Sexual violence in sports: ‘Our country is almost ten years behind’

After the publication, by the ministerial unit responsible for this dossier, of more than 600 cases of sexual violence in sport since 2020, sociologist and anthropologist Philippe Liotard, a specialist in this field, welcomes the work of the state, but recalls that in addition to searching for the perpetrators, it is also important to work on the victims’ words and the training of the staff supervising the young athletes.

Can we speak of the end of omerta with these new figures published during the 3rd Convention for the Prevention of Violence in Sport?

Since 2019, elements show that there is a significant evolution. There was an acceleration with a series of media releases, including that published in Disclose – a research site – with its file “The flip side of the coin”. After, in January 2020, the publication of the book revelations by Sarah Abitbol, Such a long silence, helped speed things up even more. This ended a thirty-year silence. This freedom of speech movement fits somewhere in the #MeToo philosophy.

Are some countries more advanced than France in this area?

In France, the first actions against sexual and sexist violence in sport date back to February 2008 with Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot. But not much had happened since then, while at the same time many tools were deployed abroad, in Switzerland, Belgium, Quebec. As early as the 1990s, the Anglo-Saxon countries had taken measures to prevent this violence or to hear the voices of those affected. Our country is almost ten years behind in this area, even though today it is catching up little by little.

Some decisions have been made, in particular the need for a good reputation check. Is that good enough?

It is very good to check the people who intervene with minors to know that they are not sexual predators. But it also reflects a diminished view of what sexual violence is. It should not be forgotten that a large part of this also takes place between minors; that also some people who become these predators are not repeat offenders. Finally, we forget that this violence also occurs in the environment and the ordinary sports organization. On the occasion of outings, outings or evenings.

Sport in France, amateur or not, is very much focused on competition, competition and less on training individuals. Isn’t that also one of the problems?

If I understand you correctly, does that mean that there is no sexual violence at the FSGT, Ufolep, the UNSS? Maybe, but I don’t have any numbers on that. On the other hand, it is certain that these organizations are less focused on performance and more on the harmonious progression of athletes. I have met many of their leaders and I know that they follow these issues closely. They are building a protective space for their members.

Where are we in the training of physical education teachers? Is there an approach to these topics?

There is no systematic university education for future sports teachers. It depends on each of them. At Lyon-I there is a master’s degree in “Equality in and through physical and sporting activities”, in which specialists are trained in gender equality and discrimination. But these interventions are punctual and do not affect all students. This is undoubtedly something to think about in the future in Staps: include in the common training a questioning of sexual violence, homophobia and all issues of discrimination.

And the federations, where do they stand on these issues?

They are very good at communicating their one-off actions, but the real work that needs to be done is more underground and long-term. They have to work a lot more to train the people who guide the youngsters. There is still a lot of work to be done in the area of ​​listening to and supporting victims, educating and raising awareness. Despite everything, the speech is now being received. It’s become rare to hear a federation say it’s none of their business – which was often the case in the past.