Harassment and abuse in sport

Harassment and abuse are a violation of human rights that damage both individual and organizational health. In sport it impacts athletes and other people, while the legal, financial and moral liabilities fall onto sports organizations. These issues are inevitable in all sports and among athletes of various professional levels.

In its role of safeguarding and improving athletes’ health, the IOC acknowledges the athletes’ right to safe and friendly sport environment. Everyone in sport shares a responsibility to identify and prevent harassment and abuse, and to develop a culture of dignity, respect and safety. Sport organizations are gatekeepers to safety and should demonstrate strong leadership in identifying and eradicating these practices. A healthy sport system that empowers athletes can contribute greatly to the prevention of harassment and abuse both within and outside sport.

IOC’s short film about harassment and abuse in sport:

Read more: www.olympic.org/sha


Despite the well known benefits of sport, it can also make a negative impact on athletes’ heath, welfare and integrity through harassment and abuse.

Harassment and abuse often results from an abuse of authority, and can be based on any grounds including race, religion, color, creed, ethnic origin, physical attributes, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, socio-economic status and athletic ability. They can occur in sports environment or internet as a one-off incident or as a series of incidents. Harassment and abuse can be deliberate, unsolicited and coercive.

The different types of harassment and abuse can be expressed in four forms, which may occur in combination or in isolation. These forms of abuse are defined by the IOC as follows:

  • Psychological abuse refers to any treatment or unwelcome act – including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation and infantilisation – that may diminish the athlete’s sense of identity, dignity and self-worth.
  • Physical abuse refers to any deliberate and unwelcome act – such as punching, beating, kicking, biting or burning – that causes physical trauma or injury. Physical abuse can also refer to forced or inappropriate physical activity (for example, age- or physique-inappropriate training loads, training when injured or in pain), forced alcohol consumption and forced doping practices.
  • Sexual harassment refers to any verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome or that occurs when consent is coerced, manipulated or cannot be given. Sexual harassment can also take the form of sexual abuse.
  • Neglect refers, in this case, to the failure of a coach or another person with a duty of care to provide a minimum level of care to the athlete, in the process either causing harm, allowing others to cause harm or putting the athlete in imminent danger of harm.


Harassment and abuse occurs in all sports and at all levels.

Athletes of all ages and types are susceptible to harassment and abuse, but elite, disabled, child and lesbian/gay/ bisexual/transsexual (LGBT) athletes are at the highest risk. Psychological abuse is at the core of all other forms of harassment and abuse; and athletes can be perpetrators as well as victims.

Harassment and abuse can have serious negative impacts on athletes’ physical, social and psychological health. It may cause impaired performance and athlete drop-out It may also may lead to psychosomatic illness, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide. The effects of harassment and abuse can persist long after the athlete has left their sport.

Passive attitudes, non-intervention, and denial and/or silence by people in positions of power all increase the psychological harm caused by harassment and abuse. Lack of action from bystanders also gives victims the impression that harassment and abusive behavior are legally and socially acceptable, and/or that those in sport are powerless to speak out against it.

Read more: www.olympic.org/news/ioc-adopts-consensus-statement-on-sexual-harassment-and-abuse-in-sport


Every day in every country, thousands of sporting contests take place without a hint of violence. However, when violence does occur, it is a threat to sport and the Olympic Movement. It must be taken seriously.


The risk of injury is present in any physical activity, and increases when athletes push themselves to the limit. Generally speaking, athletes have been left to make their own decisions on what risks to take. The hazards of self-inflicted injuries have generally been accepted as part of sport.

However, it is unreasonable for coaches and teachers to encourage athletes to risk life or limb against their own inclinations and better judgment.

Violence may take place in sports where physical contact is not supposed to occur. Officials must decide who was responsible and whether it was intentional. Determining intent is perhaps the most difficult task that officials must perform – only athletes can know whether they are competing in a sporting spirit.

Vigorous physical contact is an integral part of some sports. For example, shoulder charges in football and body checks in ice hockey are recognized in the rules. Violent contact is not only permitted in boxing but determines the outcome.

