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Academic speaks out about the ‘hidden’ violence plaguing the sports world

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An academic at Edge Hill University’s new Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport has voiced concerns about the ‘hidden’ violence plaguing the sports world.

Dr Melanie Lang, a Senior Lecturer in Child Protection in Sport, delivered a keynote speech presenting research into non-sexual violence and non-physical abuse which is a big yet often hidden problem within sport.

With sexual violence estimated to account for between 0.5-17% of cases in sport and physical abuse 11-24%, it’s the remaining forms of interpersonal violence (IV) such as sexual harassment (1-64%), psychological/emotional abuse (38-75%) and bullying (10-79%) that make up the biggest proportion of abuse.

Dr Lang said: “While the issues of sexual and physical abuse are vitally important it is often the more common forms of abuse that are overlooked and hidden within sport.

“Interpersonal violence occurs in all levels of sport and frequently intersects with other forms of oppression.

“Certain groups of people are at higher risk of IV including elite-level athletes, women, anyone from a minority background, with a disability or anyone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and non-binary.

“Typically, the perpetrators are (male) coaches but women and peer athletes also commit IV due to power imbalances in relationships with athletes.

“Unfortunately, far too many athletes find themselves disempowered by their status, age and knowledge, for instance, putting them at high risk of one of these forms of violence.”

Dr Lang is now calling for all sports to firstly recognise IV and secondly make sure policies and procedures are in place to deal with it effectively when it occurs.

She added: “Much more research is needed on all forms of IV across all sports and all levels encompassing both adult and child victims.

“All sports need to practice good governance from national sports organisations and European policy makers to people who run, manage and govern sports.

“On the most basic level this means recognising IV so everyone knows what it is and isn’t, and codes of conduct should be in place.

“When it does occur, there should be clear disciplinary procedures in place and processes to follow to safeguard those affected and other athletes.”

Dr Lang is one of nine academics from across the social science, sport, health and education departments who are founding members of the new Centre for Child Protection and Safeguarding in Sport at Edge Hill.

The Centre is at the forefront of research on the prevention of all forms of abuse, exploitation and maltreatment in sport.

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