Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

Introduction Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

 There is a powerful tension between two ideas in sport: successful (winning) performance and athlete welfare. Achievement is important in sport and successful performances are the hallmarks of any individual’s feelings of well-being and accomplishment. However, when that success comes at the cost of an athlete’s wellbeing when the imperative to win prevails over the health and wellness of participants, then that sports environment is not a healthy place for athletes. Coaches and authority figures in sport are exploiting others for their own ends when they use power over these athletes for sexual purposes or sexual outcomes. Sexual harassment in Sports

The examination of harassment in sport has become an energetic research field within the past twenty years. It’s especially important for sport psychology consultants to know this issue because they need professional opportunities to influence both individual and organizational responses to that. An investigation was conducted of harassment in sport to look at the private responses of 25 elite female athletes to their experiences of molestation.

The athletes reacted with disgust, fear, irritation, and anger when the sexually harassing incidents occurred. They also demonstrated individual, internally focused responses to the harassment instead of collective, externally focused ones. This means that sport organizations have much work to try and do on both education and organizational change if molestation is to be challenged and eradicated. The findings also indicate that sport psychology consultants have a task to play in equipping athletes with the mandatory skills to avert or confront harassment in sport.

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

Sexual abuse and Sexual harassment in Sports 

 Abuse implies that a person offends another person’s rights. By sexual abuse we mean to trick or coerce a person into a sexual act the person does not want, or is not sufficiently mature to consent to. Such abuse may be punished in accordance with the Penal Code, which also defines sexual abuse in varying stages of seriousness. The mildest forms of abuse are the showing of pornography or indecent exposure.

Then comes “tampering”/groping, while the gravest forms of abuse are all forms of penetration into the body’s cavities. This is defined as rape, irrespective of whether parts of the body or objects have been used. The Penal Code applies to anyone who by words or actions displays sexually abusive or other indecent behavior in a public place, in the presence of, or in the proximity of somebody who has not agreed to it, or in the presence of, or in the proximity of children under 16 years of age or an individual of any age who is mentally disabled.

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

The code also includes sexual acts in the abuse of one’s position, in a relationship of dependency or in a relationship of trust.[1] To counteract such occurrences amongst children and persons who are mentally disabled, the NIF board has resolved 5 that all sports clubs from and including 1 January 2009 are obliged to procure a police certificate of good conduct for persons who are to carry out tasks for the club that entail a relationship of trust and responsibility in relation to minors or persons with mental disability.[2]

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence and abuse as a public health problem, which may cause serious problems for the person in question. It is important to know that not everyone experiences serious problems after such occurrences, but it is potentially very harmful. For athletes such experiences may lead to, amongst other things:

  • reduced ability to concentrate
  • Sleeplessness
  • Anxiety, depression and physical stress reactions
  • sleeping problems
  • Poor self-esteem, and self confidence, for instance in relation to their own sporting achievements
  • Poor work/training performance
  • Negative impact on other club members and family life
  • Problems in trusting others
  • Problems in close relationships
  • A ruined relationship between coach – athlete
  • quitting sports activities
  • A negative effect on social activities
  • A feeling of guilt and shame

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

It is important to realize that the feeling of guilt and shame may be very strong in a situation where abuse has occurred between a coach and an athlete. This is because the athlete will go a long way to achieve progress, and may thus feel that she/he is the one responsible for the abuse that has taken place. Very many of those who have been exposed to abuse from a person with whom they had a bond also experience great difficulties in trusting their own judgment.

This can have fatal consequences in interaction with others, but also in other areas of life. For an athlete it may mean that one is unable to continue a sporting career[3]. It is self-evident that many of these reactions may influence the athlete’s performance, irrespective of which level the athlete is at. This relates primarily to athletes who are being exposed directly to sexual harassment and abuse, but it may also have the same negative impact on athletes who are witness to it.

When it comes to sports as an organization, highly publicized cases in the media, where there have been complaints and/or judgments, may lead to clubs/leagues experiencing problems with sponsors. Thus in the wider perspective, cases involving sexual harassment and abuse may lead to financial consequences for the sports in general. Studies show that very few persons report incidents when they are exposed to sexual harassment and abuse.

In a study involving 25 Norwegian female elite athletes who had been subjected to sexual harassment none had made a formal complaint or reported what they had experienced. Several of the athletes however, had communicated with each other and devised strategies to avoid being alone with the coach, if he was the one responsible for the harassment.[4]

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

PREVENTION Sexual harassment in Sports

If you have got a suspicion of statutory offense or molestation to realize an improved sports environment and stop harassment and abuse it’s important that the one who is that the object of this dares to lift the matter. This could be difficult, especially for youngsters and teenagers. Athletes who, for example, are the article of harassment by somebody within the support network are also frightened of reprisals or retribution, feel uncertainty, shame and guilt or fear of not being believed.

