As a key step forward in strengthening safeguarding in sport at local level and providing the best possible support for athletes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board (EB) has approved a plan to establish a regional safeguarding hub in Southern Africa.
The new regional hub will act as central coordination point, and will provide athletes with independent guidance, and help them access psychosocial support, legal aid and any other assistance that they may need. This will be delivered through existing services, available locally, in the athletes’ own language and with an understanding of their culture and local context.
In response to the request by Olympic Movement stakeholders and International Federations (IFs) in particular for the IOC to take the lead in addressing the critical challenges related to safeguarding in sport at local level, the IOC created a dedicated Safeguarding Working Group in March this year. Chaired by EB member and Deputy Chair of the IOC’s Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Commission HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein, the working group’s remit is to consider the best approach to establishing independent safeguarding systems and structures at national level, which will ensure that resources are directed to where they are most needed to support athletes and build safeguarding capacity in sports organisations.
The establishment of pilot hubs will be overseen by an International Safe Sport Task Force, which will include representatives from sport, intergovernmental organisations and civil society. The IOC EB approved the creation of the International Safe Sport Task Force, and also gave its green light for the drafting of an International Safe Sport Framework.
This will draw on existing international standards, and will set out the complementary but differentiated roles of states and sports bodies. It will be endorsed by the Olympic Movement.
A comprehensive expert assessment will also be conducted to determine additional measures that may be needed to strengthen national legal and policy frameworks and cooperation between states, to reinforce their essential role in preventing and responding to harassment and abuse.
The decision to create pilot regional safeguarding hubs follows the announcement made by IOC President Thomas Bach in March this year of the establishment of a USD 10M fund per Olympiad to strengthen safe sport locally.
“With this initiative we are following up on the request of the Olympic Movement stakeholders to take the lead and to develop an approach which works locally. Over the past few months, we discussed how we can bridge the gap between the work being done internationally and locally to safeguard athletes,” explained HRH Prince Feisal al Hussein, Chair of the IOC Safeguarding Working Group.
“With the establishment of pilot regional safeguarding hubs in Southern Africa and the Pacific Islands, we are taking a bottom-up approach - critical in this field. We provide standardised principles that can be adapted on the local level, aligned with the culture and context. By the region, for the region,” he added.
Composed of representatives from IFs, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and athletes, the Safeguarding Working Group has met six times since its inception. Together, its members have identified what they consider the best approach to strengthen safeguarding in sport at local level, through the establishment of regional safeguarding hubs providing more localised expertise around the world.
The pilot hub in Southern Africa will build on existing initiatives in the regions, and will have in-depth knowledge and understanding of local safeguarding measures, and the legal landscape and services available, so that they can guide anyone harmed in sport – from grassroots through to elite level – towards trusted services, particularly those designed to support their well-being.
Where there are gaps in the available services, the hubs will seek to mobilise resources and partnerships to address them. The hubs’ primary focus will be on response, in order to ensure that any person who has been harmed in sport has a direct point of contact who can offer immediate assistance and access to local support.
Both hubs will also coordinate a network of fully trained, trauma-informed safeguarding in sport investigators, as well as a network of trained safeguarding officers.
Endorsed by the Olympic Movement, the hubs will represent a collaboration between the world of sport, governments and civil society at regional and international levels.
The IOC has also delivered several important reports and resources related to Safe Sport, including the IOC Consensus Statement: harassment and abuse (nonaccidental violence) in sport (2016), the IOC Consensus Statement on Mental Health in Elite Athletes (2019), and the IOC Toolkit for IFs and NOCs related to creating and implementing policies and procedures to safeguard athletes from all forms of harassment and abuse in sport.
Established in 2022, the dedicated IOC Safe Sport Unit specialises in safeguarding, and has introduced a range of new programmes and initiatives for the Youth Olympic Games and Olympic Games, as well as broader initiatives beyond Games time that cover education and awareness-raising, such as the IOC Mental Health in Elite Athletes Toolkit. In July 2023, the IOC Safe Sport Unit also launched a comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan.