Grey-Thompson athlete welfare report: "Drive for success and desire to win should not be at the cost of the individuals involved"

Oliver Gill
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Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was asked to look into the topic of athlete welfare at the end of 2015 (Source: Getty)

A government-sanctioned report into athlete welfare has called for sweeping structural changes to be made to British sport, including creating board-level welfare representatives and the setting up of a separate sports ombudsman.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was charged with the task of delivering an independent report to the department of culture, media and sport in 2015 and issued a call for evidence in April last year.

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Released today, the report comes in the wake of a number of allegations non-recent child sexual abuse in football and claims of a culture of bullying in a number of other Olympic sports, including the ongoing investigation into British Cycling.

“Questions are being asked about the price being paid for success. It is clear that the drive for success and desire to win should not be at the cost of the individuals involved,” Grey-Thompson wrote in the report.

Delivered to the minister of sport, Tracey Crouch, Grey-Thompson has proposed a seven-point plan to ensure athlete welfare is protected.

Top of the list is a call for the government to create a sports ombudsman to “hold national governing bodies to account”. Furthermore, every national governing sports body should have a named person of their boards responsible for duty of care.

The report also recommended help for athletes both on their entry and exit from elite level sporting squads.

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When starting out, Britain’s future sporting stars should be educated on subjects such as financial advice and the role of agents. They should also be made aware of how to deal with medical issues such as concussion.

Grey Thompson added:

Allegations about the past need to be thoroughly investigated, but the focus must also remain on those in the current system to ensure that they are protected and free from harm, bullying, harassment and discrimination.

"Although there are processes and safeguards in place, the right culture is still required to ensure they work.

"Sport cannot think of itself as special or different and able to behave outside what are considered acceptable behaviour patterns."

Duty of care in sport: Independent Report to government: Seven point plan

1. A Sports Ombudsman

The government should create a Sports Ombudsman (or Sports Duty of Care Quality Commission).

This organisation should have powers to hold national governing bodies (NGBs) to account for the duty of care they provide to all athletes, coaching staff and support staff, providing independent assurance and accountability to address many of the issues covered by this review.

2. Measurement

The government should measure duty of care via an independent benchmark survey giving equal voice to all stakeholders in the system.

The results of the survey:

  • Could act as the basis for the Duty of Care key performance indicator mentioned in the “Sporting Future” strategy
  • Would allow government and others in the sport sector to monitor whether sport duty of care policies intended to improve standards are working
  • Inform future policies and investment decisions.

The survey should give an indication of levels of trust in the provision and receipt of support in sport.

3. Named board member responsible for Duty of Care

All NGB boards should have a named duty of care guardian.

The guardian should have an explicit responsibility and leadership role to engage with participants across the talent pathways and in community sport, and to provide assurance at board level.

This assurance should be evidenced in a public statement from the duty of care guardian in the NGB’s annual report.

Duty of care should be a mandatory condition of future funding and all funded sports bodies should demonstrably apply it.

4. Induction process

An induction process should be carried out for all participants entering elite levels of sport (and, where relevant, their families should also be included).

The content will change depending on the level the individual is within the system but it should include the steps involved with entering the elite system, what can be expected while training and competing, and what to be aware of and prepare for regarding exiting the elite level. It could also include topics such as financial and pension advice, the role of agents, first aid training and information about medical issues such as sudden cardiac arrest and concussion, coaching qualifications, media training, behaviour of parents, and understanding exploitative relationships.

5. Exit survey for elite athletes

As participants leave formal programmes an independent exit interview should be conducted, the results of which would be taken account of in future funding discussions.

6. Duty of Care Charter

A duty of care charter should be established by government, explicitly setting out how participants, coaches and support staff can expect to be treated and where they can go if they need advice, support and guidance.

As part of this, participants who receive funding (in any part of the system) should be offered honorary contracts, which set out the roles and responsibilities of both the sport and the participant.

7. The British Athletes Commission (BAC)

Government should independently fund the BAC to enable it to provide the best support to participants on talent pathways in Olympic and Paralympic sports.

This will increase confidence in grievance and dispute resolution, reducing the need for escalation, saving time, money and emotion.

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