It’s therefore important to stress that if anyone within the sports environment incorporates a suspicion of molestation or sex crime, they ought to give notice of this, either as a parent, a part of the support network or athlete. For young athletes it’s often easier to speak with another person than confronting directly the person whose behavior is felt to be harassing.

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs


 Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances; requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature and can occur separately or is a part of abuse. Romantic and/or sexual relationships between coaches and athletes are regarded as an abuse of professional ethics, status and power. Sexual harassment is a violation of U.S. law and impairs girls’ and women’s access to educational resources.

In the United States, under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972[5], sexual harassment by staff or peers is illegal sex discrimination. There are other laws that also apply, including state civil laws, such as those like Title IX, which prohibit sex discrimination in schools, and state criminal assault and abuse laws, which prohibit many of the physical forms of sexual harassment. Consensual and/or sexual relationships between coaches and athletes compromise the professional integrity of the coach and educational mission of athletics. Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

Coaches exercise power over athletes, whether in giving them praise or criticism, evaluating them, making recommendations that further their athletic goals or conferring any other benefits on them[6]. Consensual and/ or sexual relationships between coaches and athletes are wrong when the coach has professional responsibility for the athlete. Such situations greatly increase the opportunities for a coach to abuse his or her power and/or sexually exploit the athlete.

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

Voluntary consent by the athlete in such a relationship is also suspect, given the fundamentally unequal nature of the relationship. Such relationships can also cause a conflict of interest: how can a coach fairly judge an athlete with whom he or she is having sexual relations? Moreover, other athletes and coaches may be affected by such unprofessional behavior because it places the coach in a position to favor or advance one athlete’s interest at the expense of others and implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on consensual and/or sexual favors. Furthermore, consensual relationships between minors and coaches often violate state criminal statutory rape laws[7]

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs


  1. Sexual harassment and sexual relationships between coaches and athletes subvert the mission of sports organizations and educational institutions to provide leadership and resources for the purpose of improving the physical, mental and emotional well-being of all females through sport and fitness participation. Sexual harassment in Sports
  2. Sexual harassment has debilitating consequences both for its victims and for the society as a whole. In the context of athletic programs it lowers the self-esteem and limits the ability of women and girls to develop their full potential in sports and fitness activities. It impairs the future capacity of its victims to experience full athletic participation and to pursue employment and leadership roles in athletics. This, in turn, deprives the society as a whole of the contributions of these women and damages a genuine appreciation of women’s athletic achievements and contributions[8].
  3. Consensual and/or sexual relationships between coaches and athletes undermine the professionalism of coaches, taint the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect between coach and athlete, and hinder the fulfillment of the overall educational mission of athletics. The Women’s Sports Foundation views it as unethical if coaches engage in consensual and/or sexual relations with athletes under their supervision, even if both parties have apparently consented to the relationship. Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs
  4. The Women’s Sports Foundation recognizes that sexual harassment occurs in sport as it does in other institutional contexts, such as government, religious organizations or the workplace. In order to effectively deal with cases of sexual harassment in athletics, as well as to prevent future abuse of women athletes by coaches, the Foundation encourages officers of sports governance bodies, athletic directors and school administrators to formulate policy guidelines and procedures that include periodic training and distribution of the policy, subsequent evaluation of its effectiveness and effective responses to sexual harassment in a timely manner[9].


Sexual harassment in sports may be a sort of learned behavior. The hassle to alter the conditions that foster such behavior must occur on a broad level. While individuals who sexually harass women must be held accountable, so too must the institutions and structures that contribute to molestation by creating environments that perpetuate the harassment of girls. Given the influence of two social institutions – colleges and sport -to shape cultural values, holding institutions in charge of student-athlete violence could be a step toward recreating and transmitting societal norms and values that respect the integrity of ladies.

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs


This is a co-authored article written by Miss. Vidhi Raval and Simone Rohela, 5th year, B.B.A. LL.B (Hons.) students of United world School of Law, Karnavati University, Gandhinagar.

Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

Also Read: Prospects of Sports Insurance in India

[1] The Penal Code , chapter 19, Sexual offences Sexual harassment in Sport

[2] NIF (2008). The procurement and handling of police certificates of good conduct – Guide for sports clubs in NIF

[3]  Fasting, K., Brackenridge, C. & Walseth, K. (2002) consequences of Sexual Harassment in Sport. The Journal of Sexual Aggression, 8 (2), 37-48.


[5] Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, USA

[6], article on sexual harassment and sexual relationship.


[8] Ibid 6 Sexual harassment in Sports


Sexual harassment in Sports & Athletics Programs

Leave a Comment

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker

Refresh Page