According to the IOC, Safe Sport is an environment where athletes can train and compete in healthy and supportive surroundings; an environment which is respectful, equitable, and free from all forms of harassment and abuse. Help us to protect athletes and unite to stop all forms of harassment and abuse in sport.
According to the Council of Europe “Start to talk” initiative, about 1 in 5 children in Europe suffers from child abuse. In a 2015 European Pediatric Association Pages report, it was estimated 117 million European children under the age of 18 suffer physical, emotional and sexual abuse annually. Sadly, nearly all reported numbers are understood by experts to be severely underestimated. No one knows the truth about abuse prevalence; but all agree what we do know is only a small representation of the true nature and scope of the problem.
Young people spend most of their time outside of the home in community organizations and institutional settings like sport. Not surprisingly, millions of children and young people participate in sport weekly across the world and across every level of sport (recreational to professional). In the European Union, estimates suggest 61% of people between the ages of 16 and 24 participate weekly in sport activities (Council of Europe).
While it is widely known that participation in recreational activities brings benefits, evidence also suggests young people will experience negative or harmful consequences as a result of their participation. The first consolidated studies into this issue in 2014 across 10 European countries found 2% to 22% of athletes experience sexual abuse through sport participation; and 14%-73% experience some form of sexual harassment. A 2016 study on “Interpersonal violence against children in sport in the Netherlands and Belgium” found 13% of adults who participated in sport as children experienced sexual violence through sport, 26% emotional violence and 10% physical violence (Vertommen et.al., 2016). In a 2013 UK study of 6,000 young athletes in organized sport, 75% reported to have experienced psychological violence or emotional harm and 24% reported experiencing physical violence. Recently, several high-profile cases in the media, such as Gitta Schwarz in Germany (2020) and Sofia Bekatorou in Greece (2021), are bringing the issue of abuse and harassment in sport to the forefront of public conversation. It is increasingly evident that the future of sport, and the safety of children’s participation in sport, is dependent on how we respond to this crisis now.
All stakeholders directly and indirectly involved in sport are responsible for ensuring sport is free from all forms of abuse and continues to serve our local and global communities as a safe and enriching environment for all. As a major platform for the education, development, growth and well-being of our children; we must collectively and collaboratively act to coordinate our efforts to protect the values and opportunity sport provides children today and tomorrow. If nothing is done, sport may not be anymore a safe place for parents to trust their children for their development, going against the EU sport specific priority of encouraging the participation in sport and physical activity.
Given the recent exposure of prolific abuse in the sport community, especially following the devastating case of USA Gymnastics, the public opinion, media, governments and sports organizations have intensified their position on the need for the implementation of safeguarding measures in sports. With this renewed focus and directive, some countries have responded and delivered national safeguarding frameworks and infrastructure systems, but it is both disparate and inconsistent with many organizations lacking the resources, expertise, and tools to deliver what is expected.
Harassment and abuse in sport are particularly challenging for sports organizations of all sizes, as their consequences transcend the field of play, where the rules are clear, and the jurisdiction and penalties applications are set. On the other hand, harassment and abuse may configure crime felonies, depending on the legislation of the country where it has occurred, adding a completely different level of complexity to the cases, leaving sports organizations in challenging situations. As a consequence, as initial step is the development of the legal framework to equip the organizations for such cases, guaranteeing an effective response in protecting the victims, fostering a more secure sport within the organization’s community, increasing its maturity and readiness.
The existing gap in safeguarding implementation (including sexual, emotional and physical abuse) across all levels of sports in Europe leaves thousands of athletes at risk. Closing this gap is a critical step in moving forward in the effort to eradicate abuse from sport. It is simply unacceptable, and unconscionable, to make progress in this effort only when we are prompted to by the exposure of new cases through the media. Abuse in sport is here; the need to meaningfully act is now. The project is based on the EU sport priority of combating violence in sport, being a strong, solid and effective step towards a sport free from harassment and abuse in the continent.
The sports community must protect the victims that are out there at this very moment, suffering abuse in their daily sporting routine in European countries. The way to do that is to equip the sports organizations with the necessary tools and procedures to react, giving confidence for the victims to come forward, and be sure that they will be heard and that actions will be taken on their protection under the jurisdiction of sport. But that is not enough. The only way to effectively tackle harassment and abuse in sport is by an intense awareness and education process. Following EU specific sport priorities, the project aims to promote integrity and the values of sport, with a clear message that sport has no room or tolerance for harassment and abuse, and has values such as respect, friendship and excellence as key pillars.