Safe-guarding in sports is an area that has not been given a lot of attention at school, club and national association level. Acknowledging that athletes are at the heart of the sports agenda, it is therefore incumbent that their safeguarding should be given the utmost due attention as this article seeks to suggest.
This lacunae needs to change with all due haste, we need to purposefully put athletes at the centre of what we do by embracing safe guarding of our athletes and more especially young children.
Safe-guarding is the process of protecting athletes from harm, abuse, exploitation, and neglect by providing a safe space in which to play sport and be active.
The Sports and Development Organisation defines child safe guarding as the set of actions, measures and procedures taken to ensure that all children are kept safe from harm, abuse, neglect or exploitation whilst in care.
One might ask why we should pay attention to safe guarding in the first place. We need to, I opine for a number of reasons which include, athletes especially children are vulnerable, most athletes in Uganda are not empowered and often lack information on their rights, there is a culture of fear overlaid with cultural norms that place a premium of hierarchical power structures and administrators/officials wield a lot of power/influence which can and is sometimes abused.
Athlete abuse can take various forms including but not limited to physical abuse, physiological abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, economic abuse and neglect. The actors most likely to exact these abuses are coaches, officials, administrators, peers/ team mates, spectators and family.
I would suggest that a safe-guarding framework is encapsulated in the following principles and ethos, empowerment that is ensuring athletes are supported and confident in making their own decisions and giving informed consent, protection through providing support and representation for those in greatest need, putting in place prevention mechanisms with proportional sanction regimes, fostering partnerships with various stakeholders in the sports space and a firm emphasis on fostering accountability at all levels by all.
In order for the practice of athlete safe guarding to take root in our sports system there is need to increase athlete representations at all levels in our sports structures, national associations/clubs.
Schools should undertake research to determine nature, scope of athlete abuse, a working group on athletes safe-guarding should be put in place to work on a framework. National associations/clubs and schools should adopt athlete safeguarding policy as well as adopting the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Rights and Responsibilities Declaration.
We should conduct awareness /promotional activities for athletes, coaches, officials, national associations on the issue of athlete abuse and safeguarding.
The Uganda Swimming Federation early this year held a session on safe-guarding for coaches and the media and a presentation was made by the author during an online session.
The IOC, in its Consensus Statement: Harassment and Abuse in Sport (2016) rightly 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… which state that: all athletes have a right to be treated with respect, protected from non-accidental violence…’
We all need to take action to stamp out abuse in sports. It is our collective responsibility to ensure we have effective sport safe-guarding policies and mechanisms for the protection of our athletes.
Dr Rukare is the Chairman of the National Council of Sports and Secretary General of the Uganda Olympic Committee