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Here’s what’s happening around the world in the area of child welfare and protection.

July 8, 2021

Safeguarding in Sport in Namibia

Safeguarding in sport is rapidly becoming a more globally recognised field of safeguarding, particularly with internationally recognised athletes speaking out about the abuse they experienced growing up with sport being integral to their lives. In Namibia, the Government’s recent National Development Plan (NDP5) recognised the importance of sports in enhancing social cohesion, reducing inequality, alleviating poverty, reducing substance abuse and crime, and promoting healthy lifestyles. In November 2020, UNICEF Namibia contracted Maestral to develop a national child safeguarding in sport policy and training package for the sports sector. Maestral partnered with national sports specialists Physically Active Youth Namibia (PAY).

The project began by finding out the views of children involved in sport, advocates of safeguarding in sport, and coaches, through focus group discussions. What became apparent was the lack of understanding of safeguarding for many stakeholders including children, who felt that if a child is not physically harmed when playing sport (such as being injured) then they are safe in sport. And whilst the advocates we spoke to said that anecdotally they were aware of many cases of abuse and exploitation in sport, as well as coaches in particular being aware of abuse occurring outside of the sports environment to children they coach, only one sports organisation we spoke to had handled a safeguarding concern that someone had raised with them. “Coaches are not being made accountable, there are no control mechanisms in place to make sure child safeguarding regulations are followed” said one person interviewed. Many children interviewed said how important their coach is in their lives. They also highlighted the wish to be respected by their coach.

Photo by Physically Active Youth Namibia (PAY) at a joint UNICEF and PAY event.

Photo by Physically Active Youth Namibia (PAY) at a joint UNICEF and PAY event.

Reasons given for the lack of reporting included huge power imbalances between coaches and players, a lack of awareness from children in particular that abusive and exploitative behaviours and actions are not permitted. Children also spoke about the expectations of how girls and boys should behave in sport, including the view that girls who play some sports such as football are homosexual and may be prevented from playing sport through family or peer pressure and stigma.

Two key changes to the project based on field research were the need for a training especially for children, and the need for a package of guidance tools to support safeguarding leads to implement the policy.

The trainings were piloted with 21 coaches and administrators and 17 adolescents involved in sport, followed by a five day Train the Trainer pilot with 32 coaches and administrators. It was exciting to see the training – adult participants who were initially reluctant to engage and did not see there was a problem became vocal advocates of safeguarding. Participants were particularly engaged in role-playing positive adult responses to bullying between children. For the ToT, 90% said their safeguarding knowledge increased, 80% said their facilitation skills improved and 50% said their priority was to deliver safeguarding training to children and young people involved in sport.

The initial project ended in April 2021, with commitment from the Ministry of Sport and UNICEF to continue rolling out the training nationally, led by PAY. From August, the plan is to roll out and nationalise the model policy and advocate it’s adoption and adaptation across all sports organisations and federations in Namibia. In 2022, the aim is to support the Ministry to set up a sports abuse and exploitation reporting hotline and to roll out an online refresher course on safeguarding in sport.

Maestral & PAY project team: Leonora Borg, Thuba Sibanda, & Siân Long

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