The idea for the survey emerged in 2018 after the appearance of a meme of a fat baby in UM Sports newsletter with the text: ‘When you realize it’s almost summer, and your winter body has gotten out of control’. A joke, but it could very well deter people, researcher Jessica Alleva thought.
Would people indeed stay away from the gym because of such things? Also, how could UM Sports become more diverse (and more inclusive)? Alleva and her team received a UM Diversity and Inclusivity Grant from the Executive Board to investigate the matter.
Their research (Phase I) started with a questionnaire completed by 584 respondents: both members and non-members, says Latifa Abidi, one of the researchers. “Those questions gave us an idea of how diverse and inclusive UM Sports is.” Diverse: how many people of different types and sizes – weight, age, gender, ethnicity, et cetera – are there among the members. Inclusive: do visitors feel like they belong? Also, how comfortable and welcome do they feel? The sports centre scored a 5.27 in the area of inclusivity (1 is not inclusive, 7 is very inclusive), but only a 3.84 for diversity. Abidi: “For the odd few (10 per cent) the lack of (body) diversity was even a reason not to go to the sports centre.” The relatively low score for diversity was no surprise, says Ophélie Hue, aerobics instructor at UM Sports and also doing a research work placement on this project. “It is a fairly white and fit audience that you see here.”
The team does have some ideas for making the audience more diverse. Hue: “For example, I would like the sports instructors to receive training in their use of language during the lessons: ‘You are getting stronger!’ is much more positive than ‘burn that fat!’ In addition, the sports centre could provide private shower cubicles, so that transgender individuals can also feel comfortable showering." Implementing those changes constitutes Phase II, Hue explains. What exactly will change, remains to be seen. “The discussions with the UM Sports management still have to take place.”