The first two of the IOC Safe Sport 2020 Webinar Series for NOCs were focused on the continent of Africa, and featured presentations from athlete representatives.

Key research was presented about the prevalence of psychological and sexual abuse in Africa, while prevention best practice case studies were provided from Mali and Nigeria.

Learn more about the webinar series and sign up for a session here.

Over the course of the two webinars, which compared the situations among different continents before focusing in on Africa, participants discovered that psychological abuse is more common than any other type of abuse, and that it often acts as a gateway to physical and sexual abuse.

There is no simple answer to harassment and abuse in sport. It is a problem which requires action at every level, from improving local networks and communication of athletes and organisations to trying to influence law to recognise the seriousness of the topic.

Data presented by Dr Sylvie Parent of the University of Laval demonstrated the prevalence of sexual abuse in Africa compared with other continents, and the negative impact that this can have on mental health, physical health and sporting performance.

The first step in tackling the issue is to improve education and increase awareness, but there are other important solutions organisations can adopt, including the creation of an independent complaints panel. You can also join efforts to challenge and change social norms so that you and your fellow athletes will feel encouraged to support each other.

Challenging taboos 

Looking at the topic of harassment and abuse from afar can lead us to have many incorrect preconceptions about the true situation. Kady Kanouté Tounkara, ANOCA Athletes’ Commission Zone 2 President and Athlete365 Career+ Steering Committee member, tackled these taboos in her presentation.

“It is not true that every athlete lives in a safe environment; that’s why we’re here today,” explained Kady. “Sport is a microcosm of society and, in general, everything that happens in society happens in sport too.”

These taboos include the belief that sexual harassment is the most common form of harassment, which is not true; psychological abuse is much more frequent globally. Additionally, some may believe that harassment and abuse can occur only at the elite level, but the truth is that this can affect any athlete, regardless of level.

Several key case studies were presented in the webinars, looking at how various ANOCA NOCs have sought to tackle harassment and abuse.

IT IS NOT TRUE THAT EVERY ATHLETE LIVES IN A SAFE ENVIRONMENT; THAT0S WHY WE’RE HERE TODAY. SPORT IS A MICROCSM OF SOCIETY AND, IN GENERAL, EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN SOCIETY HAPPENS IN SPORT TOO.

KADY KANOUTÉ TOUNKARA

OUR MAIN GOAL IS TO REPRESENT, EDUCATE AND INSPIRE MALIAN ATHLETES USING THE OLYMPIC VALUES. THE MALIAN ATHLETES’ FORUM WILL BE A PLATFORM USED TO AUTONOMISE THE COMMUNITY.

RAISSA KONE

Mali NOC breaks the stigma 

In Mali, the NOC AC has used its Olympic Solidarity Activity Grant to organise an athletes’ forum which is due to take place in November.

It will focus on several topics around the empowerment of athletes, including raising awareness about harassment and abuse. With this, the goal is to encourage athletes to speak about this topic and destroy the long-held stigma around abuse.

Raissa Kone, a Malian handball player and athlete representative, said: “Our main goal is to represent, educate and inspire Malian athletes using the Olympic values. The Malian Athletes’ Forum will be a platform used to autonomise the community.”

Driving the conversation in Nigeria 

UN Women Nigeria also highlighted its collaboration with local organisations to raise awareness of abuse, including activities on International Women’s Day to encourage and develop conversation around creating safer environments for women in sport.

For the last two years, and with the help of a local NGO called Fame Foundation, an all-women’s football tournament has been organised which has brought together teams across civil society, government and development partners to not only raise awareness about women’s rights in a sporting context, but also to create a space for women to learn about the services available to them.

In addition to the women who have benefited from this initiative directly, strong relationships were built with local partners and other organisations, leading to their own independent fund-raising initiatives.

Safe Sport Task Team provides action plans 

One of the webinar presenters was Malebo Raditladi, a member of Africa’s Safe Inclusive Sport Task Team, which is a regional group of experts whose mission is to instil safe and inclusive sports practices in all aspects of sport and recreation.

Malebo explained how the Task Team started, and outlined its key activities since its creation in 2014. The team have developed a practical guide for trainers to gain and pass on knowledge involving the implementation of safeguarding initiatives at events; provided advice on policy development around safe sport; and carried out key education and awareness programmes.

This vital work has produced a number of recommendations that you can consider within your own NOCs, including increased collaboration, encouraging the use of real-life scenarios in training, and hosting regular awareness sessions. These measures are tangible, proactive and can be taken immediately in order to create a safe environment in which athletes can flourish.

Are you an athlete or NOC representative, or simply interested in finding out more about the prevention of harassment and abuse in sport?