Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) Director Alex McLin spoke at the inaugural edition of the Swiss safeguarding in sports conference, held virtually on 3 December 2021. Organised by Health4Sport, a coalition of four Swiss societies* who care for athletes’ health and wellbeing, the half-day event gathered national and international experts who discussed from different angles how to best tackle and prevent harassment and abuse in sport.
During his presentation, Alex McLin outlined “Swiss and international legal frameworks” applying to the field of safeguarding of athletes, taking the example of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation. Based in Lausanne, the Foundation is subject to Swiss law and references relevant to safeguarding are contained within the Criminal Code, Labour Law and Civil Law. At the same time, the Foundation carries out its functions in accordance with the International Gymnastics Federation’s (FIG) policies and procedures for safeguarding and protecting participants in gymnastics (which were set up at the same time as the independent Foundation), the FIG Code of Conduct and the FIG Code of Ethics.
Since its creation in 2019, the Foundation has dealt with more than 80 cases, 45 of which are currently open.
“We’d like each case we deal with to become a catalyst for change in the respective country, leading to capacity building at national level”, explained McLin.
National Federations received FIG guidelines on how to set up their own policies and procedures in the field of safeguarding and the Foundation is supporting them in this process. “However, when national systems are insufficient, we can step in”, emphasised Alex McLin. He added: “It helps if sport rules include precise definitions of what is not acceptable. This makes it also easier to sanction the perpetrators.”
Asked by the audience what he would regard as the most important measures to drive cultural change in sport, he said: “We need to create incentives to change behaviour and we must measure progress against our objectives. What gets measured gets done quicker and we’d all like to see positive change happen as soon as possible.”
Other speakers at the conference included:
Margo Mountjoy, a clinician scientist (MD, PhD) from Canada who works in international sport for the International Olympic Committee, ASOIF (Association for Summer Olympic International Federations), WADA, FIFA, and World Rugby; and Dean of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University (Waterloo campus);
Katie Hanna, Vice President for Education and Public Policy at the U.S. Center for SafeSport, with more than 16 years’ experience addressing sexual abuse prevention and response at local, state, and national levels in the U.S.;
Gretchen Kerr, PhD, a Professor and the Dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto and a co-Director of the Canadian Gender Equity in Sport Research Hub; and
Christof Gertsch and Mikael Krogerus, both award-winning journalists with the Swiss weekly supplement «Das Magazin», where in 2020 they published “The Magglingen Protocols” about verbal, mental and physical abuse within Swiss gymnastics.
During the event, Health4Sport presented their work on 13 principles that are essential to support safe sport participation and can be used as a helpful resource to help sport organisations prevent athletes from harassment and abuse and promote well-being.
* Sport & Exercise Medicine Switzerland (SEMS), Swiss Association of Sport Psychology (SASP), Swiss Sports Physiotherapy Association (Sportfisio) and Swiss Sports Nutrition Society (SSNS)