Following her retirement from hockey in 2015, Marsha Cox has become more involved in athlete representation and helped with the development of the Athletes’ Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities.
The Athletes’ Declaration was formally adopted in October 2018 and has become a vital tool to support you, no matter what your sport, age, or nationality.
The Athletes’ Declaration includes the right to a safe competition and training environment, something Marsha is extremely passionate about.
I [Marsha] played hockey for South Africa for 14 years, and for eight of those I was the captain. With the experiences I had over the years, I think the seed was planted for being an athlete representative. In the last two years of my playing career, I was a member of the International Hockey Federation (FIH) Athletes’ Committee (AC), and I went on to become Co-Chair.
Learning to speak out
Towards the end of my career, I realised that I was passionate about finding and listening to athletes’ voices. Throughout my career, it was always difficult to speak out, especially knowing that there can be a lot of personal and political factors that get in the way of your success. That fear of speaking out was something that bugged me, and that was what made me passionate about going into athlete representation once I retired and had nothing to lose.
I would be very hypocritical if I didn’t pursue this path while knowing all of the challenges that I faced as a player myself.
The Athletes’ Declaration
When developing the Athletes’ Declaration, we realised that a lot of athletes were having to deal with challenges and problems that you shouldn’t have to be dealing with. Your focus as an athlete should just be on your training and your ability to perform.
We continue to work on the Declaration. We need to get it to a place where all sporting codes and all of the different layers, right down to grassroots level, are applying it in the way they run their organisations. It may still be a work in progress, but this is a strong starting point that allows athletes to be athletes.
I believe that there is more awareness in terms of harassment nowadays, which is positive; but one of the major stumbling blocks is how it is dealt with, and that’s where we hope the Athletes’ Declaration can be a useful tool.
Athletes are definitely more aware and have more courage to speak up than before. Showing solidarity and support amongst the community is a major part of that, too. Word of mouth is one of the strongest resources we have, and social media can allow athletes to keep sharing stories to spread the message.
Each sport, country, and culture has a different approach to things, but the first thing to understand is basic human rights. If those are being violated, we need to create a safe place for athletes where you can speak up. It can be really difficult, and we also need other entourage members to take responsibility to speak up when necessary.
That is the message that we need to shine through when safeguarding athletes: we shouldn’t only wait for victims to speak out. If you’re a witness you also need to speak out, because that’s a way in which we can protect sport and the community to support the athletes of the future.
IF YOU’RE A WITNESS YOU ALSO NEED TO SPEAK OUT, BECAUSE THAT’S A WAY IN WHICH WE CAN PROTECT SPORT AND THE COMMUNITY TO SUPPORT THE ATHLETES OF THE FUTURE.