A Overview of Abuse in Sport

What is Abuse?

“Abuse” is a word that is thrown around a lot in casual conversion; but what defines abuse? How does one know if they are committing abuse or if they are being abused?

Abuse is defined as any action that intentionally harms or injures another person. This can include any of the following:

  • physical abuse – non-accidental use of force that results in bodily injury, pain, or impairment.
  • psychological abuse – can be just as devastating as physical abuse: name calling, yelling, insulting, threatening, mocking, ignoring, isolation
  • emotional abuse – any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation, infantilization, or any other treatment which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity, and self-worth. Just because there is no physical mark doesn’t mean the abuse isn’t real and isn’t a problem
  • sexual assault – refers to any unwanted sexual contact; contact against your will and without your consent
  • rape – forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration. Penetration may be by a body part or an object. It is important to understand the circumstances surrounding rape are not always obvious. Please read the following link to understand fully: https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/rape/what-is-rape-was-i-raped

For further defintions or examples of abuse, please click here: https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/abuse-information/what-is-abuse-abuse-definition

Abuse in Sport

Within the sporting world, the context of abuse can be difficult to spot or even understand. In high-performance environments, where athletes are fine-tuned to push themselves to physical and mental limits, abuse can go unnoticed or be deemed “what it takes” to reach the highest levels of performance. When a ‘win at all costs’ philosophy exists, and the only focus is on PB’s, making teams and medals, often the athletes welfare and saftey are ignored – or worse, used as a tool for punishment.

Examples of abuse within elite sport (not an exhaustive list):

  • Overtraining
  • Injuries ignored
  • Forced to lose weight
  • Doping forced upon athlete
  • Bullying, name calling, shouting and mocking
  • Discrimination because of your race, gender, sexual orientation
  • Threatened

Abuse can happen to anyone in sport, not just athletes. If you are a coach, administrator, volunteer or parent – if you recognise any of this experiences, concerned of your own welfare of the welfare of others, please seek support.

Coach and Athlete Relationships / Sexual Abuse

In addition to these abusive behaviours, there is also the complicated relationship between an athlete and a coach, which can sometimes result in abuse of authority / power as the coach forces certain behaviours onto the athlete.

Coach-athlete sexual relationships and sexual harassment and abuse in sport can profoundly impact athletes’ welfare and performance. Athletes’ experiences of ‘coach and athlete sexual realtionships’ are positively and negatively diverse but potentially problematic because boundary ambiguity, secrecy, and isolation are common.2

The coach-athlete relationship is profoundly related to the well-being and performance achievements of athletes. Moreover, coach-athlete relationships are typically characterised by trust, dependency or interdependency, hierarchy, age-difference, and emotional and physical closeness including physical touch. Having this central position in the sport and for athletes’ experiences of sport, the coach-athlete relationship can impact athletes’ personal development, sport participation, and elite athlete careers.2

If we truly want to address sexual abuse and harassment in sports we need to call it what it is, an abuse of power between the coach and the athlete that occurs at all ages.2

Sexual harassment refers to behaviour of a sexualised nature which is unwanted, exploitative, degrading, coerced, forced and/or violent.2

Sexual abuse means to trick, force or coerce a person into any sexual activity the person does not want or is not sufficiently mature to consent to.2

For more information please read: http://gih.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1093081/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Abuse is abuse…whether it be a romantic partner, a friend, a colleague, a parent, or a coach, if you are being discriminated against, hit, screamed at, touched inappropriately, manipulated, raped or if you feel uncomfortable about an incident or situation, please seek support.

If you are concerned about an incident of abuse that has either directly affected yourself, or someone you know – please contact Vicky at info@femalecoachingnetwork.com

Cases of Abuse in Sport

Please note: these cases may be distressing to read







  1. https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/abuse-information/what-is-abuse-abuse-definition
  2. http://gih.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1093081/FULLTEXT01.pdf