written by

Michael Woods (He/Him)

Including multicultural communities in sport

In this article we will explore the barriers and challenges faced by people from multicultural communities when it comes to sport participation. More importantly we will also cover how grass roots clubs and sport providers can remove these barriers to create more opportunities for everyone.

You will learn about:

  • Cultural Diversity in Australia
  • What prevents multicultural involvement in sport
  • What encourages multicultural involvement in sport
  • The importance of targeted communication

Cultural Diversity in Australia

Australia is a vibrant, multicultural country. It is home to the world’s oldest continuous indigenous cultures. Australia is also a nation of migrants, arriving from all corners of the globe, who identify with more than 270 ancestries. Since 1945, around seven million people have migrated to Australia. This diversity of influences creates a cultural environment in Australia that is lively, energised, innovative and outward looking.

Australia is becoming more culturally diverse too. The 2021 Census find that almost half of Australians have a parent born overseas (48.2 per cent) and the population continues to be drawn from around the globe, with 27.6 per cent reporting a birthplace overseas.

Our cultural background helps determine our attitudes and influences the way we live and act and see ourselves in the world. Culture can be defined by many things, including for example:

  • Language
  • Religious beliefs
  • Roles in society
  • Work ethic
  • Diet and culinary traditions
  • Dress and personal grooming practices
  • Family structure and roles
  • Verbal and non-verbal communication
  • Observance of special occasions

What prevents multicultural involvement in sport?

When it comes to sport participation, figures show that people born in non-English speaking countries are less likely to participate in sport and physical recreation than those born in Australia, with women from non-English speaking backgrounds having the lowest levels of participation. (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2012). Many people who have migrated to Australia may have played sport in their home countries prior to arriving. But once they have settled in Australia they can face significant barriers and challenges to participating in organised sport and other active recreation activities. While people may face a range of different barriers there are several common ones. Let's explore them further.

Parental support - Some newly arrived parents may not see their children’s involvement in sport and recreation as a high priority compared to housing, education and employment.

Competitiveness - Club sport is perceived as competitive, and players need to be skilled and dedicated to gain acceptance.

Cost - The cost of membership and equipment is a significant barrier, particularly for newly arrived migrant families, whose financial resources may be limited.

Priorities - For young multicultural people in particular, excellence and dedication in academia and school work is seen as a much higher priority than sport participation. Family and religious commitments my also take priority over sport.

Awareness - Sport clubs need improvement in understanding and managing cultural sensitivities better, particularly toward women. This includes perceptions that individual needs may not be catered for.

Intimidation - Multicultural audiences can feel less welcome in sport clubs and may feel intimidated at the prospect of joining. This includes perceptions that clubs social culture mainly revolves around alcohol.

Language - For many multicultural communities English is not their first language, this prevent access to key information about sport opportunities.

Trauma - Besides the general challenges of settlement and adolescence, young people from refugee backgrounds often undergo a variety of traumatic experiences prior to settling in Australia. These can include:

  • torture
  • persecution and abuse
  • loss, including death of family and friends
  • prolonged periods in refugee camps, transit countries and detention centres.

Racism - Fear associated with experienced or perceived discrimination and racism being directed towards them.


What encourages multicultural involvement in sport?

Whilst it is important to understand the challenges it is equally as important to identify ways to encourage participation. People from multicultural backgrounds participate in sport for the same reasons as anyone else – to have fun, get active, make friends and learn new skills.

However, there are some specific things that you should consider when encouraging multicultural communities to get involved.

Supporting settlement - For newly-arrived migrants and refugees, participating in sport can provide support and assist in their settlement by connecting them with the local community and improving English language skills.

Flexible or low fees - Offering free or low-cost introductory periods, activities, memberships and offering flexible payment options will be attractive to multicultural communities.

Culturally appropriate - Clubs and sport providers that recognise cultural diversity, offer culturally appropriate programs, options and activities will encourage involvement. The language used in promotional and informational resources should also be considered. Keep English resources simple and easy to understand plus explore the languages of local multicultural communities and offer information in these languages. (Read on for more on this.)

Social and fun aspects - Ensure the club offers social and fun activities for all members, including non-competitive playing options. Make sure there are opportunities to socialise and mix with people from their own cultural group and other cultural groups, for example organising or participating in ethnic festivals and events.

Involvement in decision making - Involve people from multicultural communities in planning and delivering your programs and activities and ensure there is a connection with local community organisations and cultural leaders.

Culturally considerate food - Offering food and beverage options at the canteen and social functions that reflect the needs, preferences and traditions of different cultures will help people feel welcome and valued. For example:

  • Offer Halal food for Islamic people
  • Offer Kosher food for Jewish people
  • Many cultures and religions prefer vegetarian food such as Hindu people
  • Consider your food preparation as some cultures do not allow cross contamination of certain foods
  • Invite multicultural community members to prepare traditional food for your social functions and canteen


Watch the video below to see multicultural inclusion in action.

The importance of targeted communication

An important factor in engaging effectively with multicultural communities is effective targeted communication. Whilst many people who have arrived in Australia from overseas may speak English it is often not their first language with many not speaking English at all. The 2021 Census found that 5.8 million people (22.8 per cent) reported using a language other than English at home. This was an increase from 4.9 million people (21.6 per cent) in2016. Further, of those people who speak another language at home 3.4 per cent indicated they spoke English ‘not well’ or ‘not at all’. It is important to note too that for many people who may speak English as a secondary langue their English reading and writing ability may be poor or non-existent.

Language barriers are just part of the communication challenge. Awareness barriers need to be addressed too, as many among multicultural audiences do not know where to look for clubs or how to join. Sport Australia’s Market Segmentation Research found that multicultural audiences tend to respond well to offers of joining mainstream organisations when this is communicated through trusted sources such as community and cultural networks.

So, how can you ensure your communication is targeted for multicultural people in your community?

Address perceptions - Communication should aim to promote inclusiveness by addressing perceptions that your club might be costly, exclusive, and membership is solely dependent upon on skill level. Make a public statement that the club welcomes the diversity of your whole community in terms of culture, age, ethnicity economic status and so on.

Raise awareness - Raise awareness within multicultural communities that your club exists and is welcoming by:

  • Communicating the pathways and ways people can get involved at the club, on and off the field
  • Make information about how, where and when people can join easily available
  • Manage expectations and inform about how your club or program works

Consult- Involve multicultural communities in planning how they can participate. This will help you understand:

  • the needs and goals of participants
  • supports and modifications you might need to make
  • address any cultural sensitivities and barriers that may impact involvement.

Translate – Offer key communication materials in languages that people in your community speak and ensure your English language materials use plain English suitable to low literacy levels. Examples of materials you should consider translating include:

  • Marketing and advertising material
  • Key policies and procedures
  • Registration forms
  • Rules and regulations
  • New stories and case studies


Watch the video below for more advice and tips.


While people from multicultural communities do face barriers and challenges to accessing sport there is plenty that can be done to make people from all cultural backgrounds feel safe and welcome.

Everybody should have access to sport for all the amazing benefits it provides. By adopting a positive mindset and taking action to create more opportunities to get involved, grass roots sport can become a more welcoming, vibrant and connected place that reflects the rich diversity of the wider community.



Australian Human Rights Commission, Face the Facts Cultural Diversity

Australian Government, About Australia

Australian Sports Commission, Clearing House for Sport, CALD Summary

Australian Sports Commission, Clearing House for Sport, Factors influencing sport participation (Cultural)

Centre for Multicultural Youth, Game Plan

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Cultural diversity of Australia

Australian Sports Commission, Market Segmentation for Sport Participation,(CALD)

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