Non-Accidental Abuse in Sport

There is substantial knowledge gobally regarding malpractice and abuse in sports. It appears that athletes at all levels are exposed to misconduct in sports. Children are particularly vulnerable, and their experiences can have lifelong consequences. Malpractice in sports includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse along with neglect. Emotional abuse is defined in three different categories: physical without physical contact, verbal and freezing / actively ignoring. There are clear examples reported from e.g., female elite athletes who have ended their careers, that they have persistent and disabling problems with fear, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Research has also shown a link between abuse and injuries, as well as mental health problems such as eating disorders, ill health linked to overtraining, lack of recovery and relative energy deficiency as well as performance blocks. Sexual harassment and abuse have been reported in sports in several countries. The problems are well-known, but measures to ensure a safe and secure sport environment from abuse are severely neglected. The problems seem to partly increase with increasing level of performance.

Guidelines and recommendations are published by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) along with a number of research groups around the world. IOC has presented a consensus statement with recommendations for athletes regarding non-accidental violence and harassment presenting how athletes should be aware of their rights and obligations, both regarding reporting and contributing to preventive measures of non-accidental violence. They should be aware of the support systems that are in place for these matters, and they should support and encourage peers to speak out if they have experienced or witnessed non-accidental violence. Finally, they must be aware that there must be a voice that can bring the athlete’s action regarding issues of security. Athletes subjected to various types of abuse or harassment in their performance environment may need professional assessment and treatment by a psychologist specialized in these matters. This is for both trauma-related symptoms and mental health problems, as well as for professional support in the process of speaking out where both sport organizations and the judiciary may be involved.