Inclusion Can Be Sport’s Superpower

Inclusion Can Be Sport’s Superpower by Tim Palmer

The recent success of the England football team in Euro 2022 is a major moment in the ongoing work to build a more inclusive society. We’ve come a long way since This Girl Can and the inspiration of London 2012, but we are still very much at the beginnings of true inclusion and a world where everyone feels they belong, no matter gender, race, ability, or background. It is a moment that both Ian Wright and Alex Scott so brilliantly expressed and must be seized to drive real positive change once more.

It is fantastic to see how the football has captured international attention in such a positive way. It is ever true of the best sporting moments that they can bring joy and pride which we can all share in, giving a much-needed boost to the spirit. And who doesn’t need that right now, when the daily news is packed with uncertainty, economic gloom, the war in Ukraine, pressures on the cost of living and growing concern about climate change. We are witnessing the unique power of sport in positive action, and we need that more than ever.

Critically, the UEFA European Women’s Football Championship has paved the way for a shift from the perception that ‘women’s sport’ is secondary, and shown it has the power to command equal levels of emotion, engagement, and passion as ‘men’s sport’. Women’s sport is attracting sizable, valuable audiences and getting increasing support from brands that want to be associated with positive, inclusive moments.

What does this moment mean for sport? And crucially, what does this mean for leadership teams at sports, media and entertainment companies who all have far-reaching influence, positive and negative, in building a more inclusive world?

Excitingly, more women’s sport is on the verge of mainstream inclusion, just look at the W Series, Women’s Cricket and Women’s Rugby, to name but three. There is so much opportunity to capitalise on, but it needs the same qualities of leadership from the sports industry as those displayed by Sabrina Wiegman in recent months.

Sabrina Wiegman’s clarity of leadership is impressive. Her focus on the process rather than just the result (who wouldn’t want to win) is key.  Everyone in her team knows what the plan is, and what their role is. In turn it is notable how Wiegman only talks about the team, and not the individual. The sense of culture and community that she has created is a valuable lesson for any leader.

We fundamentally believe that for the sports industry at large to evolve, it needs to be brave and step outside its comfort zone and have the confidence to challenge mainstream perception, in partnership with brands that are working with the same goal of greater inclusion.  Every sports rights holder today is grappling with how to reach and engage new audiences, inspire new generations, and remain relevant and meaningful beyond the core fan base.  Bravery by grassroot clubs enabled girls to play which, in turn, has fostered a whole new generation of fans. Bravery by big brands to back women’s sport for the long-term and invest in change is paying off.

We also witnessed bravery by Sabrina Wiegman during the tournament to make the calls on substitutions that provided a winning formula.  The sports industry at large needs to be braver and dare to disrupt their business models, hire off field complementary talent from outside of the inner sports world and look at new growth strategies.

This more inclusive approach to talent is key – the sports world needs to look inwards and consider not just the good, but the recent bad examples where inclusion has failed, where people have not been included, indeed excluded, for different reasons and address this.

This can truly only come when the leadership teams are themselves inclusive, demonstrating a better, intuitive understanding of what it really means to belong in the sport you love. That is how we will fully unlock sport’s superpower of inclusion.

By Tim Palmer, Managing Partner Sports, Media & Entertainment Practice