The fifth of our Safe Sport webinars focused on the development of a survivor-centred approach.
Many speakers detailed how important it is to standardise principles, but also to work together with external stakeholders for wider effect.
Learn more about the IOC Safe Sport 2020 Webinar Series for NOCs and sign up for a session here.
The fifth instalment of the IOC Safe Sport 2020 Webinar Series for NOCs focused on the European Olympic Committees (EOC), covering the importance of prioritising athletes and creating a coherent system that removes all doubt from the reporting process.
The EOC webinar covered a range of topics related to safeguarding in sport, with several themes recurring throughout, none more so than the importance of taking a survivor-centred approach and how crucial supporting initial reports is to ensuring cooperation throughout the process. Though these issues are complicated, the IOC Safe Sport 2020 Webinar Series for NOCs recognises this complexity. The region-specific sessions consider different sociocultural contexts and acknowledge that there is no universal solution for safe sport.
One of the key themes put forward by Kat Craig, founder and CEO of Athlead CIC, is the importance of taking a survivor-centred approach to safe sport, in that the survivor is always placed as the central pillar around which everything else revolves. Many assume that this is always the case, but unfortunately that is not true, and this approach needs to be supported by a host of actionable policies. For instance, understanding that “survivors” are not a homogenous group. Each survivor has their own life experience, their own interests and their own personality, and so having a general approach is not sufficient. Instead, a multi-faceted team is required to be able to properly fulfil the needs of survivors.
This is just one way of supporting survivors and ensuring they feel comfortable enough in the system to report any and all incidents of abuse or harassment. By creating an inclusive environment for survivors and victims, we must also understand how critical the first moment is for victims and for stopping abuse in sport as a whole. The person reporting an incident must feel they are believed from the very first moment, or they will simply not engage in the process. This doesn’t mean that you are abandoning due process, but causing any doubt during the first contact with the victim could result in a lost opportunity to help and to learn from the experience, which can bring newfound knowledge to further develop the framework and process for responding to allegations of abuse.
The theme of ensuring athletes feel comfortable and confident enough in the process to report any instance of abuse was echoed by EOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Gerd Kanter. To fully understand how this can become a possibility, we first have to understand why it is that athletes may not report a case of abuse or harassment. As previously mentioned, not being believed is a core issue that often comes up, while the high-stakes nature of sport and being excluded from or jeopardising your position in your sport is another recurring theme. Finally, any uncertainty with the reporting process can also act as a barrier to athletes, and so it is of the utmost importance that these “procedures are perceived and made sense of by athletes and others in sport”.
Creating a framework across Europe
Clotilde Talleu, Senior Project Manager at the Council of Europe, presented her team’s work in establishing a pilot initiative called “Child Safeguarding in Sport”, running from March 2020 to October 2021. This programme, which is run in partnership with five countries – Austria, Belgium, Israel, Norway and Portugal – aims to offer technical support to the public bodies in charge of sport and sports organisations that are trying to develop their own child safeguarding in sport policies. One of the crucial first steps the initiative took was to establish a Child Safeguarding Officer (CSO) role in sport, ensuring that there is always someone with a singular focus on the issue.
The process is split into three components: developing policies, building capacities and equipping those involved in safeguarding. During the first step, the team focused on creating country-specific roadmaps for integrating child safeguarding in sport policies, including actionable steps to introduce CSO roles in sport. Not only do these roadmaps take a holistic approach by covering all forms of violence against children in sport, but they are tailored to each location. This echoes the idea that each case of abuse is unique and is influenced by environmental circumstances.
Measuring a long-term process
Dr Tine Vertommen, a researcher in safeguarding and child protection at Thomas More University in Belgium, highlighted one of the key obstacles to being able to properly assess the impact and comprehensiveness of safeguarding policies. Safeguarding as a concept can often be hard to define, and it can often be labelled under different categories. This lack of a central definition of safeguarding can prevent you from seeing the whole picture.
This is all the more damaging when considering the importance of measuring the effectiveness of what has been put in place on a regular basis. In the best-case scenario, there should not just be a measurement after the action or policy has been enacted, but also prior tests to use as comparisons. There are, however, simple solutions to overcoming these hurdles, such as using consistent terminology, monitoring data and developing minimum standards for affiliated sports organisations.