November 23, 2020

Decolonisation in Sport

Decolonisation is a metaphor for reparation and globalisation, and it is a demand to abolish systems that continue to dehumanise people and treat them unequally (1). This stretches to the industries of sport and fitness. There is always a certain weight, BMI and look that are the ‘right’ ones, and these measurements are based on white, cisgender, and abled bodies. Ilya Parker writes: ‘The Fitness Industry decides which bodies are worthy and they are usually White, toned, gender normative and able bodied. Now just imagine how many folks are intentionally left out of mainstream fitness because they literally don't measure up. How many people genuinely believe something is wrong with how they look and the way their body moves (or doesn’t)’ (2).

Holding such expectations excludes people of colour, gender diverse people, and people with disabilities. Such measurements are unattainable to people from these populations simply because they are built differently. It is important to question these tendencies of prejudice and biases in all aspects of life including sport and fitness. So how people with power in sport and fitness are involved in this gatekeeping mechanism that blocks certain populations from participating?

In sport and fitness, we have colonial practices that block certain populations and belittle their visibility. For example, the Toxic Fitness Culture that promotes ‘fitness’ solely as a look, fat-shaming people who have bigger bodies, and personal trainers unwilling to accommodate their workouts for people with different abilities (5).

Other forms of Toxic Fitness Culture are carried in practices like punishing gender diverse people for having natural different levels of hormones, like the case of Caster Semenya (6). Also, making sport and fitness services inaccessible to people from the working and lower social class, for example, raising the prices of the yoga retreat centres (7). Decolonisation in sport and fitness is about the power of reimagining inclusive sport and fitness spaces that advocate for wellness and community instead of separation. ‘Decolonising Fitness also means to reinvent, reimagine, and restructure fitness practices that feel supportive, affirming and empowering’ (8). We need more gyms and sport facilities that are dedicated to decolonise their practices and policies, and are willing to create these connections between movement and healing which is called ‘Trauma-informed movement’. There are gyms and sport centres that are actively working towards decolonasing their practices. Radically Fit, Oakland’s body positive community gym for Queer, Trans, POC, Big Bodies and Fat Identified Folx and their allies, regardless of experience or ability in the USA (9), and Projekt 42, the UK’s first charity gym combining physical fitness and mental health services, based in Scotland (10). If involved with a team, gym or club and want to do your bit to eliminate Toxic Fitness Culture, here are 5 things you can start doing today:

a)     Recruit staff from marginalised identities because representation matters, and this will encourage more people from other marginalised identities to participate.

b)     Offer affordable services and make them free or pay-as-you-can, so people from disadvantage backgrounds and lower social classes will not be excluded.

c)     Advocate for mental health issues and support staff and customers through providing mental health services with their memberships.

d)     Provide regular training sessions and workshops on inclusivity and diversity for staff.

e)     Make sure to feature people from all walks of life in social media posts, ads, and marketing posts to make people feel welcomed.

Resources:

(1)  https://www.un.org/en/sections/issues-depth/decolonization/index.html

(2)  https://decolonizingfitness.com/blogs/decolonizing-fitness/what-does-decolonizing-fitness-mean

(3)  https://www.aclu.org/issues/smart-justice/mass-incarceration

(4)  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-54813515

(5)  https://decolonizingfitness.com/blogs/decolonizing-fitness/some-examples-of-toxic-fitness-culture

(6)  https://edition.cnn.com/2020/09/09/sport/caster-semenya-ruling-athletics-spt-intl/index.html

(7)  https://decolonizingyoga.com/decolonizing-the-yoga-retreat/

(8)  https://www.athleteally.org/decolonizing-fitness/

(9)  https://www.radicallyfitoakland.com/about

(10) https://www.projekt42.co.uk/

Esraa Husain

November 23, 2020

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