The Active Amputee Weekend Edition - Seven pillars of inclusion

Easy wins: Building on what unites us (picture courtesy of Incusive Sport Design)
Easy wins: Building on what unites us (picture courtesy of Incusive Sport Design)

Using commonalities as the start point for inclusive sport

It is a fact, in many countries around the world, that some people face disadvantage when it comes to getting involved in sport activities. There are particular subgroups that have nuances and requirements that we need to cater for in order to ensure they can participate fully. So the question is, if we know these challenges exist what do we actually do about it? How do we take action on inclusion in our sport clubs and organisations? How do we talk about it?



In this post you will learn:

  •  The importance of looking at what is common in addressing inclusion
  • What the 7 Pillars of Inclusion are
  • How to apply the 7 Pillars of Inclusion


At the end of the post I will provide some additional resources to help you put things into action.



Commonalities Of Inclusion – The Start Point

Let’s start by thinking about what do we do day to day in our clubs and organisations that actually make inclusion happen. We need to think about what it means right at the coalface. For many years in sport we have adopted this idea that we deliver sport programs with a targeted population group approach and the term I use is that it’s actually a model of difference. I this way what we actually do is we find the things that are different about the people that we’re having trouble getting involved in sport and then we try and come up with a solution that alleviates the barriers that they face. Typically we do those things in isolation. For example many sports run a disability sport program, they have a multi-cultural officer and deliver women’s engagement activities – all typically separated from each other and not necessarily delivered under a cohesive approach. The programs and activities are defined by what makes each group different and not by the approaches that are similar.


I myself have worked in programs and delivered activities that fit that model. I started out my career as the Inclusion Coordinator for a National Sport Organisation but my focus was only on disability. My strategy, objectives and activities were not related or connected to the work going on to engage with indigenous communities. They were managed and delivered in relative isolation, in silos. Yet both had the goal of engaging with groups who faced disadvantage when it came to getting involved in the sport. However, it was clear there were common issues, common approaches and practices that would have been beneficial to share.


So, what are the shared practices that actually make a difference when it comes to inclusion? In other words, what are the common things across sport or across our communities that actually make inclusion happen? This is where the 7 Pillars of Inclusion come in. The 7 Pillars of inclusion were developed by Peter Downs in a project commissioned by Play by the Rules. Peter’s goal was to identify and define these common factors that influenced inclusion regardless of who the target participants were. Through his research Peter found that people were talking broadly about the same things.



Understanding The Big Picture Issues

"The details of implementation were different – for example the strategies to address Indigenous disadvantage differed markedly to those for people with disability. While the complexities of gender inequality are different to cultural disadvantage. But, the helicopter view of inclusion – the ‘big picture’ issues – were very similar."


Peter Downs


Through these discussions common phrases, words and approaches emerged.



Back in 2015/16 I worked very closely with Peter when he was creating the 7 Pillars of inclusion and together we embedded this into the National Inclusion Framework for Swimming Australia. Since then Netball Australia and the NRL have done the same and more sports are following suit.




What Are The 7 Pillars Of Inclusion?

The 7 Pillars of Inclusion is a broad framework that provides sport clubs or organisations a starting point to address inclusion and diversity. Each pillar represents the common aspects of inclusion–the things that are similar regardless of who we seek to involve in sport. Importantly the 7 Pillars focuses on habits, the things we do, that either enable inclusion or don’t. By identifying these habits, we can begin to make changes that enable and promote inclusion. In this way the 7 Pillars provide a starting point for achieving diversity and can be used to address the ‘how to’ of achieving inclusion.


Watch the video below for a summary of the 7 Pillars of Inclusion then I’ll step you through each pillar.



Access explores the importance of a welcoming environment and the habits that create it.

This is about what your participants experience when getting to and inside the place your sport happens, but it’s more than physical. It’s also about the feel, the environment, the culture that’s in the place that you’re in. Your club could have a ramp up into the foyer of your sports facility that a person could use to get inside, but if the person who greets them makes them feel un-welcome or the coach says they’re not willing to coach that person then the ramp is really irrelevant. You’re still not going to participate. So it’s important to explore what access really means in the physical and non-physical environment.




Attitude looks at how willing people are to embrace inclusion and diversity and to take meaningful action.

So ask yourself, how willing are you to actually make it happen? In pulling the Seven Pillars together it was identified that there was a gap between simply wanting to be inclusive and actually doing something about it. So your attitude isn’t about just being positive, it’s about having a willingness to take real action.




Choice is all about finding out what options people want and how they want to get involved.

This is about identifying what a participant can do. Choice is the friend of inclusion. If you offer lot of options to take advantage of then you are likely to get more diverse people involved in your activities.


The Inclusion Spectrum is a related idea that can help you take action on choice, learn more here.




Partnerships looks at how individual and organisational relationships are formed and how effective they are.

A partnership could be as easy as an introduction, conversation and a handshake. It can be really informal. You’ve just got to connect people. It could be more formal with agreements and MOUs and contracts but partnerships are what bind us together and join our communities.


Understanding the influencers in your networks will help you identify key partners, learn more here.




Communication examines the way we let people know about the options to get involved and about the culture.

So think about who you are telling and also how are you telling them? Is it suiting their needs of communication.




Policy considers how an organisation commits to and takes responsibility for inclusion.

Policy is about holding yourself, your club or organisation and your stakeholders to account for inclusion. It’s about saying “Inclusion is important” but more than that it’s about saying, “This is how we’re going to address it and this is what it means for us” and then having mechanisms to actually deliver on those statements.




Opportunity explores what options are available for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

This is similar to choice but it’s not the same. Opportunities is about “what do you want to do”. So this explores the habits that dictate the opportunities that are actually available in the place that you deliver your sport. As an example, I have a whole range of things that I might want to do but can I actually take advantage of that choice. I’ll use swimming as an example, referring to the ramp scenario. I may have the choice to join a swimming club in my local town because there’s a pool there. There’s a coach there with a really great program who’s really willing and welcoming but I get to the facility and there is no ramp. I use a wheelchair. I want to go into that really great program. They want me to come in there but I have a real access issue so the actual opportunity doesn’t exist for me. The choice is there but I don’t get the opportunity.




These are the 7 Pillars of Inclusion, a framework for defining the commonalities of inclusion in sport. This provides a consistent approach and a consistent language and it can help your club or organisation go from simply valuing and understanding inclusion as something important to real action and cultural change.




The Connection With Habits

Now, under the opportunities pillar I talked about this idea of habits. What Pete found was that within each of these Pillars there’s actually things that we do on a day to day basis either as individuals or as organisations and communities that either lead to inclusion or don’t and you can map those under the 7 Pillars. You can learn more about how habits influence inclusion in my post here.



Next Steps

  • Read Peter Downs’ complete article about the 7 Pillars of Inclusion at The Inclusion Club, just click here.
  • You can find more resources and information about the 7 Pillars of Inclusion at Play by the Rules, just click here.
  • Read my post "How our habits influence inclusion in sport" to go deeper on this topic.
  • If you would like to work with me on your inclusion strategy book an Inclusion Action Session with me!


Guest post by Michael Woods. Michael is the creator behind Inclusive Sport Design, a resource and web platform aiming to help sport providers at all levels achieve their goals for diversity and inclusion in sport.