To mark Safe Sport Day on 8 August 2022, we shine a spotlight on some of the initiatives being implemented by National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and NOC Athletes’ Commissions (ACs) across the world to strengthen safe sport and protect your physical and mental well-being.
You have the right to train and compete in environments that are fair and respectful, and free from all forms of harassment and abuse. Safe Sport Day, celebrated annually on 8 August, offers an opportunity to highlight some of the invaluable work being done by NOCs across the globe to promote and strengthen safe and supportive sporting environments.
In Bhutan, a comprehensive safeguarding policy has been launched by the country’s NOC. It’s a powerful illustration of the proactive and positive change NOCs can make to sport in their regions.
“It’s important for the NOC to champion the safe sport initiative in the country,” says Tshering Zam, a sports research and development officer at the Bhutan NOC. “Having such a document in place will help us create a safe and free sporting environment for all.”
Tshering explains that involving athletes in the creation of the policy was important, and that it became clear that athletes needed clear standards and procedures to tackle safe sport issues.
“It’s been a very collective process,” she says. “Our Athletes’ Commission and Gender Equality Committee conducted sessions with athletes to hear their voices. They expressed the need for frameworks to protect them against possible abuse and harassment.”
The Bhutan NOC’s aim is to safeguard not just athletes, but everyone involved in sport. “It’s about protecting our coaches and all people working in sport,” explains Tshering. “We believe that our policy will protect competitors, but also that educating coaches and officials about their obligations will protect.
It’s a similar story in the Maldives, where the country’s NOC has recently launched its first child athlete safeguarding policy. The NOC recognised the need to adapt its safe sport processes in response to a developing Maldivian sporting landscape.
“Sport in the Maldives is evolving, and we are seeing more youth development programmes coming into place,” says Thamooh Ahmed Saeed, the Maldives NOC Secretary General. “We realised that it’s crucial for the sporting environment to be one where all young athletes are able to practise and compete safely.”
The response to the policy from athletes, parents and National Federations has been positive, and the policy itself was inaugurated by the President of the Maldives.
“I’ve been contacted by multiple sporting associations, and they want to learn more about the policy in depth,” explains Thamooh, who is eager to use the launch as a platform for further development. “They want our help with coaches, training programmes and ethics training. We are getting a very positive response.”
The NOC is currently working towards finalising and implementing a general athlete safeguarding policy.
In the Americas, the Panama NOC has opened a safe sport centre with education at the heart of its mission. The team at the centre has developed educational materials for people working in sport, and established protocols for athletes to report harassment and abuse. In the past year, they have also conducted multiple workshops for local sports administrators, entourage members and athletes.
“It is very, very important to educate,” says María Carla Sayavedra, a sports psychologist at the centre. “It’s the most important thing; when people understand how and why violence happens, they can then acquire the knowledge and tools they can use, and learn about the actions they can take, to prevent it.”
Olympic Solidarity funding has been vital to establishing the centre in Panama, with the support allowing wider outreach work across the country. “I’ve been able to travel to other regions and provinces, and reach athletes who don’t have many opportunities to receive this information,” says María. “A lot of athletes in Panama don’t go to school or finish school, and they don’t have the information necessary to understand what violence and abuse look like.”
The NOC is also planning a nationwide media campaign to further spread its message. “I want athletes to know that we can do things differently and that we can have a safe place for sport – and that we deserve to. We want to send information to every person who is part of the sporting ecosystem. It’s a big dream, but I know we can do it.”
The powerful impact of safe sport education can also be seen in Sri Lanka, where Gobinath Sivarajah, a member of the Sri Lanka NOC, has recently completed the IOC Safeguarding Officer in Sport Certificate with the help of an Olympic Solidarity scholarship. Gobinath is part of the first cohort of graduates of the programme, and is now looking forward to promoting safe sport education in his home country.
“We will approach the Ministry for Education and ask them to incorporate safe sport into the national curriculum. If we can include the Olympic values in primary education, that will be the best way to educate athletes. Children will believe that they are safe to compete in sport.
“We are also planning to create an awareness programme. If we create awareness among the people – athletes and coaches – we can create a safe environment for everybody to take part in sports activities peacefully.”