The future of sports

Gender Shift & Inklusion

Anja Kirig & Marcel Aberle

Futu­ro­lo­gists and trend rese­ar­chers Anja Kirig and Marcel Aberle have conducted a survey with experts from the world of sports and sports faci­li­ties to look at nothing more and nothing less than the future of sports, on many levels.

What does the gender shift megatrend mean for fan culture?

The Couch by MVRDVPhoto: ©Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

The gender shift mega­trend does not stop at fan culture in sport. The sports fan land­scape has diver­si­fied. Accu­rate data on the growth of female and LGBT* sports fans over the last twenty years is hard to find. However, several studies suggest that a more acces­sible, consum­er­ori­en­tated fan culture and social inter­ac­tion oppor­tu­ni­ties have opened new oppor­tu­ni­ties for fans of all genders and sexual orien­ta­tions.

Fans of all genders are begin­ning to chall­enge gender stereo­types in sport. The assump­tion that women are disin­te­rested or igno­rant in sport is being chal­lenged by the emer­gence of dedi­cated female* fans, analysts, and commen­ta­tors. This deve­lo­p­ment is helping to break down outdated gender stereo­types in sport.

The demand for greater repre­sen­ta­tion of women’s sport in the sports media has also led to an increase in female sports jour­na­lists and more inten­sive reporting on women’s sport. Events such as women’s foot­ball and the Tour de France for women are recei­ving more atten­tion as a result.

Inci­den­tally, this has a direct impact on the number of women who then (want to) prac­tise the sport them­selves. The debate about equal pay in sport, parti­cu­larly in foot­ball, also illus­trates the change in social expec­ta­tions regar­ding gender equa­lity. Fans are actively shaping and driving this discourse. Groups such as Arsenal FC’s Gay Gooners actively campaign against homo­phobia and promote inclu­sion in foot­ball. These groups help to raise aware­ness of diver­sity and inclu­sion in sports.

Forecast and outlook

Despite the posi­tive deve­lo­p­ments, there is still a lot of untapped poten­tial. However, the inte­gra­tion of a diverse fan culture requires more proac­tive measures from sports

orga­ni­sa­tions, clubs, and asso­cia­tions. A single women’s repre­sen­ta­tive in a club is not enough to realise the full poten­tial of a diverse fan base.

To what extent should the sports facilities be gender-neutral (e.g. changing rooms, showers)? If necessary, what is desired?

The Couch by MVRDVPhoto: ©Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

In the context of the gender shift mega­trend, gender roles and gender iden­ti­ties are being chal­lenged. This deve­lo­p­ment is parti­cu­larly signi­fi­cant in the context of sport. It is not only many sports that are linked to a binary under­stan­ding of gender, whether soci­ally cons­tructed or insti­tu­tio­nally anchored due to compe­ti­tive condi­tions.

A key approach is to reco­g­nise diver­sity. This is because the younger gene­ra­tion in parti­cular incre­asingly no longer sees itself exclu­si­vely in binary gender cate­go­ries. Gender-neutral approa­ches, such as public swim­ming pools with indi­vi­dual chan­ging rooms and showers, can help people feel comfor­table and safe in sports faci­li­ties regard­less of their gender iden­tity.

The process involves more than just crea­ting gender-neutral spaces. It is about reco­g­nising and valuing the diver­sity of gender iden­ti­ties. Conti­nuous dialogue with the sports commu­nity is a neces­sity. This is the only way to under­stand the needs of diffe­rent groups. There is no universal solu­tion, which is why the invol­vement of users in the design process is so important. Successful initia­tives such as the Euro­Games show how posi­tive change can be brought about by taking diver­sity and inclu­sion into account.

Accep­tance of trans­gender people and non-binary iden­ti­ties in sport remains contro­ver­sial, and the tradi­tional binary in compe­ti­tion often leads to exclu­sion. It is ther­e­fore important to criti­cally scru­ti­nise exis­ting struc­tures and address where change is possible and neces­sary in order to promote an inclu­sive and respectful sporting envi­ron­ment. Raising aware­ness of gender diver­sity, non-hete­ro­nor­ma­tive life­styles and iden­ti­ties remains of central importance.

Forecast and outlook

Possible coun­ter­ar­gu­ments could be that the majo­rity still operate within tradi­tional gender boun­da­ries in the world of sport. However, the ques­tion goes beyond the pure aspect of gender

neutra­lity and gender sensi­ti­vity. Rather, the ques­tion is whether the prin­ci­ples of diver­sity and inclu­sion should be supported.

Mögliche Gegen­ar­gu­mente könnten sein, dass die Mehr­heit immer noch inner­halb der tradi­tio­nellen Geschlech­ter­grenzen in der Sport­welt agiert.

Die Frage geht jedoch über den reinen Aspekt von Gender­neu­tra­lität und Gender­sen­si­bi­lität hinaus. Es steht viel­mehr zur Diskus­sion, ob man die Grund­sätze der Viel­falt und Inte­gra­tion unter­stützen möchte.

Diversity and inclusion? Where does it start and where does it end?

The Couch by MVRDVPhoto: ©Daria Scagliola & Stijn Brakkee

Diver­sity starts where there is accep­tance that people are diffe­rent. Inclu­sion, on the other hand, begins where hete­ro­gen­eity is allowed to interact.

It becomes more diffi­cult to answer the ques­tion of where diver­sity and inclu­sion end. However, the boun­da­ries of these concepts are fluid and evolve with chan­ging social condi­tions. They could be considered obso­lete when inju­s­tice, discri­mi­na­tion and exclu­sion no longer exist — an idea­li­stic goal that can be inher­ently contra­dic­tory, as the decision to achieve it is subjec­tive.

The meanings of diver­sity and inclu­sion have changed over time. They always reflect a specific under­stan­ding of values. Diver­sity used to refer mainly to demo­gra­phic aspects such as origin, gender, reli­gion, and age. Today, these concepts encom­pass a broader range of charac­te­ristics, inclu­ding sexual orien­ta­tion, gender iden­tity, socioe­co­nomic status, physical and cogni­tive proces­sing patterns (neuro­di­ver­sity) and mental health.

Inter­sec­tion­a­lity, the reco­gni­tion of over­lap­ping expe­ri­ences that shape one’s own iden­tity and self-image, is also considered in the context of diver­sity. This topic is no longer prima­rily about inclu­ding more people from a homo­ge­neous, specific group that was previously not so strongly repre­sented.

Rather, it is important to reco­g­nise that there is multiple discri­mi­na­tion, which makes it neces­sary to create an appro­priate envi­ron­ment in which every person truly feels repre­sented as an indi­vi­dual. This process ques­tions estab­lished norms, unco­vers preju­dices and sheds light on unequal power struc­tures.

Points of criti­cism such as the fear of reverse discri­mi­na­tion or the use of diver­sity as an end in itself, which could prevent genuine inclu­sion, are part of the discus­sion.

Forecast and outlook

The under­stan­ding of diver­sity and inclu­sion varies depen­ding on the cultural back­ground. In a globa­lised and inter­con­nected world, however, these concepts are received inter­na­tio­nally. Both diver­sity and inclu­sion remain contro­ver­sial issues. Although it is an ongoing process, it does not always move in a linear fashion.


Anja Kirig

Future and trend rese­arch

Marcel Aberle

Mega­trends & trans­for­ma­tions



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