Despite the numerous well-recognised benefits of participating in sport, evidence indicates that harassment and abuse occurs in all sports and at all levels

Article 2.18 of the Olympic Charter (2019) states that the role and mission of the IOC is…

To promote safe sport and the protection of athletes from all forms of harassment and abuse.

This factsheet highlights the important role that sports organisations play in fostering safe sporting environments for all athletes: athletic environments which are fair, equitable and free from all forms of harassment and abuse.

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, protected from non-accidental violence…

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

Impacts of abuse in sport

Impacts of abuse in sport

• 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

Key principles

Be athlete-centered and developed in collaboration with athletes

Consider prevention of harassment and abuse as well as the response to incidents

Clearly define what constitutes harassment and abuse in sport

Be aligned with available research

Be consistently applied, clearly communicated and accessible

Be monitored, reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis

It is paramount that we promote sporting cultures in which athletes may thrive and achieve and where we reject a “no pain/no gain” philosophy. Although everyone in a sports organisation has an important role to play, leadership must come from the top.

Adopting and implementing safeguarding policies, procedures and mechanisms
Sports organisations play an important role in ensuring that:

Preventative measures are in place to reduce the risk of harassment and abuse occurring

If an incident does occur, mechanisms are in place to ensure that the person affected:

• Knows how and where they can report
• Feels supported and safe to do so
• Understands the procedure that will be followed
• Trusts that the procedure will be fair and robust

We come from many different countries and sports with different laws, cultures and customs, however there is only one culture which should apply to athletes…and that is one of respect.

HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein, IOC PHAS Working Group Chair and IOC Executive Board Member

Three factors contributing to increased risk of harassment and abuse


Risk of a perpetrator with the inclination or motivation to harass or abuse


Sport protection mechanisms


Athlete vulnerability

(International Olympic Committee, 2017)

We know that there is an increased risk of harassment and abuse in sport when three factors align.

On the next page we highlight these factors and the key steps your organisation can take to better protect athletes, your organisation and the integrity of sport.


High risk of a perpetrator with the inclination to harass or abuse

Are safeguarding measures implemented in your recruitment regulations?

For example :
• Does your organisation conduct criminal records checks (in accordance with applicable legislation)?
• Do you require mandatory references for all job candidates?

Is the protection of harassment and abuse in sport included in mandatory education and training for all of your stakeholders?

This should include:
• Awareness on what constitutes harassment and abuse in sport
• Information on the roles and responsibilities that all those involved in sport play in creating a safe sporting environment
• Recognising the signs and indicators of harassment and abuse
• Specialised training for those working with athletes or who have a role to play in following up on a safeguarding concern

Do you have a code of conduct in place for athletes, for entourage members and for other stakeholders?

These should:
• Clearly detail what behaviour is not acceptable
• Be specific to each stakeholder group
• Outline the measures and sanctions applicable for violations of the code of conduct
• Always be signed


It is imperative that you have policies and processes in place to effectively and appropriately respond in the event that a concern is raised. Please see “sport protection mechanisms”


Low sport protection mechanisms

• Foster an organisational culture which places athlete well-being as a priority

• Table a discussion on Safe Sport with your organisations executive bodies

• Ensure the rejection of harassment and abuse is clearly stated in your organisation’s foundational frameworks

• Identify who is responsible for overseeing the development of safe sport policies and procedures and mechanisms in your organisation and ensure that they are adequately trained

• Liaise with other expert organisations on the national and international level to promote collaboration and sharing of best practice

• Develop guidance and programmes to build capacity in member organisations


Conduct a self-audit of your organisation in order to determine what measures are in place and where the gaps are.

Assemble a working group of experts and organisations with different areas of expertise to help you develop your safe sport policies and procedures. It is important that this group includes athletes.

Review available research on safeguarding in sport to make sure that interventions are evidence based.

Develop a safeguarding policy, which should:

• State that all members have a right to respect, safety and protection• State that the welfare of members is paramount

• Specify what constitutes harassment and abuse and the range of consequences for violations

• Provide details of where parties can report an incident and where they can access support

• Ensure that complaints will be investigated appropriately, confidentially and in a timely manner

• Align with other national and international safeguarding in sport agendas where applicable


High athlete vulnerability

Evidence demonstrates that whilst all athletes are susceptible to harassment and abuse, elite, child, disabled, and lesbian/gay/bisexual/trans-sexual (LGBT) athletes are at a higher risk. It is important to recognise this and to ensure specific measures related to the protection and promotion of vulnerable groups are included within your athlete safeguarding policies and procedures.

Measures to support athletes may include:

• Educating athletes and entourage members to recognise signs of harassment and abuse

• Encouraging athletes and entourage members to talk about harassment and abuse to help reduce stigma and break taboos

• Highlighting that athletes also have a responsibility to ensure safe sporting environments – reducing the risk of peer-to-peer abuse

• Fostering strong partnerships with athletes’ parents/caregivers to promote safe sport

• Working with local organisations, experts and charities to raise awareness of harassment and abuse and particular considerations for vulnerable groups

Further information and guidance related to the development and implementation of safeguarding policies and procedures can be found here:

Globally, athletes with disabilities are at a 2-4 times greater risk of:


Physical abuse

Sexual and Psychological abuse

Tuakli-Wosornu et al., 2020


Brackenridge, C., Kirby, S., (1997). Playing safe: Assessing the risk of sexual abuse to elite child athletes. International Review for the Sociology of Sport [online] Volume 32(4) pgs 407-418. Available at: Olympic Committee, (2017). Safeguarding athletes from harassment and abuse in sport IOC Toolkit for IFs and NOCs. Version 1 [pdf] Available at: Kirby SL, Kerr GA. Safe Sport Canada Presentation to the Federal Government. August 3, 2018Mountjoy, M., Brackenridge, C., Arrington, M., Blauwet, C., Carska-Sheppard, A., Fasting, K.,, Kirby S., Leahy, T., Marks, S., Martin, K., Starr, K., Tiivas, A., Budgett, R. (2016). International Olympic Committee consensus statement: harassment and abuse (non-accidental violence) in sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine [online] Volume 50(17) pgs. 1019-29. Available at:, S. and Demers, G., (2011). Sexual Abuse in Sport: A Model to Prevent and Protect Athletes. Child Abuse Review [online] Volume 20(2) pgs. 120-133 Available at: Sport International. Challenging Violence in Sport: Safe Sport International Conference. Madrid, Spain: April 6-7, 2018Tuakli-Wosornu, Y., Sun, Q., Gentry, M., Ayala, K., Doolan, F., Ottesen, T., Caldwell, B., Naushad, N., Huang,P., Kirby, S. (2020). Non-accidental harms (‘abuse’) in athletes with impairment (‘para athletes’): a state-of-the-art review. British Journal of Sports Medicine [online] Volume 54(3) pgs. 129-138. Available at:, T., Schipper-van Veldhove, N., Wouters, K., Kampen, J.K., Brackenridge, C., Rhind, D., Neels, K., Van Den Eede, F., (2016). Interpersonal violence against children in sport in the Netherlands and Belgium. Elsevier [online] Volume 51 pgs. 223-236 Available at: