Loughborough University
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Improving integrity issues in sport: addressing harassing and abusive behaviours through organizational policies

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posted on 2021-09-16, 00:33 authored by Colette Sisofo
Sport organizations have faced increasing scrutiny recently for a perceived absence of care for participants. While sport is often considered a safe domain and contributes to the positive development of young people, it is an environment which can also foster violence and abuse (Parent & Hlimi, 2012). This research deals with the latter in that it examines two issues of harassing and abusive coaching behaviours that occur within sport and are related to the concept of integrity: sexual harassment and abuse and emotional abuse. Protecting participants and the sport they engage in is a fundamental role for governing bodies. Therefore, tackling problems of harassing and abusive coaching conduct is crucial for sport organizations if they are to uphold established morals through relevant policies and codes of ethics and conduct, and to encourage ethical behaviour by organizations and associated personnel to build and maintain integrity in sport.

The issues of sexual harassment and abuse and emotional abuse in sport cause significant physical and emotional harm to athletes. Thus, there is a significant need to conceptualise what ‘good practice’ is according to existing literature, how these issues are currently being addressed within sport policy, and how improvements may be made in addressing them. To guide and focus the study, the following overarching research questions are:

1. What are ‘good practices’ for managing the integrity issues of harassing and abusive behaviours in sport?
2. How do identified ‘good practice’ standards compare with the contemporary policies of selected sport governing bodies associated with the Olympic Movement?

The research methods employed were a combination of a metanarrative analysis (modified from the original work by Greenhalgh et al., [2005]) and a policy analysis of selected transnational and national sporting organizations affiliated with the Olympic Games. Conducting the metanarrative analysis in a diverse evidence base, a number of key dimensions were identified from the existing literature. These contributed to the formulation of recommendations for ‘good practices’ to explore within contemporary organizational policies. Elements included athlete empowerment, education, and ‘non-traditional paradigms’ for sexual harassment and abuse and holistic coaching approaches, normalisation, and reporting procedures for emotional abuse. The audit examined the corresponding governing bodies at the policy levels of the IOC, IFs, NOCs, and NGBs to determine how policies relating to sexual harassment and abuse and emotional abuse compared with the determined ‘good practice’ principles.

Using the information collected to establish ‘good practice’ principles proved beneficial in tandem with the policy audit conducted. It demonstrated that many of the selected sport organizations currently have not implemented established knowledge and understanding to better address, manage and eliminate these issues in sport despite this information being acknowledged, for many years in some cases.

The first significant finding from the analysis was a clear gap between the organizational levels of the IOC and explored NGBs in identifying strong policies pertaining to the issues at hand. Considering that morality is concerned with right conduct, ethics with conduct based on one’s knowledge of right and wrong (Ianinska & Garcia-Zamor, 2006) and integrity with the combination of both concepts (McFall, 1987), the issues of sexual harassment and abuse and emotional abuse pose a severe threat, not only to individual integrity, but to the integrity of organizations and sport culture.

The analysis revealed that the sexual harassment and abuse issue was addressed with only 43.26% of criterions met within the policy analysis. Thus, there is still significant room for improvement. Fasting & Sand (2015) argue organizational permissiveness may facilitate harassing and abusive behaviours and can enhance the psychological damage for survivors of such practices as identified by Dzikus (2012). Therefore, the implementation of explicit, well- constructed and evidence-based policy is crucial in addressing this problem within sport. Emotional abuse was poorly addressed with 37.40% of policy criterions met in the analysis and may reflect the difficulty and confusion associated with addressing this problem and/or the level of importance organizations interpret emotional abuse to be.

The policy audit formulated for this research could be used in future as a self-assessment tool for sport administrations. Additionally, it is imperative for transparency, accountability and ease of access that all sport governing bodies display all policies relating to harassment and abuse in their organizational handbooks and online members’ portals as well as publishing policies on the public areas of their websites. Strongly constructed policies are essential to the everyday practice of sport for sport stakeholders at all levels of participation. Weakly constructed policies can be extremely damaging for participants, as well as for organizations. Athlete protection is an imperative responsibility held by organizations not only to themselves, but all those involved within sport.



  • Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences


Loughborough University

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© Colette Sisofo

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


  • en


Joe Piggin ; Jamie Kenyon

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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