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'Things need to change': Diversity, race and inclusion in sport remain a work in progress

Raptors players take a knee on  before one of their games.

Following the death of George Floyd, Raptors players took a knee on several occasions before their games.

Photo: Getty Images / Pool/Kim Klement

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News by Cole Shelton · CBC Sports

Toronto Raptors' exec says now, more than ever, sports must use platform for change

John Wiggins, Vice President, Organizational Culture and Inclusion for the Toronto Raptors, believes there is still a lot of work to be done to combat diversity, race and inclusion in sport.

Wiggins was one of several panellists who participated in the 'Diversity, Race, & Inclusion in the Sport Industry' discussion on Wednesday and believes sport is a platform that can enact global change.

I've been focused on basketball operations and team and winning. This platform and winning took a new definition on how we are going to win in the community and how we are going to win in society and how our team could do that, Wiggins said.

When you mention the busses, we didn't just drive into Disney with the busses. We drove two hours across the state of Florida, right up I-4 for everyone to see how powerful we were going to take action and saw that Black Lives Matter. ... Things need to change. Sport is that platform.

Wiggins was joined on the panel by Marco Di Buono of Canadian Tire Jumpstart, Tanya Phillips of Right to Play, Markina Warner of MLSE Launchpad, and Bryant McBride of Burst.

This the first of a new insights panel series on equity, race and inclusion from the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. This series is part of the Sport, Diversity & Race Project led by Ryerson University's Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Richard Norman. 

The monthly series, curated by Dr. Norman, features a range of sport practitioners, including athletes, scholars, industry experts and thought-leaders reflecting on a variety of topics concerning the sport industry and system: what the industry sector has done well, what needs to happen moving forward and what are the long-lasting implications for the shifting sport landscape.

To improve diversity in sport, Di Buono says it starts at the grassroots level and organizations needing to fund the right programs.

There are limitations to the type of organizations we can fund, Di Buono said. "If we are truly going to make a difference in this space, we need to start getting to Black-led and Indigenous-led organizations who are doing the work at the grassroots to engage with children in youth and change the game.

At the same token, we need to stop just funding organizations and holding them to these ridiculous expectations around reporting and constraints about what they can and can't do with the dollars. The overwhelming majority of organizations wants to embrace inclusion, they don't know how, he continued. They lack the capability, they lack the capacity.
Marco Di Buono
One of the busses the Raptors' drove to the Florida bubble in last year exhibited how important the organization felt it was to use its platform for good.

John Wiggins, Vice President, Organizational Culture and Inclusion for the Toronto Raptors, says the busses the team drove to the Florida bubble in last year exhibited how important the organization felt it was to use its platform for good.

Photo: Reuters / Handout .

IOC's Rule 50 a concern

One main concern the panellists had was the IOC's Rule 50, which prohibits athlete protests at the Olympic Games. Warner believes if athletes had not protested at previous Games the world and sport would look totally different.

This world would actually be a different place and a lot of us would be different people if John Carlos and Tommy Smith hadn't done what they did and we all got to see that, she said. This, to me, is just another example of the deep roots of racism and oppression in sport.

Phillips, meanwhile, hopes athletes continue to protest, as seeing competitors in the biggest sporting event in the world angle for equality will create change.

Did they not pay attention to what happened in the world? We all talk about sport being the great unifier and if the IOC could flip their mind that this is not a protest but a unifying way to change the world, IOC could be the leader in this by celebrating how the world came together a year ago. That is what I grew up thinking the Olympics were all about.
Tanya Phillips of Right to Play

Wiggins also knows the time to stick to sports is over and pushing for change is the focus.

"Maybe the IOC didn't get the message but we are not going to shut up and dribble. We are not going to shut up and throw our javelin, we are not going to shut up and run. ... What's happening in the world can not just fade away when the Olympics happen, on the largest global sports platform we have in this world why wouldn't we continue the conversation?

To the IOC, you clearly don't get it. But you will.

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