By Kieran Heffernan
Rideau-Rockcliffe councillor Rawlson King believes “way more” needs to be done to make sport more accessible in Ottawa and that the key to doing so is two-fold. King, who is also leading a new anti-racism secretariat with the city, says barriers to youth recreation programs need to be eliminated and diversity in sports management positions need to be promoted.
According to King, therein lies ways to get more traditionally disadvantaged and underrepresented youth involved in sport, regardless of their socio-economic status.
“Sport can be an entry way and a means of contact especially with youth, to ensure they are successful in educational pursuits,” King told the Sportspage in an interview.
“We know that both recreational engagement, as well as educational engagement…ensures a better quality of life outcomes for youth.”
King said he thinks the biggest obstacle for racial minorities is definitely affordability, although he acknowledges there may be social factors as well.
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“There are certain sports where people have a perception that they’re played by certain people. So that could always be an issue,” King said. “ (But) it’s not an oddity in anybody’s mind to think that Black kids are going to be participating in a hockey program, or a lacrosse program. That’s pretty normalized. I mean we have broadcasts of Hockey Night in Canada in in Punjabi.”
Although he believes racialized communities obviously continue to deal offensive comments and other racist actions on the field and in the locker room, King said this likely isn’t the main reason they do not participate.
One of the problems with funding sports programs, from the perspective of the city, is that there are limited places from which it can draw that money from.
“We can’t borrow money for operations. We can only borrow money for capital investments, investments in infrastructure assets, etc.,” King explained.
The issue of where the money is coming from is one that must be solved however, in order to ensure equity throughout the city’s recreation programs, King said.
“We’re not spending enough. We need to spend way more. And we have to try and get to a level of equity of access in poor neighborhoods to recreational programs.”
The other main concern King highlighted was the lack of diversity in off-field sports positions; the representation of different races among athletes and coaches doesn’t translate to those involved in the business side of sport.
“There isn’t often that clear pathway after somebody has done their amateur career to really take up sports management or anything like that. After they’re through with their athletic career, often they’re through (entirely with their career in sport),” he said.
“What we need to do is examine those ways of moving people forward and ensuring that high level decisions within organizations are also being made by many of the people who are bringing the benefits of the sport to everybody, especially through their participation on the field.”
The issue of employment equity is not unique to sport. It’s one that’s mirrored throughout countless sectors of the economy.
“I think that that’s where systemic racism comes into play,” King said. “In order to really address that, you have to first acknowledge that there’s a problem, and ensure that there’s pathways for people to get into management.”
One company that King said is taking the right approach to this issue is the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Ottawa 67s and Redblacks, and operates Lansdowne Park.
“They’ve started to have some conversations internally about ensuring that management is reflective of the Black experience and allows for opportunities for Black professionals to get engaged,” he said.
The City of Ottawa’s anti-racism secretariat is only a few months old, but King said there are plans for it to start consulting with the city’s various communities in November. It plans to touch on topics including recreation, culture and youth. These categories will likely include conversations about sport as well.
The importance of diversity in sport, whether it be within community recreation programs or company leadership, is clear when looking at the benefits it can have.
“If sports (are) done correctly, especially team sports, you’re building a camaraderie, you’re building an effort that requires collective participation. You’re also trying to build a culture,” King said. “In order for you to do that, people have to have a greater understanding of one another.”