Alison is a football coach, social activist and freelance consultant who has been working with Sport & Development projects around the world since 2002.
I began working with Sport in Development projects in 2002, when I was part of a partnership to start a soccer camp for girls from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Working in Bosnia between 2002 and 2008 I became hooked on the idea that sport held the potential to create space for social change, beyond just youth learning sport skills and playing a game. I experienced a change in attitudes and in levels of openness in spite of persistent prejudice in the greater community around us. Since 2002, I have been seeking out interesting and innovative projects to work with, especially on the topic of gender equality, and this search has taken me to different contexts and cities around the world. In almost every single country I have worked, regardless of religion, cultural norms or political climate, at least one young woman has come out to me and shared her story. Many of these young women tell me that they were only able to realise their sexuality and feel comfortable with themselves through playing sport. Additionally, most of these women have told me that sport is where they meet other lesbians, either on a sports team or working at a S&D organisation. Hearing these stories, and being invited into a space of trust by these young women, has had a great impact on me; especially in cases where we were living in a community and a country where homosexuality is illegal and frowned upon. I also reflected on how so many of their experiences reflected my own experience with sport when I was younger. This confirmed for me that, although it can be complicated, sport is a universal tool with great potential for social change and self-empowerment. I realised that sport, in the cases of these women, is a liberating experience that creates a space for transgression of dominant sexual norms and gives them a community in which to express their sexuality and gender identity.
Unfortunately, none of the programmes I have worked with over the past 10 years explicitly address LGBTQI sexualities and gender identities through their curriculums or when talking about sexual health and bodies. This omission by S&D practitioners seems odd and needs to change because in my work with S&D projects I found that experiences of sexuality and empowerment through sport, for lesbians in particular, are widespread. I think there is great potential to expand this platform to work with youth, including LGBTQI youth, and to talk about sexual diversity and sexual rights. This would also help to raise the visibility of LGBTQI youth in general.