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“When we didn’t perform well, then the punishment was that we should sit on his [the coach’s] lap.... He touched us and was really very disgusting. I don’t understand today why we accepted it at all. We had a drill where we had to sprint, and the one who came last had to sit on his lap, so everyone was running like hell.” (Norwegian female elite athlete) 65
It is our duty to take proactive steps to ensure girls safety under our watch and provide honest and uncompromising recourse steps when we do encounter GBV in our programmes. This requires developing a clear, internal course of action and Code of Conduct. Information about how to create solid protection mechanisms for GBV experienced within a sport programme is located in the sections on Organisational Readiness and Response, Referral and Reporting.
Coaches have a unique power dynamic with eager girls in adolescence. Girls look up to their leaders and believe in their guidance. They can be emotionally captured by their attention and approval. Beyond the emotional attachment, girls can be financially or practically dependent on coaches in a development context, as they are their direct line to educational opportunity, advanced playing opportunities, food, shelter, or employment.
Unfortunately, there are countless stories of coaches misusing their influence and abusing, raping, manipulating girls. As a matter of fact, perpetual abusers typically seek out environments with precisely this power imbalance to find their victims. Coaches are often unregulated in their behaviour and have complete latitude to exert inappropriate control over their players. Girls often don’t have the physical strength, knowledge or confidence to know that they are experiencing GBV or how to stop it.
Real life examples of this misuse of power include: verbal harassment, psychological degradation, assaulting/raping girls or other coaches, requiring girls to trade sexual favours for positions or opportunities on the team, impregnating girls, using inappropriate force as punishment or to improve performance, denial of sufficient rest/medical care, or nutrition and weight loss regimes that lead to eating disorders.
The gender-based violence that occurs within sport programmes is not just limited to abuse by coaches. Programme staff, physical trainers, team medical staff, counsellors and officials can also contribute to the problem. In mixed-gender sport programmes, girls might be interacting with boys more than they would at school or home – including physical interaction. This can make girls vulnerable to a host of peer GBV, including humiliation based on gender, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment and forced sexual acts. Although the GBV that most frequently happens in mixed-gender sport programmes is typically male on female, it is important to note that the reverse can also occur. In such cases, recourse should be gender-blind – giving boys and girls the same access to services, support and justice.
It is important to note here that sometimes older girls within a programme can pose a threat. One of our programme partners talked about older girls who may abuse their power and take advantage of their younger counterparts.
65 . I Fasting, Kari, Celia Brackenridge and Jorunn Sundgot-Borgen, Female Elite Sports and Sexual Harassment, Norwegian Olympic Committee, Oslo, 2000.