Combating sexual violence in sport
With the imminent arrival of the Olympic games this weekend we should pause for a moment to think about victims of sexualised violence within sport. There has been near hysteria in the media regarding the Russian Olympic team and constant allegations of doping and drug misuse. This level of attention on this single issue can often detract focus away from other issues which may be prevalent.
In April 2016 British Cycling was embroiled in a bullying and sexism scandal with cyclist Jess Varnish alleging that she was a victim of sexist comments and bullying by one of her coaches on a regular basis. If this kind of behaviour is occurring at such a high level how do we know what is occurring at other levels in sport? Parental pressure on their children to become successful sport stars of the future is immense, anyone doubting this should watch junior football matches at the weekend and observe parents on the touch line often berating their children for not scoring or bellowing at referees. If children are witness to this behaviour on a regular basis then do they get the message that this behaviour is normal?
The culture within male sports also needs to be questioned, I remember from my days of playing sport of being told to “man up” if I got injured, “men don’t cry” and “we’ll sort it out in the changing room” and this was whilst I was at school! The concept of the changing room culture also needs to be challenged, how many times have we heard sports stars being pilloried for disclosing incidents that have occurred within the confines of the dressing room. Many sports pundits have said on national sport programmes that what goes on in the changing rooms is absolutely sacrosanct and should not be discussed elsewhere, its seen as an unwritten code of conduct. If this is the case are some of our sports coaches from an early age modelling our children’s behaviour and teaching them not to “tell” and if this is the case how can children disclose abuse if they have been conditioned by this culture?
The power of the “coach” should not be underestimated, Leahey quotes a victim of sexual abuse as saying “to us at that time, his word was like gospel.” How can children resist or disclose an abuser with this level of power. Dreams of success such as an Olympic gold medal are powerful motivators to achieve and succeed but can also be strong inhibitors preventing disclosure, fear of not being selected or dropped from a team can also influence children to “accommodate” their abuse/abuser.
The NWG Network are part of a project aiming to give victims of sexualised violence a platform to speak out about what happened to them, former Spanish Olympic Gymnast Gloria Viseras, Irish swimmer Karen Leach and German footballer Ralf Zitzmann, all victims of sexual abuse by sports coaches have all given their support and voice to the project.
The VOICES for truth and dignity project is aiming to give victims of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation in sport an opportunity to speak out about what happened to them. The VOICE project will generate crucial research data for the European sports community by listening to the voices of those that have been affected by sexual violence in sport. The resulting evidence-base will provide a platform for powerful knowledge-exchange opportunities and educational resources. The objective is to enhance the sports community’s capacity to combat sexual violence and strengthen integrity in sport.
I would urge you all to look at the web site www.voicesfortruthanddignity.eu to see more about this important Pan European project. Please look at the video’s from Gloria and Karen and post this important message onto your social media networks so that any potential victims out there can share their stories and contribute to this important research project.