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  • Norman Brook

Time to Re-Think Safeguarding in Sport

Where sports organisations have acted on their duty of care to safeguard participants in their sport from non-accidental harm, there has to date been a focus on implementing safeguarding policies and procedures that seek to protect children and protected adults (adults at risk).

Children are defined as young persons under 18 years of age and are protected under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which has been adopted by 197 nations.

Protected Adult (Adult at Risk) is a person aged 18 or over who is, or may be, in need of services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness, and who is, or may be, unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm, abuse or exploitation.

As more cases of bullying, harassment and sexual abuse of adult participants in sport come forward, sports organisations are having to re-think their approach to safeguarding.

Best practice now is to think about how we safeguard everyone in our sports organisations at all times, and not just children, young people and adults participating in the sport, but also the staff and volunteers who deliver our programmes, whom may experience inappropriate behaviour such as bullying, harassment or sexual abuse.

Some sports organisations are responding to the need to safeguard adult participants by establishing separate safeguarding policies and procedures specifically for adults participating in sport. So they might have a policy that safeguards children, another that safeguards adults at risk, another that safeguards athletes and another that safeguards the sport’s workforce both salaried and volunteer.

So do sports organisations need multiple safeguarding policies and procedures especially when many of the safeguards they contain cover common issues such as reporting systems, case management and disciplinary procedures.

Rather than duplication, perhaps sports organisations and all participants would be better served by one comprehensive policy that covers the safeguarding needs of all children and adult participants.

Where sport is being used to promote peace and development, it is almost certain that the sports organisation is not just working with children and protected adults. Adults taking part in the sports organisation’s activities or living in the community being served by the organisation may be vulnerable to harassment or abuse for a variety of different reasons.

The following groups for example might be considered to have an increased vulnerability to exploitation, harm or abuse:

  1. Young People over 18 years of age transitioning from childhood to adulthood. With limited life experience they may not have developed resilience and may be more at risk of exploitation, harm or abuse.

  2. Marginalised Gender Identities including cisgendered women, trans-women, non-binary and gender queer. Adult humans ranging on the spectrum of gender identity.

  3. LGBTQIAP+ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Pansexual community is an inclusive term for people outside of cisgendered heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity.  In many countries (72) homosexuality in some form is criminalised.

  4. Refugees – Someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

  5. National minorities – A minority group within a country based on national or ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity.

  6. Indigenous peoples – first peoples, aboriginal peoples or native peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original inhabitants of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently.

  7. People with Disabilities – impairment that may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or some combination of these. It substantially affects a person’s life activities and may be present from birth or occur during a person’s lifetime.

  8. Elderly persons – individuals aged 60 years or older.

  9. People living with HIV/ AIDS – people living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

  10. Socio-economic class –  the social standing or class of an individual or group with variance in socioeconomic status, including disparities in the distribution of wealth, income, and access to resources and levels of education.

A range of factors can lead to increased vulnerability to abuse.  Lack of inclusion in protective social networks, including education and employment. Dependency on others (who may misuse their position) for vital needs including mobility, access to information and control of finances. Lack of access to remedies for abuse and neglect. Social acceptability of low standards for care and treatment. Social acceptability of domestic abuse and dynamics of power within institutional care settings.

Given that sports organisations working in the Peace and Development sector are most likely to be working with or coming into contact with both children and adults with vulnerability.  Given recent cases of abuse being reported in the international development sector. Perhaps this is the time to re-think safeguarding in sport for peace and development organisations in order that safeguarding policies and procedures help protect both children and adults from exploitation, harassment and abuse

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