As coaches, sports scientists, and trainers, our core objective is often considered to be preparing athletes to achieve their athletic potential and reach sporting success.

But that is only half of the whole. Our role also encompasses being a teacher, a mentor, a counsellor, and protectors of the overall health and integrity of athletes.

Sporting success and care of the physical and psychological well-being of athletes are one and the same – one cannot be achieved without the other.


In becoming coaches we accept a duty of care to help athletes become the very best they can be. That means empowering and protecting them in very sense of the word.

Sir Clive Woodward, OBE,
IOC Athletes’ Entourage Commission member and Rugby World Cup Winning Coach

Worldwide research and anecdotal evidence tell us that harassment and abuse have and continue to occur within sport, across all countries and all sports disciplines – with elite athletes being more at risk. Sport for many athletes may provide their only safe space, however, for some athletes abuse can happen inside of sport.

As key members of an athlete’s entourage involved in the development of an athlete, you can play a crucial role in preventing harassment and abuse from happening in your team, as well as recognise, identify and report when an athlete is in need of help or support.
(Ljungqvist et al. 2008)

This is why the IOC has created this factsheet – to help you understand what constitutes harassment and abuse, explain some of the common signs and symptoms, and offer you a guide in what you can do to help.

Protecting and Educating Athletes

Improving understanding and awareness of harassment and abuse in sport has been identified as one of the most effective mechanisms to prevent abuse from happening. In many cases, athletes (and especially young athletes) are not aware of what constitutes harassment and abuse which results in smaller chances of reporting. There are educational programs on Olympic.org and Athlete365 which can help educate athletes and youth athletes on how to recognize harassment and abuse and where they can go to report it.

During the Olympic and Youth Olympic Games, a #SAFESPORT booth is present offering interactive educational materials and resources. The IOC Safeguarding Officer is also present on-site. Team staff should encourage all athletes and entourage members to visit the #SAFESPORT
booth and participate in the educational resources available.

Best Practices DO's and DONT's

Do remain open and observe environments both at home and during team trips
Do develop relationships with athletes based
on openness, trust and respect
Do ensure you and your athletes have signed codes of conduct
Do know organisational safeguarding procedures and actively seek out safeguarding education and information
Do foster supportive environments for the safety of athletes’ mental health
Do encourage open practice to be observed by parents/family
Do praise and encourage athletes for positive performance rather than humiliate them for negative performance
Do minimise touching of athletes outside of normal technique training instructions
(appropriate interactions: high-fives, fist bumps, handshakes, side to side hugs)

Don’t over-train athletes in order to ‘toughen them up’ or use physical exercise as punishment

Don’t force athletes to compete when injured or ill

Don’t invite athletes to your home or vehicles without a guardian present

Don’t accept responsibility of athlete supervision outside of club or sport related activities

Don’t disrespect athlete privacy in situations such as changing rooms and showers; non-athlete members should also protect their own privacy


Code of Pract ce fof Sports Coaches: www.ukcoaching.org, Safeguarding Youth Sport (SYS} EU Sport Forum 2016 The Hague, Best Practice Guidelines, www.teamusa.org/usa volfeball

75%

of young athletes in organized sports experienced psychological/emotional abuse
Recognising Signs and Symptoms

2-8%

of children in sport are victims of sexual abuse.

(Parent and Hlimi, 2021)

If coaches, trainers and team sports scientists are to bring out the best performance in training and competition, measures and education are needed in order to understand and identify signs of harassment and abuse.

Likewise, it is crucial for these performance stakeholders to adopt best practice solutions to ensure they are not facilitating malpractice which can manifest into harassment and abuse.

Signs that an athlete may need further help are:

• Fatigue/decreased energy
• Weight loss/weight gain
• Bullying of peers

• Change in mood (sad, irritable)
• Loss of interest/anhedonia
• Decreased/lack of concentration
• Sudden drop in performance

• Acting out behaviours/sudden change of attitude
• Frequent/unexplained injuries (bruises, scratches, fractures, bites, cuts, burns, etc.)
• Fear of going home or seeing parents/fear of participating in sports

What to do if you witness or suspect abuse

If you suspect an athlete may need support or may be suffering from harassment and abuse, or if you witness something yourself, it is vital that you report it swiftly, confidentially and via the appropriate channels. Witnessing something and not saying anything can give the impression that the behaviour witnessed is acceptable and may put up another barrier in stopping people from seeking help – this is called the bystander effect.

Remember, the onus is not always on the athlete to report – this may bean extremely difficult thing for them to do. Reporting your suspicions may not lead to a full investigation, but it may start to build a file which forms a part of a bigger picture and identifies a significant concern.

What to do if an athlete discloses to you

For those who are suffering from abuse, speaking about it may be a terrifying prospect. This fear, coupled with the fear of repercussions, are only two of the reasons why abuse is often underreported. As coaches, trainers and sports scientists, the culture that you foster in your team can go a long way in building a trusted environment which supports help seeking.

If an athlete does come forward with concerns, it is important to know what to do.

Here is a quick guide to help you:

Take the time: Treat all suspicions or disclosures seriously.

Well-being: Ensure that the complainant does not require medical attention and know where to direct them if they do.

Act: Know who to go to in case you suspect harassment or abuse. Is there a safeguarding process in place? Or speak directly to your line manager. Remember: deal with complaints promptly, sensitively and confidentially.

Do not pre-judge: Maintain a calm attitude. Do not pre judge the situation.

Jot down a few notes: This will make it easier for you to ensure the information is correctly passed on. Try to use their own words.

Don’t make promises that you cannot keep: Note that you will do everything that you can.

Confidentiality: Keep the complaint confidential except to report to the Safeguarding Officer/your director, etc. Report to the police: If you feel in danger, suspect criminal action if there is immediate risk of harm, or if the case involves a minor.

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