learning in Sport •Davis, B. et al. (2000) Physical Education and the Study of Sport. UK: Harcourt Publishers Ltd •Department for Culture, Media and Sport. (2001a).

Elite Sport Funding Review (chair, J. Cunningham). London: DCMS. •Guttman, A (1978) From ritual to record. New York. Columbia press •Holt R. (1989) Sport and the British: A Modern History. Oxford: Clarendon •Rawls, J. A. (1971) A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press •Sport and the community : the report of the Wolfenden Committee on Sport 1960 •Sport England, June (2000). Governing Body Resource Pack. Planning for sport. Factfiles: Sports equity •Stanley Rous. Chairman, Executive committee, C. C. P. R. 1960 •Nigel Townson 1997 The British at Play – a social history of British sport from 1600 to the present

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