#SaferCultureSaferSport—Not Just a Hot Topic in UK Sport

This article is written by Kimberley Walsh, Safeguarding Elite Athletes Lead, ACT.

ACT became aware of a recent article in Canada’s Vancouver Sun newspaper. The article strongly resonated with our #SaferCultureSaferSport campaign reinforcing our messages of the need to improve culture within sport in order to make it safer for everyone.

Read the article: Vancouver Sun article by Jennifer Heil: Safety in sport is everyone’s issue.

“Participating in sport in Canada need not come at the cost of experiencing abuse and trauma or being a part of a culture that allows it to happen”.

The article echoed similar concerns and highlighted gaps that we are hearing identified from athletes and people working with, and within, sport organisations in the UK who are trying to raise awareness and make sport a safer place.

Written by a former Canadian Olympic skier, the article demonstrates that issues in relation to athlete safety and the culture within sport is not an issue that one nation alone is experiencing. This in turn suggests the root of many problems often go beyond the behaviours of a
specific individual, event, organisation or country -and stems from the deep-rooted culture that has developed and evolved within sport over many years.

“It is a system that accepts abuse under the façade of performance, compounded by the significant power imbalance that exist between athletes and coaches as well as athletes and their sport organizations.”

The article shares recommendations that a group of 13 Paralympic and Olympic athletes are making to Canadian Members of Parliament with the aim of addressing identified gaps in the Canadian sport safeguarding systems.

Many of the recommendations being made are similar to those being talked about as areas to improve within UK systems with some additional ideas which give food for thought.

Examples of some of the recommendations:

  • “Single code of conduct with consistent language and definitions with supporting educational resources.”
  • “Centralised adjudication process – fully independent from national sport organisations”.
  • “Centralised sanctions database”.

Hearing the views and ‘on the ground’ experience directly from athletes (or any level of participant) is invaluable learning and must continue to be encouraged and embraced. If we can’t learn and evolve from the past and the present, how will we ever make effective long-lasting change for the future?

“Many of us have learned to normalize this psychological, physical and sexual abuse, and harassment as part of the culture of sport.”

The article concludes with a plea to the Canadian Minister “One more news headline exposing further horrific athlete abuse is one too many.”

What can we learn from others, from the voice of those with lived experience, and what can be done in sport in the UK to address similar gaps as highlighted in the article?