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Coach's Corner - Violence in Sport?

Nick P

Jul 7, 2017

Controlling institutional violence in sport requires a shift in the culture of the sport itself.

The International Olympic Committee, IOC, Consensus Statement addresses in depth, many of the gross issues leading to non-accidental violence perpetrated in sport. The authors, Mountjoy et al, recognize the athlete’s right to an environment of mutual respect and the issues of purposeful harm inflicted upon fellow athletes: “All athletes have a right to engage in ‘safe sport:’ an athletic environment that is respectful, equitable and free from all forms of non-accidental violence to athletes.” (Mountjoy, 2016, p. 2) This environment, one that is respectful, equitable, and free of intentional violence, is an ideal. The pursuit of excellence is ingrained within the nature of modern sport, and with that aspiration, I believe the fostering of an environment of mutual trust, commitment, and respect is required to achieve this ambition.

The IOC Consensus Statement articulates “[the] cultural context of harassment and abuse is rooted in discrimination based on power differentials across a range of social and personal factors,” (Mountjoy, p.1) these personal factors are, to a extent, controllable on an individual level. The individual athlete holds great power in the pursuit of a cultural shift, and as Coakley describes, controlling institutional violence in sport requires a shift in the culture of the sport itself. (2009, p.206) All cultural shifts of the past have resulted from the efforts of individuals emblazoned with the passion and tenacity to direct the status quo in a direction of change, individual cases can be made for notable persons such as Nelson Mandela, Maya Angelou, Mahatma Gandhi, Noam Chomsky, Galileo, Joan of Arc, and countless others in many fields that produced a shift in the perspectives of vast populations. The athlete then, holds a great deal of power to elicit change for the betterment of self and society.

With one of the key factors to the propagation of violence being rooted in the “Language of Violence” and its link to socially accepted masculinity, (Coakley, p.206) a shift is already underway in the understanding of gender roles and gender ideology in the general population.

Researchers like Brene Brown bring forth ideas around vulnerability and authenticity with their acceptance as masculine traits, while Dr. Gabor Mate and his work into determining the underlying issues surrounding addiction, (to praise, power, and status) reveals the roles these psycho-emotional states play in determining the interactions and roles we play out in daily life.

Helping individual athletes understand the reasons for their desire to exhibit violent behavior, or to cause harm (physical, emotional, or otherwise) to another athlete or individual is an important aspect of reducing intentional harm. In many sport cultures, violence as an over-conformity is generally approved of and often times encouraged or glorified, while being used to reaffirm social order and values, (Coakley, p.196) but these social orders can be uprooted and overhauled by the athlete who is committed to their change.

With the influence of developing sports and their alternative social structures (examples: Ultimate Frisbee, Roller Derby, and Quidditch) there exists a change in the perspective of what inclusive and respectful sport looks like, and how that manifests in a wholly inclusive community.

As these developing sports generate more interest, and produce an influx in ‘alternative’ athletes, I believe there is a greater chance of the ‘traditional’ modern athlete to call into question the ethical and moral environments created by these modern sports cultures.​


Coakley, J. J. (2009). Sports in society: Issues and controversies (10th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mountjoy, M., Brackenridge, C., Arrington, M., et al. (2016) The IOC consensus statement: harassment and abuse (non-accidental violence) in sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 0, 1-11.

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