Disability, Sport and the Pandemic. Does COVID-19 provide an opportunity to reconsider the mainstreaming of disability sport?

P J Kitchin, Andrew Hammond, Andrea Bundon, P. David Howe, Simon Darcy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Abstract1. Aim and Research QuestionsAlthough developed over the past 30 years, the mainstreaming of disability sport has been poorly executed (Thomas & Guett, 2014). Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact all groups within society, but those who experience inequality that intersects with multiple axes of marginalization (men on the margins, non-white older, disabled) have fared poorly. In many countries, non-elite sporting opportunities were stopped to prevent the spread of the virus. This pause has presented an opportunity. Our purpose is to take this opportunity and consider how we could mainstream disability sport more effectively in the future. To explore this purpose, we ask three questions. What is known about the mainstreaming of disability sport? How has the pandemic impacted the sporting lives of PwD? What practical recommendations can managers in sports organizations implement to enable a more inclusive sporting future in a post COVID-19 world?2. Theoretical Background and Literature ReviewThe social inclusion of PWD within sport includes the transfer of the governance and operations of disability sport activities from a Disability Sports Organization to a ‘mainstream’ sports organisation (Hums et al., 2003). The mainstreaming of disability sport adds a policy commitment to developing disability sport on mainstream sports organizations (Thomas & Guett, 2014) through “integrating the delivery and organisation of [formalised] sporting opportunities to ensure a more coordinated and inclusive sporting system” (Kitchin & Howe, 2014, p. 66). Mainstreaming has been used internationally, often arriving as a solution for more inclusive organizations, accompanied by the rationalization of sports funding and the increasing demands for elite success (Hammond et al., 2019; Thomas & Guett, 2014). Despite the inclusive intentions of mainstreaming, how this policy is operationalised can create problems (Kitchin et al., 2019).3. Research Design, Methodology and Data AnalysisA narrative literature review (McCarthy, et al., 2019) was conducted to review the evidence base on the mainstreaming of disability sport and evidence of the impact of the pandemic on the sporting lives of PwD. The literature was searched systematically across three databases Business Source Complete, Web of Science, and SPORTDiscus. Our search strategy used 2 strings, the first used the following key words: “mainstreaming” OR “integration” OR “inclusion” AND “disability sport”. This search examined articles published between 1996 and April 2021. The second used the following key words “COVID-19” OR “lockdown” OR “social restrictions” AND “Disability” OR “Disabled” AND “Athlete*”. This search examined articles published between November 2019 and April 2021. From this analysis, we develop a series of propositions for sport managers to enact a more inclusive sporting future in a post COVID-19 world.4. Results/Findings and DiscussionIt was found that the seeds of discrimination were sewn long before the pandemic with the dominance of certain voices within sport working against the inclusion of PWD in clubs and governing bodies. From the limited knowledge base on the mainstreaming of disability sport, sport managers have struggled to acknowledge and overcome discrimination in the sports workplace, because of the lack of PwD in decision making roles. Evidence suggests the multiple, negative impacts that the pandemic has foisted on the sporting lives of PwD have been exacerbated with the cessations of essential services, furthering the marginalisation of PWD. Despite these concerns, green shoots of hope have emerged that present opportunities for disability sport.5. Conclusion, Contribution and ImplicationIn order to capture this fleeting opportunity and based on our analysis, we develop a series of propositions that highlight pragmatic, practical recommendations for sport managers to implement. Despite issues around the management of mainstreaming sport, it is not a new practice. As such responses to restarting sport following the pandemic should strive for harmonious integration that supresses dominant voices to allow for a more inclusive and equitable role for others in decision making. Proposition 1: Ensure the voices of PwD from across all facets of sport are included in discussions about how all of sport should restart.Accessibility is crucial in any attempt to restart sport. Information shared throughout the sports environment needs to be multi-modal which can encourage greater uptake and understanding for all stakeholders in sport. Proposition 2: Consider the accessibility of all in all of our communications.New ways of working in sport management can alter the practices that may have created barriers for PWD wishing to work in sport. Managerial practices need to be more inclusive of flexible modes of working, many of which can now be done remotely.Proposition 3: Adopt practices in the sports workplace that support disability-inclusion.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEASM 2021 Festival of Sport Management Research and Practice
Subtitle of host publicationSport, Health, and Public Engagement
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 28 Oct 2021


  • Mainstreaming
  • Inclusion
  • ableism
  • COVID-19
  • Sport Management


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