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Inclusion in Soccer – A Pride Month Q&A

By Staff, 06/26/23, 7:45AM EDT


Play. Inspire. Unite.

As part of our continued activities around Pride Month 2023, Ontario Soccer sat down with a highly respected academic in the field of gender equity in Canadian sport, to discuss the subject and its significance specific to soccer in Ontario.

The expert, Dr. Ann Pegoraro, is the Director of the International Institute for Sport Business & Leadership at Lang School of Business and Economics at the University of Guelph. She is also the co-director of E-Alliance, the national research network for gender equity in Canadian sport and a member of Ontario Soccer’s Board of Directors.

Dr. Pegoraro holds BA, MBA and PhD degrees, and is an active researcher, who has presented at international conferences and been published in refereed management journals in the areas of marketing, communications, digital media, gender equity and sport management. To learn more about Dr. Pegoraro, see her bio on

We also spoke with Ontario Soccer’s Senior Director of Administration, Patty Forbes, to add a bit of context around Ontario Soccer’s recent development in the area of inclusion in soccer.

Without further ado, here are the questions and answers:

Dr. Ann Pegoraro Q&A

What is your background with respect to gender/sexual identity or equity in Canadian sport?

Currently I am Co-Director of E-Alliance, The National Research Network for Gender Equity in Canadian Sport so part of my professional life is dedicated to providing the evidence to support moving gender equity in sport forward. But before that, long before that, I grew up playing soccer in Sudbury, referred youth soccer, and continued to play in a women’s rec league until the knees said no more. I volunteered as president of the women’s rec league as well and this certainly brought a lot of the issues around gender and equity to light – fighting for better fields, for better referees and lines people for our playoffs, and working towards more equity for the league in general. It was through this league that I met my partner when playing on a team that was perhaps the most inclusive and supportive group I had been a part of in sport. All of this experience has shaped who I am today, the leadership lessons and skills, the lived experiences around equity and inclusion, and the other skills you learn from playing sport. Now I am taking a different role as a board member with Ontario Soccer – not only to help the organization in its pursuit of excellence, but also serving to bring diverse perspectives at the board level. The Board is a very respectful group, and we work together to support the Ontario Soccer staff in all their work to make soccer so amazing in our province. The Board and all of Ontario Soccer is committed to equity and inclusion, and while there is still significant progress to be made, we are all working hard to make change that sticks in our sport.

Pride Month is a time to reflect on the progress that has been made towards inclusion and equity, and acknowledge the work that still needs to be done. What progress have you seen with respect to inclusion in society in general, in soccer and in other sports? What progress do you think still needs to happen?

We have seen a lot of progress in my lifetime, which I am proud of, but unfortunately we are currently witnessing movements to repeal a lot of that progress. Progress for the 2SLGBTQI+ community is precarious and until society accepts that an individual’s identity is not debatable, we will have to continue to be vigilant and push for human rights. On the positive side, we see our Canadian national women’s team embracing members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community and championing gender equity. There is still more progress to be made and their voices are leading the way. To be the first Olympic Gold Medal team with a non-binary athlete was monumental. Other leagues such at the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) and National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) have established inclusion and equity as core values that drive decision making. Other sports (e.g., the National Hockey League [NHL]) are still fumbling with understanding what Pride, and ultimately inclusion, is about, and this just lets us know there is more work to be done.

Sport is a microcosm of society, and as such can take a leading role in pushing back against recent anti-2SLGBTQI+ movements by focusing on embedding human rights for all as a core value. In doing so, our sport can lead the way to demonstrate that sport is for all – including all members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community.

What are some recent studies you have been involved with, with respect to inclusion in sport and what were the key takeaways? In your opinion, what are some research projects you think still need to be done, or that would help in the area, and why?

There has been a lot of research done on the topic of inclusion and much of it has been incorporated by sport organizations such as Ontario Soccer. We have looked at the reaction to athletes coming out, to athletes taking a stand for social justice, and more recently, we have investigated the public reactions to Brittney Griner’s release from Russian prison. We have found some hope in our research as it shows that there are definite acceptance and support of 2SLGBTQI+ athletes. Unfortunately in our more recent studies, we have seen a rise of hate and identity attack, particularly with Brittney Griner as her return wasn’t this great American unifier. It actually reinforced the cultural, social and political tension in the U.S. on the axis of race, gender and sexual orientation. This echoes what we are seeing play out in society around intersectionality.

I think that the long-term studies like Out in the Field must continue, as this serves to highlight progress and also how precarious this progress can be. I would urge coaches, administrators, and parents to read the outputs from this work and learn from it. From our end, the research team I work with will continue to monitor reactions to 2SLGBTQI+ athletes and share our findings.

There is still a lot of research to be done, particularly around trans inclusion in sport as the research here is only beginning yet the politicizing of this issue is full blown. Again, this issue should be approached from a human rights perspective first and add evidence to the discussion. I know there are credible researchers working on this now and look forward to their work informing on how we make sport inclusive for trans youth.

In terms of gender equity, our work is ongoing as there is still progress to be made within Canadian sport. So stay tuned, more to come there for sure.

