27 January Jan 2020 2257 27 January 2020

Peace and Sport: “Sport should guarentee a healthy environment for sportswomen”

by Véronique Lebar, President Ethics and Sport Committee

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Respect and protection of women’s rights are essential for building a peaceful and inclusive society. Sport should uphold this by fighting against discrimination, mistreatment and abuse. Violence is real and exists all the way up the ladder. The scandal in American gymnastics has raised this subject to become of global media importance. Other recent cases have reinforced the impression that the floodgates have opened, and victims have found the courage to speak out. But in reality, the law of silence continues to prevail in the sports world. It carries a lot of weight. Fighting it requires determination and resources that the vast majority of victims do not have.

Nevertheless, the fight against abuse, mistreatment and discrimination in sport is starting to get organized. In France, an association of volunteers called the Ethics and Sport Committee has undertaken to tackle the problem. It was founded seven years ago. I started it along with others. Its creation in 2012 was needed to fill an immense gap: there wasn’t a single structure capable of helping and supporting victims. They were alone. They are not anymore.

The path has been long, and it remains tortuous. And we are far from seeing the end. But now, resources and tools exist to help victims. Above all, there are concrete solutions. They go beyond the framework of observation and pretty words. The most immediate has been the opening of a hotline for people in the sports world – players, referees, even coaches and managers – victims or witnesses of abuse or discrimination. It operates 7 days a week, between 8 am and 10 pm. A doctor answers questions on the other end of the line. He listens, reassures, and advises. He can direct the caller to a regional office, in order to quickly set up a meeting with another professional, in particular, a psychologist or lawyer. We work as a team. Together, we study the victim’s case to offer them personalized help and support.

But we don’t stop there. There is a dedicated centre for children. A pediatrician member of our association is the advisor. We’re currently working on an app to help young people, especially teenagers, to find answers to their questions and ways to reach us. We can act as the plaintiff if there’s a lawsuit. As a court case procedure is often long, we support victims along the way with sessions of group and dance-therapy. We intervene in clubs and communities, to inform managers, staff and parents about the tools available for psychological, medical and legal support. What should you do in cases of ill-treatment? How can you react to a case of sexual abuse? How can you protect yourself? How can you solve the problem of changing rooms and showers in a local club with limited financial means? We can provide clear answers and concrete solutions for all these questions.

The way ahead is still long. It needs resources. Above all, public authorities must become more aware of the problem. Today, cases that are sent to government ministries never come back. They don’t even get an answer. Governments must show its political resolve to tackle the problem head-on. The fight against abuse, mistreatment, and discrimination for the creation of a more peaceful and inclusive society won’t be won without it.

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