Safeguarding in sports settings: Unpacking a conflicting identity

Sheree Bekker, Anna Posbergh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (SciVal)


Safeguarding is a major area of research, policy, and practice for contemporary sports scholars, practitioners, and stakeholders. In recent years, the concept of safeguarding (broadly: the prevention of harassment and abuse) as applied to sport settings has expanded to include not only sexual harassment and abuse, but also individual (e.g. disordered eating; self-harm), relational (e.g. psychological, physical, sexual harassment and abuse), and organisational (e.g. systemic discrimination; medical mismanagement) forms of violence. In 2016 the International Olympic Committee published its landmark Consensus Statement on non-accidental violence (harassment and abuse) in sport (IOCCS). Concomitantly, sports organisations have increasingly regulated women’s eligibility through ‘female eligibility policies’ under the premise of safeguarding. This is particularly exemplified by World Athletics’ 2019 Female Eligibility Regulation (WAFER). The WAFER, however, has received substantial critique, particularly in terms of the systemic discrimination and medical harm that it has been shown to enact on certain groups of marginalised women. In this article, we undertake a comparative document analysis to evaluate female eligibility regulations within the framework of contemporary sport safeguarding policy and practice. Our analysis finds that safeguarding, especially with regard to ‘fairness’ and women athletes, adopts a conflicting identity due to three primary reasons: (1) lack of organisational accountability; (2) focusing on interpersonal harms rather than systemic violence; and (3) attention to science over athlete voice. As such, we conclude by urging a critical re-examination of the conceptualisation and implementation of safeguarding, positioning organisational violence enacted through female eligibility policies as a sports safeguarding issue.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-198
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number2
Early online date30 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2022


  • Sport
  • gender
  • injury prevention
  • policy
  • safeguarding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Health(social science)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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