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Olympism in Action Forum

Safeguarding Athletes Against Harassment and Abuse: Survivor Stories and Active Measures

Karen Leach was a promising young Irish swimmer at age 10 when her coach began abusing her. It lasted until she was 17. By then, her budding Olympic career was over. 

“He left me broken, shattered, destroyed, ashamed, dirty, embarrassed… But I am a survivor. I am a victor, not a victim. We need policies, procedures, audits, manuals, research, all of it… Please never give up working toward giving every child a safe place in sports.” 

I am a victor, not a victim. Karen Leach Child Protection Advocate

Leach’s words landed with a heavy impact today at the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires, where she was taking part in a working session on “Prevention of Harassment and Abuse in Sport”. She was joined at the discussion by another survivor, Colin Harris, a former professional footballer and academic at the University of Brighton. 

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All athletes, at every level, should feel like sport is safe for them. Harassment and abuse have no place on the field, in the changing room or dormitory, or anywhere else. The IOC is committed to athlete safety and well-being, a commitment reinforced at the Forum. Leach and the rest of the distinguished panel discussed the challenges at all levels of sport and the collective responsibility of athletes, coaches, doctors, officials, families and organisations to perpetuate a culture which respects the rights of all in order to prevent harassment and abuse.  

“It’s everyone’s fundamental human right to practise safe sport. This is not something that is going to just go away, and if we don’t all take action together, this is going to continue to haunt us and haunt children around the world.

This is going to continue to haunt us and haunt children around the world HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein IOC Member, IOC Women in Sport Commission Vice-Chair and IOC Prevention of Harassment and Abuse in Sport Working Group Chair.

How to effect successful organisational, institutional and secular-cultural change was a big item on the agenda.  

The IOC has been working to identify tools to safeguard athletes from harassment and abuse in sport since 2004, when it first committed to finding a solution to protect athletes. Throughout this period, the IOC has commissioned researchers to study why and how such incidents happen and, more importantly, how can they be prevented. 
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Olympic Agenda 2020 reinforces this commitment, with Recommendation 18 calling on everyone to “strengthen support for athletes”. In 2017, the IOC launched a toolkit to assist International Sports Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in developing and implementing their own athlete safeguarding policies and procedures.  

Safeguarding athletes is a main focus not only at the Forum but also for the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018 through a number of initiatives, including the introduction of a safeguarding strategy, with its various measures to ensure sport is safe, fair, and free from all forms of harassment and abuse during the Games. 

Initiatives include an IOC Safeguarding Officer present in the Youth Olympic Village, experts on-site to deliver tools at the #SafeSport booth and the delegation of power from the IOC Executive Board to an IOC Disciplinary Commission to hear and decide cases of any alleged violations. 

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