On 20 May, IOC Athletes’ Commission (AC) chair Kirsty Coventry moderated an IOC side-event at the 7th International Working Group (IWG) Conference on Women and Sport in Gaborone, Botswana.

The IWG Conference – titled “Determine the future. Be part of the change” focused on six key themes:

  • Being well to play well
  • Safe Space: Protection Women in Sport
  • Leveraging media to advocate for Women’s sport
  • Empowering all through sport
  • Sport without borders – cross cultural collaboration
  • Changing the leadership landscape of sports

Towards a safe sporting environment
During the IOC side-event, as the IOC Athletes’ Commission representative Kirsty Coventry outlined the recent work that the IOC has done to combat harassment and abuse in sport – to ensure that athletes can compete in a safe environment and one that protects their rights.

Such initiatives include the launch of the IOC Toolkit on “Safeguarding athletes from harassment and abuse in sport”, which assists International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) with the development and implementation of athlete-safeguarding policies and procedures.

“We are committed to creating a safe sporting environment that supports athlete wellbeing and protects all athletes’ rights, at all times,” she said.

“The toolkit builds on and improves previous guidelines, and is reinforced with key research, recommendations and case studies from across the Olympic Movement.”

The Toolkit is complemented by a range of specially developed educational resources, including the free course for athletes, coaches and officials on the Athlete Learning Gateway, which was launched in September 2017 and looks at the core components of athlete safeguarding.

Becoming part of the change
After presenting the IOC Athlete Safeguarding initiatives, Kirsty Coventry moderated a panel session which saw presentations from the National Olympic Committees of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.

Speakers on the panel included Anna Mguni, secretary general of the Zimbabwe NOC, Lechedzani Master Luza, former chair of the Botswana NOC Athletes’ Commission, Brenda Chipande, Executive Director of the NOC of Zambia and Zambia NOC Women in Sport Commission Chair Nakaonga Kakoma.

The presentations afforded the opportunity for the audience, which included representatives from NOCs, IFs, National Federations, as well as Olympians, to hear best practice examples from the region, share knowledge and offer peer to peer advice and support.  

Becoming part of the change
“The effects of harassment and abuse are well documented,” said the IOC AC chair as she outlined to the participants why the implementation of safeguarding policies and procedures are so important.

“For athletes, they may impair performance, lead to athlete drop out,  increase athletes’ willingness to cheat and result in a host of negative outcomes like illness, anxiety and even suicide.”

Kirsty concluded the session by inviting audience members to state what their take home from the IOC side event would be. “We would like to provide a mechanism for reporting, at least in my sport” said one participant. “I probably have not been sensitive enough to listen, to see, but probably these issues have been there.”

“As the chairperson as the president for a sport” she continued, “I need to see how to convince the committee to update our constitution so that it is a policy issue.”

Kirsty Coventry concluded the IOC side-event by summarising the key remarks made throughout the session, by panellists and audience members alike. “Don’t be the bystander” she said. “take action, speak up! Create a safe environment”

Kirsty stressed the need to for increased education and communication around this important topic, and the importance of collaboration, between sporting organisations, national bodies and agencies.

“Simple steps!” She concluded, “It doesn’t have to take millions of dollars, it is simple steps first. Leadership and advocacy here is key”.

The IOC’s free Safeguarding Athletes from Harassment and Abuse educational course can be found on the Athlete Learning Gateway here.

The link to download the full safeguarding toolkit can be found here.