Whilst for many people the practice of sport is reflective of the values of Olympism which seek to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles; research and testimony unequivocally demonstrate that for others harassment and abuse can and does occur within sport.

Risk factors: Why does harassment and abuse occur in sport?

The hierarchical nature of sport

“The cultural context of harassment and abuse is rooted in discrimination based on real or perceived power differentials across a range of social and personal factors”

(Mountjoy et al., 2016)

Commoditisation of athletes at the risk of their physical and/or psychological well-being

Defined as “the extraction of economic and performance value to the point where athletes become indistinct and interchangeable”

(Burry and Fiset, 2020)

The practice of sport is a human right. 
Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

Fourth Fundamental Principle of Olympism, The Olympic Charter

A win-at-all-costs mentality

“A winner-take-all reward system may induce coaches and athletes to use whatever means necessary, including abusive methods, to achieve results”

(Frank and Cook, 2013)

There are low protection mechanisms in place

Protection mechanisms include:

• Athlete safeguarding policies which are clear, reflect best practice and are survivor-focused

• Robust reporting and investigation procedures for responding to a concern

• Access to trained support persons

• Stakeholder guidance, education and signed guidelines for behaviour

• Safe recruitment and training practices

• Frequent periodic monitoring, evaluation and risk assessment

#SafeSport is:”…when she is treated with respect and is also viewed as a human being, not just as a means of winning golf medals. Her safety should also be looked after, both psychologically and physically.”

Anonymous YOG 2020 Athlete

Impacts of Abuse in Sport

Impact on athletes

• Physical illness or injury
• Performance loss
• Sport drop-out
• Economic loss
• Doping and other forms of cheating
• Disordered eating and eating disorders
• Post-traumatic stress disorder
• Self-harm
• Social isolation
• Low self esteem
• Volatile mood states
• Depression and anxiety
• Challenging interpersonal relationships
• Suicide

Impact on organisations

• Reputational damage
• Loss of players and fans
• Loss of sponsorship
• Reduced medal tally & world performance
• Reduced public confidence
• Loss of trust
• Asset depreciation
• Reduced youth enrollment
• Staff turnover
• Economic loss
• In-fighting
• Legal entanglements

Normative Frameworks

One of the key roles of this stakeholder group is to ensure the development and implementation of Safe Sport policies and procedures in your sports organisation, or to ensure that these are in place within the organisations with whom you are looking to collaborate.

It is incumbent upon all stakeholders in sport both to adopt general principles for safe sport and to implement and monitor policies and procedures for safe sport which state that: all athletes have a right to be treated with respect and protected from non-accidental violence.

(IOC Consensus Statement: Harassment and Abuse in Sport, 2016)

Foundational Aspects


Applicable sports regulations and frameworks

For example:

The Olympic Charter, IOC Code of Ethics, Basic Principles of Good Governance.

Individual sport organisations’ statutes, code of ethics, etc.

International Federation Guidelines/recommendations


Applicable international regulations 

For example:
• United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Child (e.g., Article 31)
• UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilitites (e.g., Article 30)
• Lisbon Treaty, Article 165
• UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Article 12
• American Convention on Human Rights, Article 16
• UNESCO International Charter of Physical Recreation, Physical Activity and Sport


National regulations within your own jurisdiction concerning safeguarding in sport

Remember: Further advice and guidance on safeguarding in sport can be found in the “Safeguarding athletes from harassment and abuse in sport: IOC Toolkit for IFs and  NOCs” found on the IOC website and Athlete 365.

Did you know?

In some instances the implementation of safeguarding policies and procedures may be set as a condition of receiving national/state funding. (for example in the UK and Canada)

Checklist: Lawyers working within sports organisations

Ensure that your organisation has a safeguarding policy and procedure in place. This policy should:

• Apply to all involved in the organisation.
• Identify and address issues related to harassment and abuse in sport.
• State that all members have a right to respect, safety and protection.
• Specify procedures for reporting and handling complaints.
• State that the welfare of members is paramount.
• Ensure that your organisation has a clear point of contact who is responsible for implementing and upholding safeguarding policies as well as addressing wider
safeguarding concerns. This person should be well advertised to all members of staff so it is clear who they should approach if needed.
• Specify what constitutes a violation.
• Specify the range of consequences for such violations.
• Provide details of where parties involved in a complaint can seek advice and support both internally and from external organisations.
• Specify procedures for maintaining records.
• Provide guidance for third-party reporting. (“whistleblowing”)
• Be clear, easy to understand and people focused.
• Be approved by the relevant management body (e.g., Executive Board)
• Be incorporated into your organisation’s constitution and/or regulations.
• Be developed in consultation with athletes.
• Be regularly reviewed and updated, particularly when there is a major change in the constitutional regulations of the organisation or in the law.

