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Inclusion in sports – Why it matters more than anything

Inclusion in sport

In today’s society, flexibility is key.

As a journalist, it’s about being able to fulfill multiple roles such as commentary, writing, reporting, interviewing and so on.

As a soccer player, it’s about being able to play multiple positions when called upon, even if it’s a position you’re not comfortable with.

As an event manager, you need to ensure your patrons have access to your events, even if they are impaired in some way.

Take for example, the Australian Open. A worldwide event that attracts fans from all across the globe. Different types of fans flock to Melbourne Park every year to watch the best players in the world.

However, for some, getting to Melbourne Park and then watching stars like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and many more isn’t as seamless as it may seem.

Physical impairments, in the past, have restricted some fans’ ability to watch world class tennis live. To say it’s a shame puts it lightly, it’s downright unfair. Fans should be able to watch tennis live and enjoy it just like everyone else.

That’s why Tennis Australia acted, as well as Wheelchair Tennis champion and Australian Dylan Alcott. Alcott is the men’s wheelchair first seed and is a modern-day Australian tennis icon.

He is the co-founder of a company called Get Skilled Access which, in accordance with Tennis Australia, has made access to all grounds at Melbourne Park 10 times easier.

All stadiums have lifts that can easily take people up to their seats. All showcourts now have certain entrances that have ramps instead of stairs and designated seats for those with disabilities.

Even getting around Melbourne Park has been made easier with more signs directing those in need to where they specifically need to go.

Now, those with physical impairments can enjoy the tennis just as much as everyone else, which is fantastic and a great reward for effort by TA and especially Alcott.

In saying that, sometimes it’s not a physical impairment that limits the enjoyment of sporting fans.

Deafness and blindness affect millions of people worldwide and as unfair as physical impairments are, being able to listen and/or see is just as unjust.

The ability to hear and to ability to see are things in life we often take for granted. For some, they dream of the ability to one day, be able to see or hear. But now, measures are being taken to ensure that they can still enjoy sport, like everyone else.

As another example, there have been videos making the rounds recently of groups of two people at soccer venues with someone who is unable to see. Between these two people is a mini soccer pitch, most likely made from cardboard. Using the blind person’s hands, they place them at points on the mini soccer pitch and tell them who has the ball and what’s happening.

Combined with the atmosphere of the stadium and its fans, it allows for the blind men and women to still enjoy the game and the memorable moments to its fullest extent. It’s a beautiful thing to see, especially when these videos are taken during important moments of important matches (e.g. Champions League).

It’s more than just great to see these people being able to enjoy sport, but it’s just plain awesome to see people committing themselves to helping those in need. It’s not just a credit to them, it’s life affirming for anyone else.

In conclusion, anyone who is anyone should be able to enjoy sporting events the way anyone else could. Inclusion is the most important thing about sports. Ensuring that everyone is involved, and everyone is treated equally in this respect is critical. It’s all a part of why sport is so loved worldwide. It brings people together but most importantly, it brings the best out of people, on and off the field.

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

Bundesliga looks to become the first sustainable league in the world – will Australia follow?

The German Football League (DFL), the body which governs the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, recently outlined their ambitions to become the world’s first carbon neutral domestic football leagues.

On August 19, the DFL announced that clubs would take a vote in December of this year on whether to include environmental sustainability as a part of its licensing requirements.

Environmental sustainability has been placed at the forefront of the DFL’s objectives over the past six months, through their Taskforce for the Future of Professional Football.

The taskforce, which is made up of 36 business, sport and political experts also looks to focus their energy on other topics such as financial stability, communication with fans and supporting the growth of the professional women’s game.

“This is only the first step of a marathon,” Christian Pfennig, member of the DFL management board, explained to Forbes.

“Our goal is to anchor sustainability oriented to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as another key factor in our licensing program by 2022/23. Then the following year, we want to introduce incentives, but also sanctions should a club fail to meet the minimum criteria.”

The criteria itself will be finalised with external experts in the coming weeks and months.

Multiple German clubs have been extremely well received for their commitment to sustainability over the years.

Wolfsburg, who are currently first in the Bundesliga this season, were ranked the most environmentally sustainable club earlier this year in a report conducted by Sport Positive.

The report highlighted Wolfsburg’s dedication to using 100 per cent green energy across the club by using bioplastic cups and for ensuring zero landfill waste, whilst offering vegan options at their stadium on game-day. The club’s website also contains a corporate responsibility page with information about climate protection and environmental initiatives, as they plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Freiburg have used solar energy at their Schwarzwald-Stadion since 1993, with their new stadium to follow suit when it opens in October. The new facility will also have green energy storage and plug-in charging stations.

In 2010, Mainz became the Bundesliga’s and one of the world’s first carbon neutral football clubs.

These promising examples and many others have generally been taken individually , but the DFL now wants to centralise its approach to sustainability.

“The most important step now is to create a framework for the different clubs that are part of the DFL, from a Champions League participant to teams promoted from the third division,” Pfennig said.

It’s a significant task, but the DFL believe they have to play a role in pursuing the best practices in tackling social issues, but they keep a realistic head in their objectives.

“There is no ideal world or ideal football, Pfennig said.

“We are aware that we will have to adjust our goals, also taking into account the background of an enormous change in all areas of life. That’s why we need a framework and always work in improving our goals.”

The centralised method has been successful for the implementation of other initiatives such as Supporter Liaison Officer’s (SLOs) and improvement of youth academies.

These works, which are part of the DFL’s licensing framework, have been copied by other countries around the world and Australia should be keeping a keen eye on them.

While looking to Germany may be a good guide for improving fan to club relations and youth academy developments, they should especially look to follow their upcoming sustainability guidelines.

Australian clubs should be further focusing on improving their efforts towards sustainability, in a country which generally fails to meet any of those types of objectives.

It may be a difficult initial transition but clubs will eventually benefit from this push in the years to come.

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