Outside Rowing: An Inside Look at Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Other Sports

summarized by David DeWinter
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Amanda KrausCEO, USRowing
Megan Ritch – Head of DEI, USA Triathlon
John Abdou – Chief Sport Performance Officer, USA Water Polo

The 3-Sentence Summary

Other aquatic sports like triathlon and water polo have very similar DEI challenges to rowing. These include tackling the barrier of 50+% of Americans not knowing how to swim, creating pipelines that promote diversity in the highest echelons of the sport, and providing resources and educational opportunities for clubs of all sizes. We can achieve more of our DEI goals by working together with other sports rather than trying to reinvent the wheel on our own.


Shared Initiatives

3:23 (For Megan) USA Triathlon has been recognized for several years by USOPC as a leader in DEI for sports. What are 3 things you’re most excited about in the DEI space that can translate to other sports?

  • Resource Development: As a governing body, it can be hard to have a solid impact on local communities, so we are creating resources that can scale to any community we serve.
  • Education: Annual conference
  • Inclusion as part of our strategic plan

7:11 For John, same question.

  • Understanding access to water. There’s a history of exclusion around water that people aren’t aware of.
  • Resource Development: DEI fundraising (78 brand new donors to USA Water Polo in the first 2 months)
  • Education and Training for staff, BOD, and now for members, coaches, and referees.
  • Zero-Tolerance Policy towards discrimination.

Ability to Swim

10:41 How do you tackle the ability to swim as a barrier to inclusion?

  • Megan: We offer other events like duathlon (run-bike-run), indoor triathlon (helpful for people new to swimming), and triathlon relays. We also partner with organizations like Diversity in Aquatics that specifically tackle this barrier.

High-Performance Pipelines

14:21 How do you respond to blowback from members who claim DEI investments are politicizing the sport?

  • Megan: We’ve received the same feedback, but if you really love the sport, you want as many people as possible to participate; it’s just good for business. Defuse any notion of it being “political.”
  • John: This is about growth. It’s good for business and it’s good for performance.

21:03 (Amanda) We didn’t send a single athlete of color to Tokyo. How are your teams doing?

  • Megan: It’s a huge challenge to diversify our high-performance pipeline. We’re doing okay at younger levels, but it hasn’t quite trickled up yet. We’re looking at what other sports do e.g. USA Swimming’s Diversity Select program.
  • John: You have to make sure you’re supporting them at the youngest level and see that they graduate to the top. Right now, our representation is one-off, and we need to work on our pipelines of growth. Representation does matter; don’t force it, but when it does happen, amplify the path so people know how it can happen.

25:09 What makes your work challenging and what makes it rewarding?

  • Megan
    • Some people think we shouldn’t focus on DEI; some people think we should focus more. Finding the balance is a challenge.
    • Discriminatory legislation in states where we host events
  • John
    • 50 – 55% of Americans don’t know how to swim. A disproportionate number of those people are people of color. Even after going through the rebrand of “Intro to Water Polo” to “Water Safety”/”Learn to Swim,” you still need to convince people to participate.
    • “Learning to swim is an educational right.” It’s beyond sport; it’s safety.

Transgender Inclusion

31:43 (For Megan) Can you tell us more about the first USA Triathlon transgender policy, which was established under your tenure?

  • When I started, the only (unwritten) policy was to participate as the gender on your driver’s license.
  • Generally, 3 policies now, where we have to balance competitive advantage vs. benefit of participation:
    • Youth can race as the gender they consistently identify as (benefit of participation)
    • Elite athletes must follow IOC/World Triathlon’s policy
    • Age group adult athletes can race recreationally as the gender they identify as (benefit of participation)

37:01 John: Our challenges involve how to build an inclusive policy for teams in addition to individuals.


37:58 What actions could NGBs take jointly to amplify our DEI mission?

  • Megan: Sharing resources so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There is also an NGB best practice group we are a part of.
  • Amanda: Multiple sports can also band together to avoid/boycott venues in states with discriminatory legislation.
  • John: Work with existing organizations like Diversity in Aquatics that own these missions.

40:46 What resources have you been able to provide to clubs?

  • Megan: Any resources we create, we try to target coaches, race directors, and clubs.
    • Series on terminology
    • Coaching education
    • 2022 DEI Certification
  • John: I can see that this will be a requirement, like SafeSport.
    • Better guidance and action around how to setup and use DEI scholarship funds: partnerships among clubs, USA Water Polo, and a community-based organization that works on community outreach.

 46:05 Any thoughts for athletes for whom English is a second language?

  • John: It goes back to the organizations doing outreach in the communities you’re trying to serve. Bilingual training in sports should follow the pattern of bilingual education in the classroom. Elevate coaches who are bilingual.
  • Megan: Our first step to growing Spanish-speaking representation is to offer certifications for coaches in Spanish.

49:31 What’s the timeline for the DEI certification from USA Triathlon?

  • Launched by Q1 2022.

49:58 Is there a generic scholarship application we can reuse?

  • Amanda: We have one for the ODP camp that can be shared.
  • John: Reworking ours right now. We need to find better metrics on signals of need.

52:14 What do divestment and decolonized leadership structures look like in your sports?

  • John: They don’t exist. The biggest frustration is that these changes require sharing and divestment of power, and that will take time to come to fruition.

54:28 A helpful mindset change is looking at scholarship money as an investment in the club rather than a cost.

55:05 What DEI programs/policies are geared toward adults? Or are programs/policies meant to be inclusive of all ages and experiences?

  • Megan: We try to share where possible, but our programs are just very different for different age groups so we can best cater to each population.


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