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Safe sport series - The systemic problems in sport that leave athletes at risk of abuse

Children playing on field
Friday, 25 May 2018 By Nikki Dryden

This is the first piece in a LawInSport series examining the troubling issues of abuse in sport. The series aims to highlight the types of abuse suffered, the complexities of abuse due to power imbalances, and the governance structures that perpetuate the problems. It also examines how countries are now stepping-in to address the issues, and the roles played by key changemakers who have been actively campaigning against abuse.

This first article examines the different types of abuse in sport, before taking an in-depth look at sexual abuse of minors in the context of the USA Gymnastics case. In doing so, it examines how the governing autonomy enjoyed by sports organizations can contribute to creating systemic problems, and the need for greater athlete representation. Specifically, it looks at:

  • What types of abuse are present in sport?

  • The USA Gymnastics case:

    • First reports of abuse

    • FBI inaction

    • Threats and payments to keep quiet

    • The failures to notify

    • Michigan State’s knowledge in 2014

    • The mounting civil law suits

    • US Olympic Committee’s inaction

    • Nassar final conviction and sentence

  • Sports administration – the dangers of the autonomy principle

  • Sports administration – the need for greater athlete representation

  • Catalysts for reform:

    • Nancy Hogshead-Makar (Champion Women)

    • US Olympic Committee (USOC) SafeSport initiative

    • The legislative response

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Written by

Nikki Dryden

Nikki Dryden

Nikki is a two-time Olympic swimmer from Canada and a human-rights and immigration attorney in New York. She competed at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games, with a top finish of 6th place, and covered the 2004 and 2008 Olympics for SwimNews Magazine. She has a BA in International Relations from Brown University and a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School.

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