In the world of sport, the risk of violence against women and girls is disproportionately high, with almost 21% of professional women athletes having experienced sexual abuse as a child in sport – almost double the rate of male athletes. The risk of such abuse is especially high for women and girls who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence, such as women and girls with disabilities, migrant and refugee women, as well as women and girls from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, among others. In recent years there have been numerous court cases revealing physical, emotional, and sexual abuse perpetrated against women and girl athletes of all ages by persons of authority within sport leadership, or by other peers.
Over the years, there have been several high-profile cases involving individuals who were part of the entourage supporting women and girl athletes, who exploited their position and the associated power imbalance to subject young women and girls to sexual assault, abuse, and other forms of violence. For every one of the cases that have been exposed, it is safe to assume that there are many others that have yet to be reported. The issue is intricately connected to a specific form of violence against women: economic violence. In sports, women and girl athletes are not only vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse but may also experience economic violence through disparities in opportunities, sponsorships, and access to resources. This issue goes beyond isolated incidents, highlighting a systemic challenge that demands comprehensive attention and action. The discrimination experienced in the context of sport further restricts women's access to resources, perpetuating a cycle of limited opportunities. Some sport’s governing bodies have taken the necessary steps to address the extent of such abuse, and to adopt measures to limit or end it.
Reviews adopted by some national sports federations have identified factors that tend to increase the risk of abuse of women and girls in sports, such as the power dynamic between coach and athlete, usually compounded by an age and experience gap; the drive for achievement which both share but which only one can deliver; the high stakes and sometimes short timeframe within which success can be achieved; the difficult balance being struck between pushing the mind and body for more and pushing too far. In some sports, this is aggravated by a culture of “no pain no gain”.
Women representatives from sports associations have also expressed concern about safeguarding, and the risk of exposure to sexual assault and violence as well as lack of privacy, due to the access by peers to female changing rooms, locker rooms and bathrooms without the consent of women and girls.
Furthermore, in some jurisdictions, sports traditionally reserved for female athletes, are now open to male athletes based on their gender identity and who identify as women and girls. This has had significant human rights implications for all women and girls, including their right to equality and non-discrimination. It also raised questions regarding fairness, in sports as well as the full participation in education, culture, and sports as well as society as a whole.
These realities raise questions under the duty of state and non-state actors in preventing incidents of discrimination and violence against all women and girls, as well as the obligation to protect and assist survivors/victims of violence and ensure that they have access to effective investigation and reparations, including non-repetition.
The Special Rapporteur would like to receive input to better understand the forms of violence that women and girls experience in sports and the causes and consequences of such violence.
Key questions and types of input/comments sought
The Special Rapporteur seeks input and feedback from the following relevant actors to one or more of the questions below: Women and girls in sports; international, regional and national sports associations and sports organizations; representatives, parents or guardians of women and girls involved in sports; relevant State institutions and Ministries that facilitate the involvement of women and girls in sports; academics and experts on sport; United Nations organizations, national human rights institutions, and other relevant stakeholders within the sports ecosystem (such as the Olympic movement, international sports federations; professional unions, clubs, and other relevant commercial entities).
- What are the different forms of violence that women and girls in sports may experience (e.g. physical, psychological, economic, online violence, coercive control, as well as extreme form of discrimination that amounts to violence)?
- What human rights of women and girls in sports are violated as a result of the exposure of women and girls in sports to violence or the risk of violence?
- Which actors are responsible for committing acts of violence against women and girls and increasing the risks of violence against women and girls in sports?
- What are the principal causes of the violence that women and girls experience in sports, including the structural causes of such violence?
- Which groups of women and girls in sports are more exposed to violence and on what grounds?
- What are the responsibilities of State and non-State actors in preventing acts of violence against women and girls in sport, including in adopting measures to investigate it, and to hold those responsible for it accountable, and to provide assistance and protection to survivors of violence?
- What measures do State and non-State actors have in place to ensure that incidents of violence against women and girls in sports can be effectively reported, and that they are thoroughly investigated and sanctioned?
- To what extent are women and girls in sport, as well as the associations that represent them being effectively involved and consulted in the design and implementation of policies that are meant to end severe discrimination and violence against women and girls in sport at the national, regional, and international level?
- Please provide examples of good practice that have been adopted by State and non-State actors with regards to ending violence against women and girls in sports?
- What are the lessons learned from policies and legislations that have been adopted and implemented with regards to women and girls in sports and their implications on the safety, security, dignity, equality and participation of women and girls in sports?
- Please provide recommendations as to how violence against women and girls in sport can be prevented and what needs to be done to better respond to the needs of survivors of such violence?
Respondents may wish to answer some but not all these questions and provide information focusing on either women, girls, or both.
Type of submissions and how inputs will be used
Should the number of submissions remain manageable, they will be published on the mandate’s website. If the authors wish for their submissions to remain confidential, the Special Rapporteur kindly requests that it be explicitly state. If the submission is on behalf of any woman or girl that has been a victim, the consent of the victim must be obtained. If the victim is a minor, the consent from the guardian or parent must also be attained.