PtG Article 03.10.2019

Athlete power – end game for abusers?

When Play the Game kicks off its 11th world communication conference on society and sport the main theme will be athlete activism and the rights of athletes.

Athletes all around the world are raising their voices like never before to influence decision-making in sport. Different aspects of athlete’s rights will be up for debate at Play the Game 2019: How can athletes better exercise their rights and responsibilities, and who should represent them: Unions, athletes committees, activist groups? The ‘take a knee’ movement shows that freedom of expression suffers in sport, but are there limits to what athletes should express?

Athlete activism and the rights of athletes is a key theme at Play the Game 2019, where representatives from major sports federations and athlete commissions, researchers and athletes themselves will take part in discussions on issues such as athlete representation in the federations, unionisation of athletes, athlete activism and freedom of expression, and athlete safety and abuse.

In the opening session, delegates will hear from whistleblowers Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, the former Russian athletes who helped uncover the Russian doping scandal, when they talk about how blowing the whistle has affected their lives.

The opening day of the conference also kicks off the discussions on athlete activism, unionisation, and athlete representation with key speakers from the International Olympic Committee’s Athlete Commission, Emma Terho and James Tomkins, Board member from Athleten Deutschland, Moritz Geisreiter, and executive director of the World Players Association, Brendan Schwab. Director general of Global Athlete, Rob Koehler, will share his views and thoughts on athlete’s working together for enhanced rights and how they can gain a more represented voice in the world of sport.

Focus on athlete safety

In the past years, several major cases of athlete abuse have come to light in different sports around the world. At Play the Game 2019, key speakers dedicated to the fight against athlete abuse will be brought together. Among these are long-time advocate for protection and support of girls and women in sport, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who in 2014 launched Champion Women, an organisation advocating for equality, accountability and transparency in the world of sport. Ju’Riese Colon from the U.S. Center for SafeSport, Marci Hamilton, founder of CHILD USA, along with Per Nylykke from the Danish Ministry of Culture, will discuss the path to ending abuse and creating a safe sports environment.

Delegates can also join the discussion, when professor Roger Pielke, CU Boulder, professor Madeline Pape, University of Wisconsin, and Andy Brown, editor of the Sports Integrity Initiative, analyse the Caster Semenya case and what it means for athletes.

In two sessions focussed on attacking abuse around the world, delegates will also hear from Indian freelance journalist Murali Krishnan, who will talk about abuse in Indian sport and the lack of laws, and freelance journalist Laura Robinson, on the slow process of getting Canada to address its problems with sexual abuse in sport.  

Play the Game 2019 will also present the documentary ‘Broken Trust: Athlete Abuse Exposed’ by Jill Yesko from the University of Texas, which delves into the abuse scandal in US gymnastics, followed by a talk about gendered violence and abuse of children in sport.

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Ahtlete power, abuse and rights will be up for debate at Play the Game 2019.

You can see the full programme, the list of speakers and all other information you need about the conference at the conference website.

Play the Game 2019 would not be possible without the generous support from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and a great number of sponsors in Colorado Springs and Denmark. You can see the list of sponsors here.