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Sports help many of us understand our bodies, thoughts, and keep in touch with the rest of the world. They stir the emotions, allowing for brand affinity to develop, and form strong ties with supporters.

In recent years, the sporting scene has shifted dramatically. Off the back of government and community demands for good governance, integrity, and equality, offering safe, fair, and inclusive sporting environments is no longer a goal. It’s a must.

Putting parasports in the media eye

Parasports have seen a large growth in interest, with investment in para-athletes, events, and media coverage all increasing over the last decade. But for many, that’s still not enough.

 In France, Germany, Italy, and the UK, the Summer and Winter Olympics are by far the most popular sporting events, followed by football competitions such as the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA Champions League. 

Parasports don’t garner quite the same attention, but are still popular with viewers.

The Paralympics are followed by 1 in 5, with the Winter Paralympics following narrowly behind.

As international event organizers look to expand their global supporter base, the relationship between sports, athletes, and fans all grow in importance. These events provide a platform to compete on a global stage as well as a space for public and private sectors to join in the celebration of sport. 

But it’s just that which makes these events so significant – their global reach.

Sports often focus on the most successful, medal-winning athletes in an attempt to capture the national audience interest. For the Paralympics in the UK, the use of this strategy clearly resonates, with research from the European Journal of Communication showing the reason many watch the Paralympics is to experience another sporting event that delivered national medal success.

Chart showing opinions of parasport and non-parasport followers

Originally planned for 2020, the Invictus Games are set to go ahead in The Hague this year, a celebration of the individuals who were injured or became sick as a result of serving their country, bringing together over 500 competitors from 19 nations. 

As many as 42% of consumers believe parasports should be highlighted more by the media, with 32% believing they’re exciting to watch.

Media opportunities – when positive – are well received, and Netflix are set to bring parasports to the streaming masses later this year.

As part of a mega deal signed with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Netflix is filming a docuseries about the Invictus Games, the first of its kind for the event. The series, Heart of Invictus, will follow a group of competitors from around the globe on their road to the games, as well showing their resilience, determination, and resolve.

Given its global reach, Netflix will bring the event to the eyes of viewers who may not tune in, especially as interest in the games outside of the UK is limited. Given the successes of Drive to Survive and how the Netflix docuseries has increased interest in the sport, Heart of Invictus could play an important role in attracting broader audiences.

How brands can play their part in social causes

It’s been fifty five years since Kathrine Switzer broke barriers as the first woman to run the 1967 Boston marathon. With so much time passed since the landmark event, you would expect there to be more equity in the representation and inclusivity of female professional athletes in sporting events.

Some steps have been made, but brands have an active role to play in the discussion. After all, over 2 in 5 consumers want brands to be socially responsible, and over 1 in 3 want brands to make them feel valued. 

So, let’s dive into some examples of issues in sport, before finding out what brands have done to address them.

You can look across most disciplines, and won’t have to do much digging before issues emerge. Widely regarded as one of the finest men’s cycling races, Paris-Roubaix was first held in 1896, but what about the women’s event? Well, that was only held for the first time last year. 

It’s not just problems with representation and participation – salaries and prize money are huge issues across sport.

The 2021 female winner of Paris-Roubaix Lizzie Deignan received €1,535 for her landmark victory. The male winner? A cool €30,000. 

While race organizers and governing bodies did little, Deignan’s team, Trek-Segafredo, took matters into their own hands by matching all prize money awarded to the value of the men’s prize fund. They took it a step further by matching rider base salaries too. An unprecedented step for the sport, but one in the right direction.

You may never have heard of Trek-Segafredo, or even be aware that Trek and Segafredo are separate independent businesses. One a global bicycle retailer, and the other? A global coffee distributor. Their approach brought great acclaim in the cycling world, and is an example of brands acknowledging and addressing inequalities proactively.

Despite the best intentions of governing bodies, they don’t always have the speed, or flexibility, to address issues. The important thing for brands looking to contribute is that they do so authentically, not using their approach or investment as a vanity metric, or a form of gender washing.

Esports & DEI

Greater representation and inclusivity isn’t limited to traditional, physical sports either. It’s also becoming increasingly important in esports – fueled by the growing interest in gaming among different audiences more generally. 

Taking place this year in Birmingham, England, the Commonwealth Games are set to be viewed by 28% of consumers in the UK. The event features major disciplines such as track athletics, road cycling, diving and netball, but disabled athletes are also represented in the same competition, with para athletics, para track cycling, and para powerlifting, among other disciplines.

But for the first time, as sanctioned by the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), the inaugural Commonwealth esports championships are being held – albeit independently.

Raising the profile of esports is a nod to the huge interest in gaming among younger audiences. In an article from The Guardian, CGF President Dame Louis Martin goes on to explain how it will allow them to “continue to evolve and explore future editions of [the] event and what they could look like.” Now reaching mainstream status, livestreaming providers and gaming studios could have a huge role to play in creating a new wave of esport athletes, and long demanded disabled esports leagues.

Over half of esports viewers watch content on Twitch, and the platform uses tags to help share and discover interests and groups. On the surface level, you can search for tags specific to games, genres, and league play, which for some casual gamers, can help narrow down to their favorite titles. 

For some however, the feature brings like-minded groups together, with tags for gender, ethnicity, disability, and health conditions, among others.

Physically impaired consumers are 56% more likely to livestream their gameplay, 11% more likely to watch live gaming streams, and 7% more likely to watch esport tournaments, than non-disabled individuals. 

Gaming platforms & streaming services provide spaces for non-disabled gamers to engage and learn alongside disabled communities.

We’re aware that these insights only highlight some of the progress that needs to be made. The issues are evident, but the solutions less so, as what we often see is just the tip of the iceberg in a sea of problems. 

Individual needs are unique, and for event organizers, brands, sports teams and beyond, understanding the interests and attitudes of consumers will go some of the way to tackling issues of diversity and inclusion head on.

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