Violence in sports clubs - the shocking research | Club Respect Violence in sports clubs - the shocking research | Club Respect

Violence in sports clubs - the shocking research

In each fortnightly episode of Smart Plays, Tarik and special guests will be tackling difficult social issues in sport and exploring our capacity for positive social change. In this episode, we speak with Aurélie Pankowiak and Mary Woessner who are the co-authors of a shocking research study into the prevalence of violence in grassroots community sport.

Check out the episode to hear Aurélie Pankowiak and Mary Woessner talk about their findings in what is a huge wake-up call for clubs and associations.

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Victoria University released shocking research results that showed 82% of Australians experience 1 form of interpersonal violence in sport as a child.

The study was the most comprehensive of its kind in Australia, involving 886 adults, and asked whether they had experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence, as well as neglect, from either coaches, peers or parents during childhood.

▪️ 82% of the adults who were sampled, reported experiencing at least one form of interpersonal violence when participating in community sport as a child.
▪️ 67% had experienced psychological violence or neglect.
▪️ 66% reported physical violence.
▪️ 38% reported sexual violence.

These statistics would be alarming in a school or workplace yet there’s a sense of ‘well, that’s just the way it is in community sport’ or a belief that abuse and violence leads to resilient humans with no mention of the trauma attached to these experiences. What can sports do to decrease this alarming statistic?

If you believe you have experienced violence during your childhood participation in sport, you can lodge a complaint through Sport Integrity Australia’s online portal.

Key takeaways

“But what we know from other areas is that the way you drive change is not necessarily just by telling people to do it. It’s by making them passionate. Making them want to be champions of those changes, making them want to be drivers of change.” – Mary Woessner

“Yeah. There’s a risk seeing the sports and the media and the brave athletes coming forward, primarily from the elite level, speaking to their own harrowing experiences. There’s a risk that we can distance ourselves from that and say, “Well, that’s not my sport. that wasn’t my experience, I’m not an elite athlete”. You know, there’s a distancing that can happen and the purpose of this study was to really raise awareness on those broader contexts. We didn’t want to single out a sport because it’s not a one-sport issue. The sports you see in the media are just that. The ones that are in the media right now, today, this week. It’s absolutely a whole-of-sport issue.” – Mary Woessner

Here are some of the lessons learned throughout the episode:

  • How violence and abuse can be classified (and how it was classified in this study within a sports context).
  • The highest reported violence was amongst peers.
  • Clubs need to question a ‘winning at all costs’ mentality.
  • These harrowing instances of violence shouldn’t be avoided by people saying “that’s not my sport” or “I’m not an elite athlete”. It was important within the study to frame it in a way so that clubs acknowledge these issues are in every club, at every level.
  • Driving change is about following adequate policies and making people passionate.
  • Clubs can protect children by creating a culture that is based on respect and empowerment.

Notable moments

Short on time? Check out some of our favourite moments during this interview:

2:14 – Motivations for Mary and Aurelie

Mary and Aurelie believe that once the shocking prevalence of violence in sport is known, we can begin to understand how to resolve it.

3:38 – What do these words actually mean?

Have you ever asked what the words physical, sexual, and psychological violence actually mean? Aurelie defines these terms as she believes it is one of the most important things when you are measuring violence.

6:55 – The 82% statistic… are we really shocked?

This study was a trailblazer in identifying the nature of violence in Australian sport. Mary and Aurelie say this reflects international statistics, which show that Australia is not exempt from the systemic nature of violence in sports.

11:23 – Kids won’t come forward for years to come

Mary and Aurelie reveal that research data (which hasn’t been published yet) suggests that coming forward can be influenced by many factors, including:

  • Internal factors such as guilt or shame, or being excluded from their teams.
  • External factors such as children not having the language to describe their experience or not understanding that experience as wrong.

14:53 – Winning at all costs: practical steps to take to make a safe environment

Individual level:

  1. Coaches educate themselves on what violence is.
  2. Developing relationships.
  3. Other coaches, parents, and volunteers also are educated.

Broader level:

  1. Creating a culture of respect.
  2. Making sure it is not just about winning at all costs.
  3. Make people passionate about being champions of change.

24:31 – Good Sports vs Bad Sports? No such thing. 

Mary and Aurelie make themselves very clear: violence is not a sport-specific issue but a whole ‘sport system issue’. By making it a sport-specific issue, it risks us distancing ourselves from it altogether. 

27:00 – A dream or a reality?

Imagine you have unlimited funding and can do whatever you want; here are Aurelie and Mary’s answers:

Priority list from Aurelie:

  1. Taking a whole of sport, evidence-based approach.
  2. A top-down policy prevention approach paired with bottom-up grassroots behaviour change initiatives.
  3. Victim-survivors to lead the change.

Priority list from Mary:

  1. Visit clubs and gain an understanding of what their conceptions of violence are.
  2. Speaking with participants and children.
  3. Support the work that is coming from the national level.


We covered a lot in this episode! But, here are some notable links:

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