How important do you think it is for the sport of soccer, specifically, to be a leading institution to embrace individuals with diverse, non-binary sexual orientations and identities, given the sport’s global presence, popularity and recognition, and the diversity of its participants? What could be the ramifications if it does not?

Soccer (football) is the most popular global sport but it also has a troubling reputation for racism and homophobia in the top tiers of the sport – witness the recent US-Mexico men’s match. This is to me why it is so very important for organizations from the grassroots upwards to be leaders in providing safe, inclusive, and welcoming sport for all. We have seen what happens when a sport is not leading in these areas -- participation drops. If soccer is to maintain its global dominance, it needs to be a global leader for the 2SLGBTQI+ community and that starts with organizations such as ours. I know that Ontario Soccer is committed to inclusion as a core value and its one of the reasons I am proud to serve on the board. But we must also understand, we need to continually work to improve the environment for our athletes and to ensure that all participants feel welcome on pitches across the province. Canada is at a key moment in our soccer history, with a Gold Medal women’s team competing at the 2023 World Cup, a men’s team on the rise leading into the 2026 World Cup – the world’s eyes are on us. There is no better time than now, to demonstrate that soccer is a sport for all in our country.

In recent years, more and more professional athletes have been publicly coming out as members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community. How important do you think this is for the movement and for young amateur athlete who are part of the community?

Representation is vital to fostering a safe, welcoming, and inclusive sport environment. Representation is important to show younger athletes that they are seen, that there is a place for them in soccer and sport in general. Professional athletes serve as role models for young athletes even if they do not want to be. Given the current attacks on the 2SLGBTQI+ community in countries across the world, including here in Canada, the visibility of 2SLGBTQI+ professional athletes as well as strong allies within sport are extremely important. We see our women’s national team leading in both 2SLGBTQI+ inclusion and in the fight for gender equity, these are the role models young soccer players and our sport need right now.  These women athletes are leading the way nationally and internationally by using their voices for inclusion and equity as human rights. The diversity of the team provides proof to young 2SLGBTQI+ athletes that they are welcome in soccer, that they can succeed and reach the top levels of the game.

What advice do you have for someone that is part of the 2SLGBTQI+ community and looking for ways to get involved in soccer? What are some barriers or challenges they might face, and how might they overcome them?

My advice would be to search for the clubs in your area that are the most welcoming. We know that many of our clubs in Ontario will be participating in Pride Month and have inclusive policies and practices. Hopefully clubs are willing to welcome 2SLGBTQI+ community members and continue to focus on making soccer an inclusive sport. The barriers exist for athletes trying to find clubs and for clubs to work to educate and lead by example by practicing inclusive culture. There are so many ways for 2SLGBTQI+ individuals to get involved in the game, such as: coaching, officiating, volunteering and more. Again, there are many clubs that will welcome you and be accepting – so I think it would be great to see more representation at all levels in our sport.

What advice do you have for allies of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, and their role in sport? How can they enact change, even seemingly small or insignificant?

Being present, participating, and helping build inclusive culture is something we can all work together on. Ensuring that when new members join your club or league that you are supportive, that you work to include them, and you model the behaviour that you want to be treated with yourself. Calling out homophobia, helping coaching staff and others understand that language matters, and being a good, supportive teammate to all, are great ways for allies and members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community to work together to continue to build an inclusive culture for soccer.

Do you have any stories to share that illustrate the great work being done in soccer or sport, and inclusion?

Besides the leadership shown by our women’s national team, there are some other initiatives that hold promise. The Rainbow Laces campaign in the English Premier League (EPL) is one. This is a small step that provides visibility, and given the often negative response by fans, it shows how necessary these small steps are. The rainbow armband is also another small step in visibility and yet we saw FIFA ban those in 2022 – I hope we see the women wearing it this summer. Really small initiatives can often make the largest change. Thinking about how your club can take these steps – flying the pride flag during pride month, putting it on websites, promoting a rainbow laces campaign or providing rainbow armbands – all of these can be small steps to provide signs to the 2SLGBTQI+ community that they are welcome in your club, on the pitch and as part of the soccer community. I hope to see more of these from our clubs across the province. I think we have clubs that do this now at the community level– like Brams United, and at the higher levels like York United FC with their 2023 Pride Jersey and commitment to visibility. These are the types of clubs that encompass the values of Ontario Soccer – and make me proud!

Patty Forbes Q&A

Why is Pride Month important to you? Why is Pride Month important to Ontario Soccer?

Acknowledging and celebrating Pride Month and understanding the importance of these types of activities is an integral part of the scope of my work with our Members due to the increased need for education and directives around Safe Sport.

Pride Month offers our staff the opportunity to learn more and to educate ourselves on best practices through the lens of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, especially when creating policies and procedures that govern our organization.

What lead to the decision to make changes to the Ontario Soccer Club Account Registry (OSCAR) to reflect a more inclusive user experience? What results, if any, is Ontario Soccer looking to see from the changes?

The updates to our registration system stem from inquiries at the Club level where non-binary participants were having difficulty registering to play and having no seamless process to register and get assigned to a team.

With this proposed update, we expect players to be able to register to their gender of choice and a team of their choice.