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Game Changers conference celebrates diversity in sport

Toronto prepares to welcome Pan/Parapan Am Games in 2015

Attendees gather at Metro Hall to learn more about diversity and inclusion in sports. Credit: Keph Sennett

Looking to promote inclusion and diversity at the upcoming Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games, organizing committee TO2015 held a one-day symposium, titled Game Changers, on Nov 8 at Metro Hall in downtown Toronto. The free event was open to the public and featured workshops, panel discussions and presentations delivered by community leaders and athletes.

Christina Martins, a member of the Ontario provincial parliament, opened the event, welcoming participants and volunteers. “You are the guides, the tireless cheerleaders, for every budding athlete,” she told the crowd. Rahul Bhardwaj, president and CEO of the Toronto Foundation, followed up with a personal story about his inaugural street hockey experience. “It was then [when I was chosen for a team], that I became a Canadian.” Flemingdon Park native and former National Basketball Association (NBA) player Jamaal Magloire rounded out the welcoming remarks with a shout-out to all the community leaders that shared in his success.

Workshops were organized into morning and afternoon sessions; participants had the opportunity to attend two of three offered. The Access to Opportunities in Sport workshop was led by former Olympian Perdita Felicien, who engaged the panel — Christa Eniojukan, head coach of the Ontario U15 basketball team; Christopher Kalantzis, a former professional fencer; and Giselle Cole, a retired Paralympian — on common barriers to participation, with discussions centring on overcoming financial limitations and the inclusion of racial minorities.

In another room, Host City Showcase’s Cathy Vincelli, Pan Am Path representative Tanzeel Merchant and PrideHouseTO’s Matthew Cutler led a discussion about legacy opportunities for international multisport events.

The third breakout workshop, Levelling the Playing Field, paired Paralympian Josh Cassidy and The 519’s Barb Besharat to deliver a session on marginalized and stigmatized individuals in athletic spaces. Cassidy spoke of his experience as a wheelchair racer, noting the support and creativity of teachers during his development. There was also discussion of media representation of para athletes at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, and how changing the marketing narrative was key to pushing an inclusion agenda.

Leading with a thought exercise about privilege, Besharat helped a crowd engage in a dialogue about marginalization, accessibility and fostering inclusion. After viewing a short film about trans and genderqueer inclusion and positive spaces, the attendees discussed ways of incorporating diversity practices into the radically gendered sports milieu.

Organizers transformed the main space of Metro Hall into a marketplace, where participants had access to information about several sporting organizations, including the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the Coaches Association of Ontario and the Toronto Sports Council. There were also booths for initiatives like Playing for Keeps — which encourages community sport participation — and PrideHouseTO, which is seeking to make the Pan/Parapan Am Games the most inclusive ever.

Marnie McBean — three-time Olympic gold medallist, former Canadian Olympic Team athlete mentor and out lesbian — delivered the last keynote address of the day. The champion rower took the podium and shared her story with an enthusiastic and welcoming crowd that looked ready to deliver truly diverse and inclusive Games.