Conference logbook pt. 3: steps to take for fair play and safe sport

By Inga Galstian, EOA editor

The EOA held its annual congress in Frankfurt in November 2022. During the congress, a handful of current challenges within the Olympic Movement were addressed in a series of conferences. Two conferences on the topics of Politics & Peace, and Sustainability have previously been reported on in the Conference Logbook series. This episode deals with the session on Integrity in which Baiba Veisa conveyed her perception of fair play, and Ingrid Beutler, alongside her colleague Kirsty Burrows raised awareness on the importance of safe sport and measures to be taken.

Check out the other Conference logbook parts

Beiba Veisa introduced the concept of integrity with her lecture “Fair Play – the pillar of integrity in sport”. Baiba Veisa is Vice-President of the European Fair Play Movement, a partner organisation of the EOA, and currently pursues a PhD at the Latvian Academy of Physical Education.

First and foremost, Veisa called attention to the deficits and increasing challenges of today’s world. In an ever-warming planet and an ever-expanding population, it is revolutions that can bring about change. However, they are our responsibility. Here Veisa borrowed a fitting quote by Robert F. Kennedy:

“The responsibility of our time is nothing less than to lead a revolution – a revolution which will be peaceful if we are wise enough; humane if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough – but a revolution which will come whether we will it or not. We can affect its character, we cannot alter its inevitability”.

– Robert F. Kennedy

So here it is of major significance to take a look at how the fair play movement can be helpful in such a time of crisis with its various challenges.

For this to happen, fair play must first be fundamentally understood. Veisa suggested that fair play is, at first, just a concept of doing sport. She then asked the audience about the first associations when hearing the words “fair play”. The answers ranged from “responsibility” to “respecting the rules” and “honouring the game”. Yet fair play is much more than just the visible. Much like an iceberg in water, the tip is only part of the character. In order to discover the hidden parts of this character, it is important to understand how fair play can be used to make a political statement, for example, or to change something.

Furthermore, Veisa referred to the following principle of Olympism:

“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.”

Olympic Charter

Veisa concluded the lecture with the following metaphor, which represents the fair play movement well: “You cannot shake hands with a choked fist”.

Ingrid Beutler continued with her presentation “Safe Sport: Preventing Violence, Supporting Victims and Fighting Impunity”. Beutler is an international lawyer and consultant who supports political institutions, sports federations and other projects with her juristic expertise.

Integrity in sports concerns many different aspects, including competition manipulation, lack of safety, discriminatory behaviour, corruption and fraud, doping, abuse and harassment. Many of these acts are criminal and illegal. Beutler’s presentation concentrated on abuse and harassment. In contrast to the sometimes brutal reality, sport should be a safe place for all, especially children and young people. However, in many countries, a high number of incidents of violence, abuse and harassment related to sport are reported. The devastating consequences and psychological damage to a victim are evident. To draw attention to these incidents and make them concrete, Beutler highlighted two examples from the past: Larry Nassar from the USA and Keramuudin Karim from Afghanistan. Both were held accountable for their actions and banned from the sport.

However, in order to prevent and minimise such acts as much as possible, there are various guidelines that sports can follow in different manners to ensure a proper level of safety. These include the works of governmental and non-governmental organisations and institutions such as the Council of Europe with its Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the UNODC Resolution 8/4 “Recognising the importance of protecting children and young people in sport from possible exploitation and abuse in order to ensure a positive experience and a safe environment that supports their healthy development”. In addition, there is a multitude of other measures that sports stakeholders can take to meet their human rights obligations: cultural, institutional and systemic changes, tracking and reporting of cases, education and prevention programmes, and impartial reporting mechanisms that include protection of victims, just to name a few. There are also guidelines from FIFA, IOC, UNICEF and the Council of Europe on preventing abuse in sport.

