In 2007, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) adopted a Consensus Statement on “Sexual Harassment and Abuse in Sport” (see Appendix A). This unique document defines the problems, identifies the risk factors and provides guidelines for prevention and resolution. The aim of the Consensus is to improve the health and protection of everyone involved in sports through the promotion of effective preventive policy as well as to increase the awareness of these problems.
Based on the IOC recommendations, this policy sets outs the principles and practices of the Maltese Olympic Committee (MOC) with regards to abusive behavior towards all those who, in one way or another, are involved in local sports either through its administration; officiating; coaching, actual participation or following.
It is the position of the MOC that harassment and bullying cannot and should not be tolerated in any environment and especially more so in sports. Both harassment and bullying are unacceptable and harmful. The MOC recognizes that harassment can be perpetrated by everyone including coaches, other athletes or other parties involved in training and supporting athletes. Additionally, the MOC realizes the serious negative impact of all types of harassment and bullying on personal dignity, individual and group development and performance, enjoyment of sports and in some cases, personal safety.
Although primarily intended to keep the participation in sports safe, the policy is also intended to guide administrative and coaching staff in their interrelationship. The MOC considers all forms of harassment and abuse, whether emotional, physical or sexual to be unacceptable and will do all it can to prevent this intolerable problem. Each Association/ Federation affiliated to the MOC is encouraged to adopt a similar policy and commit to take all reasonable steps to safeguard the welfare of their committee members; staff members; tournament and rules officials; volunteers, athletes and supporters. Everyone involved in sports has the right to practice Safe Sport and i.e. an athletic environment which is respectful, equitable and free from all forms of non-accidental violence to athletes.
Harassment is generally defined as conduct, gestures or comments which are insulting, intimidating, humiliating, hurtful, malicious, degrading or otherwise offensive to an individual or group of individuals, and which create a hostile or intimidating environment for work or sports activities, or which negatively affect performance or work conditions.
Harassment can be based on any grounds such as race, religion, colour, creed, ethnic origin, physical attributes, gender or sexual orientation. It can include a one-off incident or a series of incidents. It may be in person or online. Harassment may be deliberate, unsolicited and coercive. It may occur among anyone between peers (e.g.: player to player of the same age group, parent to official, coach to coach) or between someone in a position of power or authority and an adult in a subordinate position (e.g.: coach to player, sports administrator to employee; referee to player).
The following is a non-exhaustive list of examples of harassment:
- Unwelcome jokes, innuendo or teasing about a person’s body, looks, race, sexual orientation, religious believes etc.;
- Condescending, patronizing, threatening or punishing actions which undermine self-esteem;
- Practical jokes which cause awkwardness or embarrassment, or may endanger a person’s safety;
- Degrading or inappropriate hazing rituals as a way of initiating a person into a group;
- Unwanted or unnecessary physical contact including touching, patting, pinching;
- Unwanted conduct, comments, gestures or invitations of a sexual nature which are likely to cause offence or humiliation, or which might on reasonable grounds be perceived as placing a condition of a sexual nature on employment or on any opportunity for training or advancement;
- Sexual assault or physical assault.
DEFINITION OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Sexual harassment is a discriminatory assertion of power that has no place within sports. Sexual harassment is essentially defined as ‘unwelcome sexual conduct’ and is unlawful under The Equality for Men and Women Act, 2003 (Chapter 456 of the Laws of Malta) and under The Employment and Industrial Relations Act, 2002 (Chapter 452 of the Laws of Malta). It is unethical and unprofessional and a threat to the integrity of the individual and the institution. Such harassment may exist in one or a series of incidents.
The definition of sexual harassment contained in article 9(1) of the Equality for Men and Women Act, Chapter 456 of the Laws of Malta shall be adopted and therefore without prejudice to the provisions of article 29 of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act, it shall be unlawful for any person to sexually harass other persons, that is to say:
- to subject other persons to an act of physical intimacy; or
- to request sexual favours from other persons; or
- to subject other persons to any act or conduct with sexual connotations, including spoken words, gestures or the production, display or circulation of any written words, pictures or other material, where the act, words or conduct is unwelcome to the persons to whom they are directed and could reasonably be regarded as offensive, humiliating or intimidating to the persons to whom they are directed; or
- the persons so subjected or requested are treated less favorably by reason of such persons’ rejection of or submission to such subjection or request, it could reasonably be anticipated that such persons would be so treated.
