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First Global Study of Elite Athletes’ Experiences as Children Documents Systemic Abuse, Shows Urgent Need for Reform

First Global Study of Elite Athletes’ Experiences as Children Documents Systemic Abuse, Shows Urgent Need for Reform

Press Release

11th May 2021

In the first global study to look at elite athletes’ experiences in sport as children, more than half reported having suffered emotional abuse at least once, the World Players Association said in a new report released today at the 4th World Players’ Development Conference. The two-year project highlighting athletes’ testimonies of lasting legacies of abuse is a collaboration between World Players Association, its affiliates and Loughborough University. 

The 2021 Census of Athlete Rights Experiences (CARE Report) documented elite athletes’ experiences through in-depth individual interviews and 297 online surveys. One in three elite athletes reported experiencing physical abuse while training or competing as children. One in two athletes were not aware of the existence of a union or player association and almost 70% were not aware they had rights before the age of 18.  

“World Players’ CARE Report tragically demonstrates that, for many child athletes, sport is the source of abuse and trauma when it should be an opportunity for development and growth,” said Brendan Schwab, executive director of World Players Association. “Clearly, safeguarding measures many sports bodies are adopting must be augmented by genuinely including child athletes’ voices, embedding their human rights and ensuring effective remedy, including reconciliation and compensation where abuse has occurred. Project CARE highlights the need to build the capacity of the players association movement to effectively represent child athletes, a vital gap we are determined to fill.” 

“Project CARE’s main purpose is to invite, amplify and listen to athletes’ first-hand testimonies about their experiences in sports as children in order to drive systemic change,” said Andrea Florence, coordinator of Project CARE at World Players Association. “We hope the CARE Report contributes to the ongoing global debate about child abuse in sports. We need to have an open and honest discussion about our collective responsibility to ensure children are able to play sports in a safe environment.” 

“This is the first global research into how the rights of athletes have been respected or violated as children in sport. The CARE Report provides an important baseline against which progress can now be tracked through follow-up studies to ensure that efforts to promote and protect children’s rights in sport are evidence based,” Dr Daniel Rhind, lead researcher of the CARE Report and academic at Loughborough University. 

The report calls for sports organisations, governments, civil society, trade unions, player associations and sponsors to embed six key pillars under the acronym RIGHTS:  

Remedy – encourage the establishment of truth commissions and ensure survivors have access to remedial justice;  

Inform – educate and empower athletes to know their rights, collect data and disseminate best-practices;  

Govern – adopt laws and policies banning all forms of abuse, ensure trauma-centred, resourced procedures to receive cases;  

Harness (the athlete’s voice) – organise, engage and elevate athlete’s voices;  

Train – provide guidance on how to support athletes who disclose abuse, develop child-focused programmes; and  

Support – ensure sensitive and supportive approach, provide free, psychological, social, medical and legal support services are available for survivors.  

“Abuse often happens in secret and reporting it carries huge personal and professional risks to athletes. Survivors of abuse won’t take the risk of reporting if the right systems and protection mechanisms are not in place,” said World Player’s Florence. “We looked at our own player association movement, and our duty of care towards athletes. That’s why we are also launching today the Ready to Respond handbook: a hands-on guide to player development managers on how to support athletes that disclose abuse, harassment or trauma in sports.” 

The 4th World Players Development Conference brings together over 190 player development managers from around the world. The CARE Report and Ready to Respond handbook will be launched at today’s session on the Reflections and Experiences of Sexual Abuse and Trauma in Sport, led by Dr Paul Gaffney (Clinical Psychologist) and featuring speakers Grace French (founder of The Army of Survivors, former athlete and survivor), Richie Sadlier (former athlete and survivor) and Shoichi Sugiyama (Sports Lawyer, Japan). 

“The CARE Report and Ready to Respond handbook are truly needed tools for those who support athletes at all levels,” said French. “These pieces of work focused on the voices of athlete survivors throughout the process and learned from their experiences. There is much work to be done in sport in order to create better environments for athletes, and to effectively prevent, intervene, and respond to abuse. These projects take us one step closer to a safer, trauma-free world for athletes." 

The 2021 CARE Report is available at: https://files.cargocollective.com/c520687/World-Players_CARE-Report-2021-.pdf  


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