Safeguarding of athletes is a uniquely fundamental issue aimed at protecting athletes against all forms of abuse. In recognition of this the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) in partnership with Jose Foundation and organised by Norman Brook a Sports Consultant, hosted a Safeguarding in Sport Conference which was held at the Hogan Lovells from 25-26 May 2019.
The main aim of this conference was to bring together policy makers from National Olympic Committees, National Sports Federations, International Federations, Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF), International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) among others under one roof to deliberate on the development and implementation of Safeguarding Policies and Measures.
This conference is aligned to the IOC whose Consensus Statement: Harassment and Abuse in Sport (2016) states that ‘‘It is incumbent upon all stakeholders in sport both to adopt general principles for safe sport and to implement and monitor policies and procedures for safe sport. All athletes have a right to be treated with respect and protected from non–accidental violence’’. In addition, the IOC Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance encompass safeguarding and makes it compulsory for organisations that belong to the Olympic movement to adopt these principles, implement relevant measures and monitor compliance.
The conference had open, honest, robust discussions that provided much food for thought and learning around the extent of safeguarding challenges in South Africa. It looked at the paucity of policy frameworks and initiatives amongst NOC/NPCs and NFs as well as frameworks already in place internationally. Further, discussions were held around promotion and education about safeguarding at events, as well as practical steps for vetting and reporting abuse through the use of electronic mediums amongst other issues on athletes’ safety.
SASCOC Board Member, Debbie Alexander also presented on the IPC’s position on the matter of safeguarding of athletes and Safeguarding the Mental Health of Athletes. She gave a detailed analysis of the IPC Policy on Non-Accidental Violence and Abuse in Sport and the IPC Code of Ethics. With reference to Mental Health of athletes, Debbie urged the delegates to encourage a culture of psychological safety for all their athletes.
Other key presenters were from the IOC, Unicef, Commonwealth Games Federation, Safe Sport International, UK Sport, British Olympic Committee, Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee, British Gymnastics and Caribbean Sport Development Agency amongst other excellent speakers. They presented on various key issues which included, but were not limited to:
- Legal duty – Sport’s Responsibility to Safeguard Children and Vulnerable Persons,
- How International Sports Federations are responding to Safeguarding and their expectations of member federations,
- International Movement to Safeguard Children and Vulnerable Persons in Sport, Safeguarding of Sport in Africa, Sport as a means of supporting victims of abuse in communities,
- Practical Experience of Implementing Safeguarding Policies & Measures in National Sports Federations – Priorities and Pitfalls.
After the two-day deliberations, a draft conference declaration was prepared and discussed outlining a way forward.
As the macro sports body, SASCOC were left with many factors to consider to ensure the safeguarding of our athletes as well as the filtering of this message to all sporting bodies in the country. Some of the main points and questions we took away from the conference were:
- The need to act immediately on the safeguarding of our athletes and the conversation has already started internally.
- Alignment of our Safeguarding policies with those of the IOC, IPC and CGF
- Educate our athletes, coaches and all our members on safeguarding related matters
- Mental health of athletes must be a priority
- All our members need to be guided in terms of where to find help and what to seek help for
- The Safeguarding conversations must be on the agenda of all committees and commissions especially the Athletes’ Commission, Coaches Commission, Women’s Commission and High Performance Commission
- Safeguarding education and promotion to feature at all Major Events.
- Should our commitment to safeguarding feature in the SASCOC Constitution and that of NFs?
- Should we consider as a criteria for SASCOC membership that all NFs must have policies and procedures for safeguarding in place as well as a safeguarding officers.