Sub-theme 68: Sports as Contexts for Inclusion and Exclusion: Antecedents, Mechanisms, and Lessons Learned

Fabio Fonti
NEOMA Business School, France
Gokhan Ertug
Singapore Management University, Singapore
H. Colleen Stuart
Johns Hopkins University, USA

Call for Papers

Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games, once stated that, “the important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to participate.” More than a century later, he would be surprised to see that participation in sport is not always open to all, and, when it is, it bears different consequences based on attributes such as the race or gender of the person engaging in the activity.
Inclusivity – the main theme of the 37th EGOS Colloquium – remains a major challenge, both in society and organizations. Notwithstanding the substantial efforts and progress to promote diversity and inclusivity, inequality in organizations and society persist (Bapuji et al., 2020). As organization theorists, our challenge is to examine when barriers to inclusivity, or exclusion, persists, so to understand what can be done to overcome it. We should also look at contexts where organizations have succeeded at being more inclusive. The lessons that we learn by doing so can then be disseminated to other settings and organizations.
In this sub-theme, we propose to leverage sports to explore inclusivity, or lack thereof. Sports represent a microcosm of the societies in which they are embedded (Eitzen & Sage, 1997; Wolfe et al., 2005). As a result, sports provide scholars with a “laboratory for scientific inquiry” (Keidel, 1987: 608) to examine a variety of processes and structures that generalize more broadly (Eitzen & Sage, 1997) and provide lessons that managers can apply in organizations (Keidel, 1984, 1987). At the same time, the distance sports provide from other organizational contexts might allow lessons to be drawn with more immediacy and less resistance. This has led organizational scholars to increasingly turn to sports to better understand organizational phenomena (Day et al., 2012; Wolfe et al., 2005).
We propose to use sports as a lens to explore inclusion and exclusion, the mechanisms driving these phenomena, and generate lessons to apply more broadly to other types of organizations. Recent events highlight how closely issues related to diversity and inclusion are reflected in sports contexts, such as the gender pay gap (cf. the US women’s soccer team’s fight for equal pay) and race discrimination (kneeling during the U.S. national anthem in the National Football League). Sports also represent positive examples of inclusivity, by providing equal opportunities to people with disability (as in sailing, where in the International 2.4mR boat class able-bodied and disabled sailors participate on equal terms, and where a disabled athlete became world champion) and afford children in less developed countries access to education (such as the UNICEF-supported program in Nigeria helping children and adolescents – especially girls – to get an education via specific academies that combine academics and soccer, thus increasing their chances of professional success).
Recent work leveraging sports data has dealt with and identified biases, difference in treatment, and more in general exclusion – as well as inclusion – based on a variety of dimensions, ranging from race (Ertug & Maoret, 2020; Zhang, 2017), core-periphery (Christie & Barling, 2010; Fonti & Maoret, 2016; Stuart, 2017), gender (Adriaanse, 2016; Micelotta et al., 2018; Ortlieb & Sieben, 2019), and nationality (Chatman et al., 2019). Some work has also highlighted the extent to which sports can provide a more inclusive environment, e.g., better career prospects across genders (Stevenson, 2010). These works provide initial insights into and lessons from inclusivity and exclusion in sports contexts, thus showing their promise for studying such phenomena. Yet there is much more that can be done by leveraging sports context, as can be seen also in the continued interest in using sports as a viable setting to understand management and organizational phenomena more generally (e.g., there are more than 150 papers in FT50 journals over the last 40 years that leverage sports contexts to advance managerial theories and/or to explain managerial phenomena).
This sub-theme will provide an opportunity for organizational scholars interested in using sports contexts to further the study of inclusivity, discrimination, and exclusion, to deepen our understanding of these phenomena and draw lessons about how to effectively tackle exclusion and discrimination and facilitate inclusivity. To this end, we invite papers that further our understanding of inclusivity, discrimination, and exclusion in sports. Examples of relevant questions are, among others:

  • What lessons can be drawn from examples of exclusion in sports contexts?

  • When and how do sports afford the same level of access to all, thus providing inclusivity?

  • How do access to sport and sports-related programs affect women’s access to education, labor markets, and leadership opportunities?