If such physical contact is allowed, how vigorous can it be before it becomes too violent? Who decides on the boundaries?

Athletes themselves play a big part in determining what is fair and unfair, while sport governing bodies must consider the Olympic aim of promoting friendship in their rules and public statements.

There must be a limit to what you can do to a friend – even in sport, and even if he or she is a willing recipient of your violence Friendship is the ultimate criterion.

Coaches, the media and teachers can do the most to curb violence. Coaches, in particular, may not be directly involved in acts of violence but sometimes too readily encourage their athletes to commit such acts. Athletes tend to do as their coaches tell them, even when they have moral doubts. As such, coaches and teachers have a

heavy responsibility for eliminating unnecessary violence from sport.


Spectator violence has been a problem for several decades in many sports and in many countries. There are many theories as to why it occurs:

  • Violence by players on the field leads to violence by fans in the stands.
  • Refereeing decisions precipitate violence in crowds.
  • Fans create their own “competition” against opposing fans.
  • When part of a large crowd, sometimes fueled by alcohol, fans commit acts they would not commit when alone.
  • People become more aggressive in groups, and examples of group violence inspire other acts.

Whatever the reasons, fan violence has a significant effect on people’s attitudes towards sport, both on attending games and supporting sport in their communities. It is therefore very important that youngsters are taught appropriate ethical values.

Together with political authorities, the sport movement must address violence among spectators, and must define policies and ways to remedy it.


Sport organizations can help prevent violence and harassment by establishing:

  • athlete safeguarding policies and procedures;
  • codes of conduct;
  • education and training programmes;
  • complaint and support mechanisms for those who feel abused;
  • And monitoring and evaluation systems to ensure best practices are followed.

Every sport organization should have such provisions in place.

The IOC has developed initiatives that help sport organizations to develop and implement policies and procedures that safeguard athletes from harassment and abuse in sport.

Policies act as statements of intent that demonstrate a commitment to create a safe and mutually respectful environment. They should state what is required in relation to the promotion of rights, well-being and protection.

Such policies allow organizations to take prompt, impartial and fair action when a complaint or allegation is made, and to take disciplinary action as appropriate.

Codes of practice describe acceptable standards of behavior that, when followed, serve to implement these policies. Such standards of behavior set clear benchmarks for what is acceptable and unacceptable, and can help minimize opportunities for sexual harassment, abuse and unfounded allegations.

All sport organizations should:

  • develop policies and procedures to prevent harassment and abuse;
  • monitor their implementation;
  • evaluate their impact in identifying and reducing harassment and abuse;
  • develop an education and training programme on harassment and abuse in their sport(s);
  • promote and exemplify equitable, respectful and ethical leadership; and foster strong partnerships to prevent harassment and abuse.

Policies should:

  • identify and address these issues;
  • be clear and easily understood;
  • involve consultation with athletes;
  • be approved by the relevant management body (e.g. the Executive Board) and incorporated into the organization’s constitution and/or regulations;
  • be widely communicated through publication and a comprehensive education and training strategy;
  • apply to all involved in the organization;
  • state that all members have a right to respect, safety and protection;
  • state that the welfare of members is paramount;
  • identify who has responsibility for implementing and upholding the policy;
  • specify what constitutes a violation;
  • specify the range of consequences for such violations;
  • specify procedures for reporting and handling complaints;
  • provide details of where parties involved in a complaint can seek advice and support;
  • specify procedures for maintaining records;
  • provide guidance for third-party reporting;
  • And be regularly reviewed and updated, particularly when there is a major change in the constitutional regulations of the organization or in the law.

Sport organizations should adopt codes of conduct that apply to specific roles, providing guidance on expected standards of behavior and setting out clear processes for dealing with unacceptable behavior, including guidance on disciplinary measures and sanctions.

The IOC has developed resources on the prevention of harassment and abuse in sport:

Read more: www.olympic.org/athlete365/library/safe-sport



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