Now, one side of such an incident has been punished, and preventive measures have been clarified. But how are the victims treated? Beutler addressed this question in the third part of her presentation: reporting a case, support and access to resources.
People who have been victims of violence and abuse, whether psychological, physical, sexual or otherwise, often do not report their abuse for a range of different reasons. These can range from the taboo nature of the topic to a lack of trust in the government or the system to feelings of shame or fear that one will not be believed. In this context, she referred to the document “Reporting Mechanisms in Sport”, which she has been working on with the IOC to provide guidance to organisations on how to handle reports from victims.
Victims of abuse must be offered a standard of proper support in all forms, including at least, but not limited to, protection, medical care, emotional and psychosocial support, access to legal remedies, and financial and practical assistance. Victims must, under any circumstances, have legal means at their disposal, such as the possibility of compensation funds in the case of past abuse.

Building on Beutler’s presentation, Kirsty Burrows, Senior Manager in the IOC Safe Sport Unit and PhD student at Canterbury Christchurch University, lectured on “IOC Safe Sport: Think Global, Act Global”. Safe Sport is the prevention of abuse and harassment in sports and the protection of athletes’ mental health. The aim of Safe Sport is to create and maintain a physically and psychologically safe place for athletes. Burrows elaborated on the term abuse and clarified the different types of abuse, in particular, that each type of abuse can occur in three ways: systemic, interpersonal or individual.

Burrows talked about the risk factors that contribute to suffering abuse. Athletes who train at a competitive level or train 16+ hours per week are more likely to experience abuse in a sports context during their career. However, no differences were found with regard to the geographical location of the cases, which supports the finding already mentioned by Beutler that there is hardly a country, let alone no country at all, free from abuse in sports. Moreover, victims rarely dare to come forward. The number of unreported cases is correspondingly high, and only a fraction (4-6%) of all acts come to light.

Safeguarding is not only about investigating illegal and criminal acts but also about dealing with unusual behaviour. Burrows pointed out that, unfortunately, there is a “grey zone” where unusual behaviour is not necessarily persecuted. 

So the question arises: How does such behaviour occur? What is the cause of such incidents? In the context of sports, there are many opportunities for contact and encounter that do not exist in everyday life. Getting dressed in a changing room, high tolerances for pain or even the sole nature of sport where there is a coach and a trainee. This creates a kind of hierarchy and an imbalance in the distribution of influence.

Then, Burrows talked about which measures are appropriate for whom. There are guidelines that organisations can follow. With a Swiss cheese metaphor, she illustrated that certain steps build on each other: first, there are protection guidelines, a risk assessment, a recruitment process to protect participants and training for all participants. The last three steps finalise the cheese with a code of conduct, guidelines for mandatory reporting and an appointment of a so-called safeguarding officer.

Burrows highlighted the work within the IOC, where a unit set up the Safe Sport Action Plan, setting out goals and strategies to achieve them. In doing so, the IOC has two strategies. Firstly, it is intended to support the Olympic Movement in promoting Safe Sport and the well-being of athletes worldwide. Secondly, the Olympic Games are to take the lead in promoting safe sport and ensuring the well-being of athletes.
The IOC has introduced courses to train Safeguarding Officers. Participants have to complete seven modules, 250 learning hours and three exams. There are currently 156 trainees in 66 countries who can work as Safeguarding Officers for 47 different NOCs.

Finally, Burrows reiterated that sport should be a safe ground for everyone:

“Sport should be a safe environment for everyone. Talking about and understanding consent is an important part in preventing harassment and abuse in sport”.

Kirsty Burrows, November 2022

Sport can also be represented in a pyramid, with self-actualisation being at the top. But this is built on these basic building blocks: First, physiological needs are satisfied with sport, then the need for security, the need for belonging and then esteem or prestige, which is followed by self-actualisation. The first three basic building blocks are necessary ones and are located in the “survive” layer of the pyramid, while the last two are satisfactory building blocks in the “thrive” layer.

Finally, the key takeaways are summarised. Safe sport is a public health issue and therefore requires a public health approach. It is a global problem that needs to be solved at the local level. More importantly, safe sport needs to be addressed also by National Olympic Academies because, as promoters and educators of the Olympic Movement, they can be another puzzle stone in ensuring a safe athletic environment.

For further questions or comments, feel free to get in touch with the lecturers.

Baiba Veisa
European Fair Play Movement

Ingrid Beutler
Beutler International Sports Advisory

Kirsty Burrows
IOC Safe Sport Unit

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