Thus sexual harassment may involve:
- unwelcome physical contact such as touching, hugging or kissing;
- suggestive comments or jokes;
- unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sexual interaction;
- intrusive questions about a person’s private life or body;
- unnecessary familiarity;
- insults or taunts based on your sex or sexual orientation;
- sexually explicit emails or SMS messages;
- unwanted contacts / intrusion;
- messages / offensive postings on social networks, texts, e-mails etc.;
- sexual images displayed electronically, in print etc;
- sexually explicit pictures, screen savers or posters; and
- behaviour which would also be an offence under the criminal law, such as physical sexual assault, indecent exposure, and obscene or pornographic communications.
The above list is not an exhaustive list and should not be considered as such.
When a case of sexual harassment is proven, it could constitute both a civil and a criminal offence. These include grooming, physical molestation or sexual assault, indecent exposure and obscene communications (telephone calls, letters etc).
Moreover, one should be aware that not all of us view behaviour the same way. As one moves away from the extreme examples of harassment, what one person views as acceptable behaviour another person might define as unacceptable. For example:
- Words or actions that I may perceive or intend as a joke, another athlete may view as embarrassing or insulting;
- In normal social interactions, an invasion or crowding of personal space might seem intrusive to one person but may reflect another person’s more physical or tactile way of relating to people;
- A coaching strategy intended to produce peak performance in a player or team may be viewed by one person as strong and assertive and thus acceptable, but by another as overly aggressive and abusive;
- A coach’s congratulatory hug, kiss or pat on the behind might be perfectly acceptable to me but might make another player feel uneasy and vulnerable.
DEFINITION OF ABUSE
Abuse is any form of physical, emotional and/or sexual mistreatment or lack of care which causes physical injury or emotional damage to a person. A common characteristic of all forms of abuse – especially against children and youth – is the exploitation of power or authority and/or breach of trust.
The IOC consensus statement considers that harassment and abuse are on a continuum; and therefore should not be separated. “Harassment” or “harassment and abuse” can be expressed in four forms which may occur in combination or in isolation. These include psychological abuse; physical abuse; sexual abuse and neglect.
These forms of abuse are defined by the IOC:
Psychological abuse is a pattern of deliberate, prolonged, repeated non-contact behaviours within a power differentiated relationship. This form of abuse is at the core of all other forms. The behaviours that constitute psychological abuse target a person’s inner life (emotions, cognitions, values, and beliefs about oneself and the world) in all its profound scope.
Physical abuse is non-accidental trauma or physical injury caused by punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming an athlete. This could include forced or mandated inappropriate physical activity (e.g., age, or physique inappropriate training loads; when injured or in pain); forced alcohol consumption; or systematic doping practices.
Sexual abuse is any conduct of a sexual nature whether non-contact, contact, or penetrative, where consent is coerced/ manipulated or is not or cannot be given.
Sexual harassment is any conduct of a sexual nature whether verbal, non-verbal or physical which is unwanted and unwelcome.
Neglect is the failure of the coach or athlete entourage to meet an athlete’s physical and emotional needs or failure to protect the athlete from exposure to danger.
Harassment and abuse can be based on one or more discriminations including but not limited to race, religion, colour, creed, ethnic origin, physical attributes, gender, sexual orientation, age disability, socio-economic status and athletic ability It can include a one-off incident or a series of incidents. It may be in person or online. Harassment may be deliberate, unsolicited and coercive. Harassment and abuse result from an abuse of authority, meaning the improper use of a position of influence, power or authority by an individual against another person.
DEFINITION OF BULLYING
Bullying involves a person expressing their power through the humiliation of another person or persons. Bullying occurs between people at any age. It is inappropriate behaviors that are typically cruel, demeaning and hostile toward the bullying targets (most commonly occurs between children under the age of twelve but may also constitute behaviors between youth or between adults. Bullies are typically cruel, demeaning and hostile towards the targets of their bullying.).
The actual issue of bullying is typically not addressed by the law, except when the behavior does become a criminal issue – e.g. extortion, physical assault etc. Bullying can be broken down into four types:
- Physical (hit or kick victims; take/damage personal property);
- Verbal (name calling; insults; constant teasing);
- Relational (try to cut off victims from social connection by convincing peers to exclude or reject a certain person);
- Cyber bullying
The following is a non-exhaustive list of tactics used by bullies to control their targets:
- Unwarranted yelling and screaming directed at the target
- Continually criticizing the target’s abilities
- Blaming the target of the bullying for mistakes
- Making unreasonable demands related to performance
- Repeated insults or put downs of the target
- Repeated threats to remove or restrict opportunities or privileges
- Denying or discounting the targets accomplishment
- Threats of and actual physical violence
RESPONSES AND REMEDIES
Both harassment and bullying cover a wide spectrum of behaviours, and the response to both must be equally broad in range, appropriate to the behaviour in question and capable of providing a constructive remedy. There must be no summary justice or hasty punishment. The process of investigation and settlement of any complaint of harassment or bullying must be fair to all parties, allowing adequate opportunity for the presentation of a response to the allegations.
