9th November 2018

Sport integrity would benefit from young people’s ideas

Sport would benefit from including young people in its governance structures and incorporating their ideas on how to protect the integrity of sport, heard attendees at Young People’s Perceptions of Sports Integrity, which took place yesterday at Loughborough University. Young people put forward their thoughts, ideas and experiences of issues that can affect the integrity of sport through a series of presentations and round table discussions. A number of new and interesting ideas resulted, which sport policy makers promised to investigate and implement.

Ideas heard included:

• on-field penalties, such as points deductions, for integrity offences;
• education on sports integrity issues from primary school onwards;
• As athletes are role models, bans could be proportionate to the level of sport at which they compete;
• Greater recognition of athletes that are retrospectively awarded medals when others are caught cheating;
• More effort should be made to make sure that people know and understand the rules on sports integrity.

As well as numerous innovative ideas, presentations and debates were heard from local colleges and schools about key areas of sports integrity. These included:

• Whether athletes should be punished for social media posts;
• How to draw the line between motivational coaching and athlete bullying;
• Whether athletes should be punished for substances taken to enhance their image.

Students presented an impressively high level of understanding of these issues and took the debate around them into new areas. Students from De Lisle College emphasised that as athletes are role models, they do have a duty to self-censor on social media. Others argued that their right to free speech extends to social media. All agreed that racism, sexism and homophobia should not be tolerated.

In terms of coaching methods, students from Loughborough Grammar School discussed the difficultly in drawing the line between motivation and abuse in coaching young athletes. The question about whether aggressive training techniques should be tolerated, as they can be successful, was broached. Students explained that certain methods that can be successful for introverted people might not be as successful for extroverts, who may need a higher level of criticism in order to get the best results. 

Students from Loughborough Upper School examined whether young people should be punished for using appearance enhancing substances. They found that as currently, most appearance enhancing drugs also have the potential to improve performance, then athletes should be sanctioned for using such substances.

They also assessed the difficult question about whether athletes who transition from male to female, or vice versa, should be prohibited from competing due to substances taken as part of their medical treatment. They explained that there are difficulties with this, using the example of Caster Semenya, who although a woman, has been stigmatised due to having testosterone levels above those permitted by the Regulations of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Sports policy makers listened to the ideas posed by the students, and pledged to utilise them. Hitesh Patel of the UK Parliament’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said that he would attempt to implement at Westminster young people’s ideas about creating a culture of integrity within sport. 

David Turner, the Coaching Children & Safeguarding Lead at UK Coaching, was shocked to see negative stereotypes presented, emphasising that much improvement work in coaching has been achieved. He promised to implement young people’s concerns about approaches to coaching into the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (NSPCC) Safeguarding & Protecting Children policies for sport.

Liz Twyford, Head of Sports Programmes at the United National International Children’s Emergency Fund (UICEF) UK, emphasised that more needs to be done to empower young people in sports governance bodies. She said that young people had emphasised that the “male, pale, and stale” profile of sports governing bodies needed to be changed.

Andy Brown, Editor of The Sports Integrity Initiative, said that it was very encouraging to have his preconceived ideas about what people might say about sports integrity issues completely blown away. He explained that he is keen for more young people to present articles and ideas on The Sports Integrity Initiative.

Robert Allison, Vice Chancellor of Loughborough University, which hosted the event on behalf of the Loughborough Collaboration for Sport Integrity (CSI), rounded the day up. He explained that young people involved in sport are ambassadors for the University and as such, are a credit to society. He explained that it is therefore vital that their ideas, views and opinions are taken on board by sports governing bodies.

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