Diversity in professional and amateur sport is on the rise

The NHL’s New York Islanders recently drafted Andong Song, an 18-year-old defenseman from Oakville,  in the sixth round of  the  2015 entry draft. Picked  172  overall,  Song’s  selection  by  the  Islanders  shouldn’t  have  been remarkable, however, what  made the pick so revolutionary is that Song is the first Chinese-born player to be selected in the NHL’s entry draft.

The debate continues over whether professional sports are becoming  more  diverse — by actively  seeking  more  ethnically,  culturally,  and racially diverse rosters — or if individual countries themselves are doing more to promote involvement in non-traditional sports. Regardless, the addition of Song into the NHL is a huge step forward for the league.

In order to inspire the same degree of athletic diversity within campus sport and athletics, the president of University of Toronto Mississauga’s (UTM) Athletic Council (UTMAC), Belal Raifai, believes that it’s the job of organizations like UTMAC to actively promote inclusivity and diversity in their campaigns. “UTMAC has a responsibility to promote teams and create events geared towards non-traditional sports,” said Raifai, adding that one of the top priorities of the council is to make sure that the student body’s diverse athletic needs are met.

According to a recent survey by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, the NBA is  the  most  diverse  professional sport  organization, boasting an A+ grade when it comes to racial hiring. However, a study conducted by Elias Sports Bureau found that Major League Soccer (MLS) is the most diverse league in North America in terms of international players, with 42.8 per cent of MLS players being born outside of Canada and the US. The study  ranked the NBA fourth behind major league baseball and the NHL.

Song, who acknowledged in a recent interview, that it was hard to find rink space to practice on, and even harder to enter tournaments because of the lack of established leagues and teams in China, is excited to play professional hockey in America where there is well-established hockey culture. “China just started broadcasting NHL games,” said Song, adding that he hopes his new opportunity will promote hockey in China.

Raifai doesn’t recognize the same lack of diversity exemplified by professional sports organizations at UTM, but he does acknowledge that if there is a demand for a non-traditional sport to be included within the intramural roster, or drop-in programs, then it’s the job of the UTMAC to deliver. “[We have] a responsibility to promote teams and create events geared towards non-traditional sports,” he said. “If we notice that there is demand for certain sports that are not already being provided then we will work alongside the department to find different ways to introduce those sports to UTM.”

Kamal Ali, director of intramurals and campus recreation at UTMAC agrees. “We promote to students to come and play and try out new sports,” said Ali, who asserts that recreational and drop-in sports like cricket, ultimate frisbee, and table tennis are increasingly important because they get a more diverse group of students participating in campus athletics.

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