Minor incidents of harassment or bullying should be corrected promptly and informally, taking a constructive approach and with the goal of bringing about a change in negative attitudes and behaviour.
More serious incidents should be dealt with according to the relevant guidelines including legal. Complaints should be handled in a timely, sensitive, responsible and confidential manner. There should be no tolerance of reprisals taken against any party to a complaint. The names of parties and the circumstances of the complaint should be kept confidential except where disclosure is necessary for the purposes of investigation or taking disciplinary measures.
In briefer words, everyone involved in sports should:
- Treat everyone with respect and refrain from all forms of communication, action or behaviour that may be perceived as offensive;
- Avoid body contact that may be perceived as unwanted;
- Avoid all types of verbal intimacy that may be perceived as sexually charged;
- Avoid expressions, jokes and opinions that relate to athletes gender or sexual orientation in a negative way;
- Seek to have both sexes represented in the support network;
- Avoid contact with athletes in private space unless there are several persons present or in agreement with parents/guardians or the sport management;
- Show respect for the athlete’s coaches and leader’s private life;
- Avoid dual relationships. If a reciprocal relationship is established, the situation should be raised and clarified openly;
- Not offer any form of reward with the purpose of demanding or anticipating sexual service in return;
- Take action and give notice if a breach of these rules is experienced.
Acknowledgments: International Olympic Committee; University of Malta; Rachel Corbett
REPORTING & PROCEDURE FOR ADDRESSING INCIDENTS OF HARASSMENT AND ABUSE
This framework is generally based on a similar document published by the International Olympic Committee and is intended to safeguard individual athletes, teams, officials, managers and other members of any delegation, referees, jury members etc. (hereinafter referred to as “participants”.
The document is part of the Maltese Olympic Committee’s Harassment and Abuse Policy which underlines what is considered as harassment and abuse.
- Anyone may report an incident of harassment and abuse.
- The four main reporting channels through which an alleged incident of harassment and abuse may be reported include:
- The MOC Executive Committee
- The MOC Medical Commission
- The MOC Women in Sport Commission
- The MOC Athletes Commission
- The designated persons to whom an alleged incident of harassment and abuse may be reported are the President of the MOC; the Secretary General of the MOC and any of the Executive Directors chairing one of the above mentioned Commissions.
- All reports through any reporting channel will be referred to the MOC President and Management Board.
- Reports of harassment and abuse may be made in writing or verbally. The MOC Secretary General shall ensure that such reports are documented. This documentation should include the name, title, address, contact information and signature of the reporting person. The documentation should also include information pertaining to the reasons and basis for the report, including any evidence which might suggest that harassment and abuse has occurred. Based on the particular facts as detailed in the reports, the MOC Secretary General under advice from the MOC Management Board will determine how to proceed with each case.
If an alleged incident of harassment or abuse has occurred between persons belonging to the same International Federation (“IF”) and/or National Federation (“NF”), the incident shall be resolved by such IF, or NF, provided that it has an appropriate procedure for safeguarding participants.
In all other cases involving persons belonging to the MOC, including in the event that:
(i) an alleged incident of harassment or abuse has occurred between persons belonging to other organisations or to different organisations; or
(ii) an IF or NF, which has an appropriate procedure for safeguarding Athletes/ Participants, does not, in the opinion of the MOC, safeguard such Athlete/Participant (e.g. by taking any disciplinary action); or
(iii) does not have an appropriate procedure for safeguarding Athletes/Participants; the MOC shall take action within its own competence to safeguard the concerned Athlete/Participant, including taking any disciplinary action, if necessary.
DISCIPLINARY PROCEDURE & CONFIDENTIALITY
- Any alleged incident of harassment and abuse may give rise to the MOC initiating disciplinary proceedings.
- All matters pertaining to an alleged incident of harassment and abuse, in particular reports of harassment and abuse, personal information of the concerned persons, other information gathered during investigations and results of investigations shall be regarded as “Confidential Information”.
- The MOC may disclose Confidential Information to appropriate persons or authorities if:
- (i) a failure to disclose such information may cause harm to someone; or
- (ii) such information relates to a potential criminal act that comes to the attention of the MOC.
Notwithstanding, disciplinary decisions pursuant shall, in principle, include Confidential Information and can be publicly disclosed by the MOC. When disclosing such decisions, the MOC shall:
- (i) not include any personal information of the victim without obtaining the victim’s consent; and
- (ii) preserve the anonymity of personal information of other concerned persons in certain cases, taking into consideration the privacy interests of such concerned persons.