World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development 2021

21st May 2021

Today is a Cultural Diversity Day. Good old days when we could travel freely and explore different cultures have not yet resumed. Numerous lockdowns and enforced travel restrictions have resulted in more time being spent at home in our local communities. For some, this may have been a time of reflection and recognition of the community we are a part of. With travel on the horizon, we recognise that it is not just about exploring other cultures. Indeed, immersing ourselves in other cultures helps us to better understand a culture we come from, as suddenly we are the ones who don’t ‘fit in’. Unfortunately, we don’t need to travel too far to find those who don’t feel they fit into our local communities or workplaces. But does cultural diversity mean others need to fit in with us, or is it us recognising our own culture first before we ask others to fit in?

Both culture and diversity have become buzz words recently which, perhaps, deserve more credit and reflection than we are willing to allocate. Culture is defined as “shared values, beliefs, and practices of an identifiable group of people” (Gill & Ryba, 2014, p.137). Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland have subtle cultural differences that are obvious at times. The same is true for Manchester United and Manchester City Football Clubs; both of which may share very similar football culture but have very different practices that form their own culture. Culture goes beyond borders, religion, language or ethnicity and often includes a school we went to, the neighborhood we grew up in, or different clubs we have played for or worked at.

Diversity, on the other hand, is defined as “presence of socially meaningful differences among members of a…group” (Cunningham, 2019, p. 6). It is often understood as presence of obviously evident differences such as the way people look or talk. However, seeing diversity is not equivalent to being inclusive of it. Clearly, some places in the UK look more diverse than others. For instance, 77.8% of Birmingham’s population was born in the UK compared with 86.2% of England’s population (Birmingham City Council, 2013). On the other hand, 12% of the non-Scottish white group resided in Edinburgh in 2011 (Glasgow Centre for Population Health, n.d.). These places may seem culturally diverse and inclusive of such diversity, but many of us are still trying to fit with certain expectations and feel more welcome.

The same is true for different sports and activities. According to Sport England (2020), Asian adults (excluding Chinese) are more actively involved in cricket, basketball, badminton and football compared with the overall England’s adult population. In contrast, winter sports, golf and water sports are the activities Asian adults are significantly under-represented in. Combined, the picture of who we are working with and who we are working for has changed over the years. While our workplace and sport and exercise industry comprise of a wider range of cultural backgrounds, such diversity does not necessarily make our workplace inclusive of such cultural diversity. Many of us try to fit in with the created culture rather than the culture celebrating existing cultural diversity. Therefore, it is inevitable that we need to become more culturally competent individuals to accommodate the needs of people from different cultural background.

Members of BASES Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Group have shared their first memory of becoming more culturally aware in a hope to give everyone some food for thought.

The first time I was made aware of my culture was when…

“...I went to school and I learnt those around me did not practice the same traditions at home with their families as I did with mine. At times I felt embarrassed, not expressing my culture in order to fit in. It was only when I moved to Birmingham for university, surrounded by a diverse range of cultures that I felt proud and embraced my own amongst others.”

- Savannah Sturridge

“…I moved to the UK and was faced with other ways of thinking and behaving. It raised many questions and made me much more aware of the diversity existing among different communities; communities that look so similar to each other and yet are so diverse.”

- Dr Kotryna K. Fraser

“… I went to University, or at least this was the beginning of a deeper understanding. Of course, you discuss these issues in school, but they seem somewhat abstract. Importantly, being culturally aware does not mean compromising your own culture or sacrificing your values for another’s; it’s about respecting others’ cultures, as well as our own.”

- Dr Tori Sprung

“...I have struggled to identify a specific moment that I first became aware of my culture. For me, this is a gradual and continuous growth of awareness. Through starting school, going to University, working in different environments, I have increasingly become more aware of different cultures, which has only gradually made me more aware of my own”.

- Dr Sharon Dixon

“...I became cognisant of other cultures around me. When I started to appreciate cultural diversity, this made me reflect on my own culture, background and bias.”

- Dr Richard Buscombe

Together, let’s create a culture among Sport and Exercise Scientists where cultural diversity and inclusivity go beyond a tick-box exercise to reach quotas. Let’s create a culture in which we celebrate thoughts, ideas, experiences and backgrounds different to our own. Let’s create a culture in which people reflect on their own culture, before questioning others. Let’s create a culture in which we take into consideration not only the clients we work with but also our colleagues, students and collaborators. Our discipline comprises of huge cultural diversity. If we can create a culture whereby all feel genuinely welcomed, valued and given meaningful opportunities to engage with and contribute to, then we will thrive all the more.

Happy Cultural Diversity Day.

BASES EDI Advisory Group 

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About BASES

BASES stands for the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. BASES is the professional body for sport and exercise sciences in the UK.

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