Decolonizing the Playing Field with Seed Grants: How Champions are Breaking Gender Barriers for Girls and Women in Europe
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This thesis investigates how a bottom-up feminist approach to sports programming can offer a solution to the postcolonial critiques of the sport-for-good sector. So-called seed grant programs fund young women to design and implement grassroot, community-based sports projects. After exploring the presence – and absence – of seed grant programs in research and practice, postcolonial and intersectional feminist theory as well as the philosophy of servant leadership build the theoretical framework of this research. This paper presents findings from a small-scale, qualitative study of two European seed grant programs: ROLL Models and the adidas Breaking Barriers project. To mitigate the traditional power imbalance between researcher and subject and to follow a decolonized approach, this thesis puts the experiences of the champions, i.e. the young women who receive the seed grant, at the center of analysis and investigates the following question: Based on champions’ shared experiences, how are seed grant programs contributing to more gender equitable and inclusive spaces in sports and beyond? Through thematic analysis, the following themes resulted as the main contributing aspects: (1) a network of learners and leaders, (2) the feeling of empowerment and confidence, (3) the incentive to act as gender champions, shedding light and challenging outdated norms as well as (4) the principles of servant leadership. The paper concludes by positioning seed grant programs in the broader discussion on decolonizing the playing field and offers recommendations for both research and practice.