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Diversity and inclusion in sport: You Can Play’s mission to Australia

You Can Play, the largest LGBT sporting inclusion charity in North America, were in Australia to meet with LGBT+ leaders, sporting organisations and corporate entities to share their knowledge of the sporting inclusion landscape with their Aussie counterparts.

Supported by the Consulate General of Canada, the mission from You Can Play visited Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to gain a stronger understanding of how sporting organisations are working to become more inclusive, as well as talking about their dealings with large scale North American organisations like the NHL, NBA and MLB.

Initially formed in in honour of the late Brendan Burke, the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs President & General Manager Brian Burke, who was tragically killed in a car accident just months after publically coming out and detailing his reasoning for quitting a promising sporting career, the organisation works across North America and globally to promote inclusion and helping sporting organisations become more inclusive, including assisting in the organisation of Pride nights and merchandising opportunities.

Throughout their trip, the representatives from You Can Play met with 89 LGBTIQ+ leaders, 53 sports administrators, almost a dozen government officials and executives from major Australian corporations, including from all four major banks at events held around the country, including a reception at the Consulate General of Canada in Sydney, which involved a panel including former Canadian AFL player Mike Pyke, Australian cricketer Alex Blackwell and National Australia Bank Director Lisa Wade.

Erik Denison, a researcher at the Behavioural Sciences Laboratory at Monash University, which assisted in the funding and organising of the mission, says You Can Play were able to impress upon sporting organisations the many benefits of diverse inclusion.

“I think the main lesson that sport leaders learned from the Canadian and American experience is that addressing LGBT discrimination isn’t just the right thing to do, it is also lucrative and ensures that sports ‘future proof’ and remain relevant given young people have very positive attitudes toward the LGBT community,” he said.

“Prior to You Can Play’s visit, there was a perception that embracing the LGBT community was entirely about community engagement/social responsibility, and it was eye opening for many sport leaders the organisations like the Maple Leafs and Blue Jays definitely do LGBT events because they want to do the right thing, but they have also made millions in the process.”

Sarah Kogod, an Inclusion Consultant with You Can Play, said the mission to Australia was a valuable one.

“We spoke with so many different people, and have continued some of those conversations since. I can see potential in partnering with business and sports organisations to begin building some of those programs that are needed to lift up LGBTQ inclusion in sports,” she said.

“There were many who lamented how ‘behind’ Australia is in LGBTQ inclusion, but I don’t see it that way – I see it as massive potential for growth and evolution.”

Kogod told Canada Down Under that having the support of the Canadian government for the mission was vital in giving it legitimacy and strengthening its cause.

“Where the government goes, the rest of the world follows. I can recite the data all day long that tells you how much more profitable inclusive companies are, but until inclusion becomes a business imperative, we will consistently lack the funding we need to continue these programs,” she explained.

“The Government of Canada has influence – not just over budget incentives but also policy that guides how business evolves. When there is government incentive to invest in inclusion, more business will do it.”

The value of inclusion in sport, to sporting organisations, individuals and sponsor organisations is immense, and Kogod’s (and You Can Play’s) passion for it is undeniable.

“We know the statistics that tell us how many LGBTQ youth athletes drop out of sport due to bullying and homophobia. Our organisation was founded in honor of one of them,” she said.

“Making sports safer, not just for athletes but for any LGBTQ person who experiences sport in some way, is crucial to the health and safety of our community. LGBTQ youth attempt suicide at exponentially higher rates than the rest of the population – that has to stop and we’re finding a way to do that through sport.”

The Consulate General of Canada was proud to support You Can Play’s mission to Australia, and is passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion across all sectors.


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Canada Down Under is an on-line portfolio of Canadian-Australian stories produced by the Consulate General of Canada in Sydney and other contributors.

Canada Down Under est un portefeuille en ligne d'histoires canado-australiennes produites par le Consulat général du Canada à Sydney et d'autres contributeurs.

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