PtG Article 21.11.2017

Sexual abuse: Is sport a special danger zone?

Sexual violence against children and young athletes in sport is a problem that has only in recent years started to be published broadly. Yet, a number of brave victims have now started to stand up to tell their stories publicly, and it is obvious that the problem has existed for way too long.

The increased focus on prevention of abuse in sport resulting from major scandals in American, British and Dutch sport has raised the question of how sport turn to action to protect future athletes from suffering the painful consequences of abuse.

At Play the Game 2017, delegates will get an insight into the problem of sexual abuse in sport and the challenges facing sport organisations in the area of prevention and management of cases. They will hear personal stories from victims of abuse and from sports organisations that have conducted investigations and dealt with cases, as well as from experts in prevention research.

While sport is often considered to be a safe, healthy environment that contributes to the positive development of young people, it is also an area where abuse of power and harassment can manifest itself in various ways and in worst cases as sexual abuse. Young athletes in sports that depend heavily on a close relationship between athletes, coaches, and medical personnel can be particularly vulnerable.

Bettina Rulofs

At Play the Game 2017, , a former Irish swimmer, will tell her disheartening personal story and how she learned to survive the pain and hurt from her experience. Leach is currently an ambassador of the VOICE project funded by the Erasmus+ Program of the European Union, which aims at combatting sexualised violence through the voices of those affected. The VOICE project itself will be presented by , a senior lecturer at the German Sport University, Institute of Sociology & Gender Studies.

Independent investigations

A recent report written by the former American federal prosecutor Deborah J. Daniels on the sport of gymnastics reviewed alleged sexual abuse of 365 American gymnasts over a 20-year period that suggests a long-standing cultural problem in the sport. Similarly, stories of widespread abuse have emerged from American swimming and British and Dutch football where similar patterns of abuse have been persistent over a long period of time without effective measures to stop it.

The Dutch journalist Willem Feenstra has conducted an investigation into abuse in Dutch football and will present the methods and results from that investigation. This will be followed up by Sander Roege who will speak about how PSV Eindhoven has tackled some of the cases arising from that same investigation.

Marjan Olfers

, spokesman for the Dutch NOC and sports confederation (NOC*NSF), will speak about the importance of independent research. Finally, will contribute with his experience from a public authority working with cases of child abuse in sport and also touch on recent initiatives and the role of Council of Europe in the area of protection and prevention. The Dutch lawyer will lead the session and facilitate the subsequent panel debate.

In more than 40 sessions, over 200 speakers will present their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of the most topical questions in world sport during the tenth Play the Game conference, taking place in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, 26-30 November 2017.Discover the programme and the continuously updated speakers list.Sign up now and secure yourself four days densely packed with debates, discussions and networking between experts and professionals from sport, media and academia.Read more and register