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Upholding the values of Olympism for the good of the athletes

An interview with HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein, member of the GEF Council and the IOC Executive Board.

HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein, a Council member of the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF), is a prominent advocate of safeguarding athletes in sport and has been spearheading the respective efforts in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for many years. He is currently a member of the IOC Executive Board and Chair of the IOC Prevention of Harassment and Abuse in Sport Working Group, as well as President of the Jordan Olympic Committee. With less than a month to go to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein shares some insights on his personal motivation to raise his voice on the matter of safeguarding athletes in sport; the IOC’s initiatives on safeguarding at the Games and beyond; and his views on the way forward.

For many years now, you have been a prominent voice for the important topic of safeguarding athletes in sport. Can you tell us more about your personal motivation?

I firmly believe that the mental and physical well-being of athletes should be at the centre of everything we do as sports administrators. Of course, elite sport involves a lot of hard work, but in principle it should be fun and lead to personal fulfilment. Everyone should feel comfortable when practising sport and be able to train in a safe environment. Any form of abuse and harassment is completely unacceptable, but unfortunately it happens too often. It’s a global issue across all sports and really requires all our attention and efforts to prevent it. That’s also why I accepted the invitation to become a GEF Council member in 2018 – the more we can all do for the protection of the athletes, the better. It’s absolutely essential.

Can you tell us more about the work the IOC, and in particular the dedicated Working Group you are chairing, are doing in the field of safeguarding?

The IOC started to lead efforts in the important field of safeguarding athletes in 2004. Back then, several IOC Commissions began to look at the issue from different angles. At some stage I suggested streamlining all these initiatives through the IOC Prevention of Harassment and Abuse in Sport Working Group, which I have been chairing since its inception in 2014. The Working Group represents four IOC Commissions, which drive this important work. They are the Athletes’, the Athletes’ Entourage, the Women in Sport, and the Medical and Scientific Commissions.

Our Working Group has developed a safeguarding framework for the Olympic Games and Youth Olympic Games, and educational resources such as guidelines, a toolkit, clips and seminars for the Olympic Movement. The educational tools are particularly targeted at athletes, International Federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs). IFs and NOCs have an important role to play when it comes to the safeguarding of their athletes in the respective sport or country.

Our efforts do not stop there though, as the recent adoption of the IOC’s strategic roadmap “Olympic Agenda 2020+5” demonstrates. There’s still a lot to do, but we are lucky to have strong support from the IOC leadership, which is of course a key success factor for our activities. Recommendation 5 calls for the further strengthening of safe sport across the Olympic Movement to protect the physical and mental well-being of athletes, and there is an IOC Safe Sport Action Plan that comes with it. Amongst other objectives, the plan aims to ensure that the Olympic Games are at the forefront in the field of athlete safeguarding and well-being.

How can the IOC and the GEF work together to protect the well-being of gymnasts as best as possible – in Tokyo but also in the long run?

The IOC and the GEF both work towards creating and promoting safe sporting environments for all athletes. We will continue to facilitate athletes’ access to expert resources so they can learn more about their rights and how any concerns can be reported.

During Games time, the IOC has in place a safeguarding framework that applies to all IOC accredited participants. As per the framework, IOC Safeguarding Officers will be on-site to respond to any safeguarding concerns. At Tokyo 2020, there will also be a helpline in place to support the mental well-being of athletes, which is a first. I believe this is a very important initiative. Of course, not all mental health issues are related to harassment and abuse, but harassment and abuse heavily impact the mental health of athletes, so there is a very close connection.

Should gymnasts come to the Safeguarding Officers during the Games, they will be briefed about the role, mission and independent status of the GEF, and that it is there to support beyond Games time. It’s very important athletes know whom to turn to at any given time.

How do you see the future of the GEF?

I think the GEF will be even busier than it is already. With the growing global awareness around safeguarding in general and gymnastics in particular, I foresee a further increase in the number of cases reported to the GEF. The first two years of operation confirm this trend.

In gymnastics, the need for creating an independent body like the GEF may have appeared more urgent than in other sports, but we all know harassment and abuse are not inherent to one specific sport or a geographical region. It’s a global issue and we need global solutions.

Whilst the GEF’s key role will always be to strengthen the safeguarding of athletes and other participants in gymnastics from harassment and abuse, I think it can also play an important part in sharing knowledge about best safeguarding policies and practices with other sports, expert organisations and political decision-makers. It’s important we all work together and contribute our expertise for the well-being of the athletes.

Your key message to everyone working in sport?

Harassment and abuse have no place in sport, and everyone in sport has a role and a responsibility to ensure that all athletes are treated with respect. As sports organisations and administrators, we must ensure that we uphold the values of Olympism to which we are entrusted.

Your key message to all athletes?

To perform at your best, it’s important you feel comfortable in training and in competition. If there is something you are worried about or that makes you feel uncomfortable during sporting practice, it’s important to talk about it with someone you trust. And it’s important to know that saying « NO » is the right thing to do, even though it’s not always easy. If you are a gymnast and need help, please don’t hesitate to contact the GEF. We are independent and will treat your information with full confidentiality. And, if I may: please help us spread the word about the Gymnastics Ethics Foundation amongst your team colleagues and competitors, so all gymnasts know they can turn to us if needed.


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