Ensure well-being of athletes is a central element in planning and contracting with third parties including any sub-contractors.

Ensure that all lawyers working with athletes have knowledge of the referral pathways to support in the event that harassment or abuse is suspected.

Ensure that lawyers take an individual, person-centric approach to clients who have experienced harassment and abuse, noting that even cases which do not meet the criminal threshold may still be against the values of sport, have a devastating impact on athletes and contravene the organisation’s rules and regulations

How reporting procedures are perceived and made sense of by athletes and others in sport is important for understanding their potential as well as their limitations

(Solstad 2019)

Did you know

When developing reporting procedures, it is important to keep in mind that:

• It is estimated that 86% of child sexual abuse in general society goes unreported in he United States.
• Survivors of abuse, in or out of sport, often take years or even decades to disclose.
• A survey completed during the Youth Olympic Games in 2018 found that of those athletes responding, 37% stated that they would not know where to report an incident of harassment and abuse or would be uncomfortable in doing so, and yet 34% reported that the occurrence of harassment and abuse was likely or very likely in their sport.

This presents a significant risk to athletes and to organisations. The absence of a case does not mean it is not happening.

Checklists: Sponsors and Agents

Checklist: Sponsors

Fostering purpose-led partnerships with sports organisations who place athletes’ welfare and the promotion of human rights in, through and around sport at the centre.

Ensuring key partners have policies and procedures in place to protect vulnerable groups.

Sharing best practices related to anti-discrimination and other key related areas.

Promoting or engaging in athlete education programmes which underline the principles of safe sport: sport which is fair, equitable and free from all forms of harassment and abuse. This may include for example ensuring that athletes with social media partnerships receive training on how to protect themselves online.

Ensure your organization has a point of contact for safeguarding concerns should they arise as a result of your sponsor agreements.

Checklist: Agents

Ensure your activities align with the fundamental principle that the safety and welfare of athletes is paramount.

Invest time in educating yourself and raising awareness of harassment and abuse in sport, including key signs and symptoms, and the role that you play in fostering safe sport environments.

Take time to research third-party organisations that support victims of harassment and abuse should your athlete require assistance.

When collaborating with sports organisations, look to research what measures are in place related to the protection and promotion of athlete safety and welfare. Familiarise yourself with the organisation’s processes for redress in order to support your client if needed.

Ensure that you foster person-centred working relationships with your clients and make sure to have open conversations around their welfare on a regular basis.

Ensure that the well-being of your athlete is of foremost importance when working with sports organisations

It is important to remember that:

Young athletes are children first

Athletes are people first

Their rights must always be respected

For further information, please go to the Athlete365 Safe Sport page where you will find:

  • The IOC Athlete Safeguarding Toolkit
  • The IOC Consensus Statement Harassment and Abuse in Sport (2016)
  • Educational initiatives on safeguarding in sport
  • And many other useful tools and resources.


International Olympic Committee. Consensus Statement on “Sexual Harassment & Abuse in Sport.”, 2007. Cense M, Brackenridge CH. (2001) Temporal and developmental risk factors for sexual harassment and abuse in sport. European Physical Education Review;7:61–79. Marks, S. Mountjoy, M. Marcu, M. (2011) Sexual harassment and abuse in sport: the role of the team doctor British Journal of Sports Medicine 46:905–908 Kerr, G. Willson, E, Kin, B. Stirling, A. (2019) Prevalence of Maltreatment Among Current and Former National Team Athletes, [pdf] Available at: https://athletescan.com/sites/default/files/images/prevalence_of_maltreatment_reporteng.pdf (Accessed 19 September 2020)