  • How can we use sports to better understand inter- and an intra-group conflict and competition?

  • How can we use sports to better understand how social categories (race, gender, nationality, etc.) intersect to affect interdependent work?

  • How does language in sports act as an inclusion/exclusion mechanism for people engaging in such activities, and what lessons can be drawn from it?


  • Adriaanse, J. (2016): “Gender diversity in the governance of sport associations: The Sydney Scoreboard Global Index of participation.” Journal of Business Ethics, 137 (1), 149–160.
  • Bapuji, H., Ertug, G., & Shaw, J.D. (2020): “Organizations and societal economic inequality: A review and way forward.” Academy of Management Annals, 14 (1), 60–91.
  • Chatman, J.A., Greer, L.L., Sherman, E., & Doerr, B. (2019): “Blurred lines: How the collectivism norm operates through perceived group diversity to boost or harm group performance in Himalayan mountain climbing.” Organization Science, 30 (2), 235–259.
  • Christie, A.M., & Barling, J. (2010): “Beyond status: Relating status inequality to performance and health in teams.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 95 (5), 920–934.
  • Day, D.V., Gordon, S., & Fink, C. (2012): “The sporting life: Exploring organizations through the lens of sport.” Academy of Management Annals, 6 (1), 397–433.
  • Eitzen, D.S., & Sage, G.H. (1986): Sociology of North American Sport. Dubuque: W.C. Brown.
  • Ertug, G., & Maoret, M. (2020): “Do coaches in the National Basketball Association actually display racial bias? A replication and extension.” Academy of Management Discoveries, 6 (2), 206–234.
  • Fonti, F., & Maoret, M. (2016): “The direct and indirect effects of core and peripheral social capital on organizational performance.” Strategic Management Journal, 37 (8), 1765–1786.
  • Keidel, R.W. (1984): “Baseball, football, and basketball: Models for business.” Organizational Dynamics, 12 (3), 5–18.
  • Keidel, R.W. (1987): “Team sports models as a generic organizational framework.” Human Relations, 40 (9), 591–612.
  • Micelotta, E., Washington, M., & Docekalova, I. (2018): “Industry gender imprinting and new venture creation: The liabilities of women’s leagues in the sports industry.” Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 42 (1), 94–128.
  • Ortlieb, R., & Sieben, B. (2019): “Balls, barbecues and boxing: Contesting gender regimes at organizational social events.” Organization Studies, 40 (1), 115–134.
  • Stevenson, B. (2010): “Beyond the classroom: Using Title IX to measure the return to high school sports.” Review of Economics and Statistics, 92 (2), 284–301.
  • Stuart, H.C. (2017): “Structural disruption, relational experimentation, and performance in professional hockey teams: A network perspective on member change.” Organization Science, 28 (2), 283–300.
  • Wolfe, R.A., Weick, K.E., Usher, J.M., Terborg, J.R., Poppo, L., et al. (2005): “Sport and organizational studies: Exploring synergy.” Journal of Management Inquiry, 14 (2), 182–210.
  • Zhang, L. (2017): “A fair game? Racial bias and repeated interaction between NBA coaches and players.” Administrative Science Quarterly, 62 (4), 603–625.
Fabio Fonti is Professor at NEOMA Business School in Reims, France. His research focuses on the antecedents and consequences of organizational networks – specifically network evolution, network embeddedness, and network multiplexity. He is also interested in how networks affect – or are affected by – categorization processes, managerial cognition, and design. Fabio’s recent projects look at the use of sports contexts to advance managerial theories and explain managerial phenomena and at the cross-audience effects of categorization processes. His work has been published in ‘Strategic Management Journal’, ‘Strategic Organization’, and ‘Advances in Strategic Management’.
Gokhan Ertug is Professor of Strategic Management at Singapore Management University’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business, Singapore. He is interested in studying reputation, status, networks, inequality, discrimination, and knowledge management.
H. Colleen Stuart is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, USA. Her research broadly focuses on collaboration and has used sport to better understand how interdependent work is accomplished in conditions characterized by uncertainty. A parallel line of research investigates inequality in organizations, and in particular the career attainment of women. Colleen’s research has been published in various outlets including the ‘Academy of Management Journal’ and ‘Organization Science’.