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  • Writer's pictureAthletes For Life

Sport underperforming when it comes to social action

Only 11% of Australians believe sport is positively impacting awarness of social issues.

Nick Youngquest


Power to unite. Power to inspire. A language in which youth understand. 


Nelson Mandela explained the above ideas in his speech at the Inaugural Laureus Sport Awards in 2000 – “Sport has the power to change the world,” he concluded. 


Sport does have the ability to dive into the microcosms of societal issues, while also impacting major issues impacting society at large. In fact, society expects sport, athletes and sporting organisations to positively impact the social discourse around a range of topics. A 2022 study by No2ndPlace found that 93 per cent of Australians believe sport should play an important role in addressing societal issues we currently face. 


Colin Kaepernick stood for his cause, albeit by kneeling while the national anthem sang out around stadiums in 2016, only to be essentially black-balled by the National Football League in the United States – the stereotypical, shut-up and play stance sometimes thrust upon sports stars who stand for something… Interesting given that the evidence suggests otherwise. Why are some athletes met with varying disdain when voicing their opinions on societal matters they care about?


Colin Kaeperinck an Eric Reid kneeling during the national anthem protesting police brutality in the 2016 National Football League season.


With mental health continuing to be a common challenge in populations around the world – one in five Australians between the ages of 16-85 experience a mental illness in a year, according to the Black Dog Institute – athlete voices become a valuable tool to inspire and empower others to overcome challenges and seek the help they need. Although there are still some topics which seem out-of-bounds for athletes. For female sports, the stories are endless surrounding their ability to choose their own uniforms: volleyball, handball and gymnastics to name a few sports where women have been penalised for not wearing the conventional attire upon sexist ideologies. This is seemingly no different to the Manly Sea Eagles players who decided not to play due to a rainbow colour being included on their jersey in the NRL… a topic, which divided people along religious ideology.


Serena Williams wearing a tutu in light of sexist reporting from the French Open in the same year.


With the rise of social media and other mediums such as podcasts, it is no wonder society is looking to athletes to become more productive members of sociable discourse. Garnering large followings across various platforms with the ability to engage audiences like very few can, athletes, sports and sporting brands are being looked to when it comes to issues society faces. High profile examples of this are brands such as Nike severing ties with basketball player, Kyrie Irving over his maligned and misguided views on a variety of topics. 


The general public is looking to athletes for guidance, realising sport can play a productive role in impacting society in useful ways. The influence of sporting bodies, brands, sports teams and athletes is far reaching, speaking to youth in a language they understand. Unfortunately, No2ndPlace reveals that only 11 per cent of Australians believe sport has been effective at doing so. Perhaps it’s time to look back to what Mandela said in order to move forward. It's time to access the powerful nature of sport to change the world the way he suggested it could. 

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