“My persuasion can build a nation”: Beyonce, IWD2021 and the Commonwealth

You know it is an experimental blog post when you decide to direct quote Beyonce in the title. The lyric “my persuasion can build a nation” is from Beyonce’s early 2010s hit Run the World (Girls), still an iconic song! Hopefully, you will hear the tune as you read my following musings about gender and sport.

March 08 is both International Women’s Day #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 and The Commonwealth Secretariat #CommonwealthDay. The Commonwealth Secretariat’s theme is ‘delivering a common future’ and #SheLeadsTheWay. My work at the moment has distinct Commonwealth and gender aspects to it. Including a gendered review of sports diplomacy academic literature and practices in the Commonwealth, a collaborative piece about the bidding for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup by Australia and New Zealand, and a monitoring and evaluation of a high-performance coach programme targeted at women.

Two questions keep cropping up:

To what extent does sport perpetuate dominant (mostly Western and white) understandings of gender?

How do particular organisations navigate gender in international settings?

The first question is far too big and loaded to cover in a blog post, but it is informing a lot of my own thoughts as I work through projects. The latter question is what I will focus on in this blog. This past week, I watched two talks and both linked the Commonwealth, gender, and sport.

Firstly, I had the pleasure of listening to Professor Bruce Kidd who spoke about many aspects of his life, including gender and the Commonwealth, he noted (around minute 48) in relation to opportunities and challenges for the Commonwealth and Birmingham 2022, “we’ve got to break the association that staging the games is all about us [the host].” This comment connects to bigger debates about the relevance of hosting one of the flagship Commonwealth Games events. What was refreshing to hear from Bruce and in the articles below, is the leaders of varying Commonwealth organisations do not shy away from present and historical regional issues, such as equal rights.

David Grevemberg, a leader in the Commonwealth Sport Movement for the past decade wrote a recent blog post, and he reflected on the launch of “our Foundation with a bold and timely sense of purpose and direction to contribute to addressing some of the Commonwealth’s largest challenges in youth empowerment; equal rights; historical injustice; small states and island states and sustainable cities and communities.” Full post at Inside the Games, here.

What does this look like in practice and in terms of gender? Well, Birmingham 2022 have confirmed they will “focus on women’s sport on penultimate day of Games”

Secondly, I watched a webinar on ‘encouraging and empowering female coaches’ the two featured speakers represented the Commonwealth Games Federation and World Rugby. Both speakers (Sheilagh Croxon and Katie Sadleir) raised interesting points around holistic and evidence based approaches, which if effective can leverage coalitions of people to support interventions or strategies aimed at diversity and equality.

What does this look like practice and in terms of gender? Well, World Rugby have an engaging website to showcase their work, perhaps most impressive for me is their Women Coaching Rugby Toolkit “developed by World Rugby as an aid to unions and regions in recruiting, developing and retaining more women rugby coaches at every level of the game.” I very much like the use of Dr Nicole M. LaVoi’s (and colleagues) ecological model, as screen grabbed here. The individual, organisational, inter-personal and societal layers of this model seem to connect neatly the messy and broad range of inter-linking challenges which women face.

A lot to consider in what I have noted here, I hope some of these links are useful to you all. My initial reflections about the question – how do particular organisations navigate gender in international settings? – are:

  • Consider the history…
  • Consider the relevance…
  • Consider the approach…
  • Agree, it is not all about us…

I will be heading to a couple more events in the coming months to think about gender and sport further. Check out the following Tweets or links if, like me (or Beyonce), you want to promote, listen, and discuss:

Empowering Women through Sports Diplomacy, March 10, register link here.

Women in Sport and Exercise Conference 2021, 19-22 April, website link here.

Women in Sport Conference, 6 November, information in the tweet below.


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