A novel definition of safe sport proposed by athletes with disabilities and other parasport stakeholders


The terms maltreatment and safe sport are often used synonymously. Maltreatment refers to, among other things, physical and/or sexual abuse, neglect, and negligence committed within a relationship of responsibility, trust, or power and which result in harm to the victim. However, organizations such as SIRC suggest safe sport encompasses environments "free of all forms of maltreatment" while the Coaching Association of Canada uses language focused on promoting athletes' physical and mental wellbeing yet offers training emphasising strategies to limit maltreatment. Evidently, there is a lack of consensus as to what 'safe sport' is. In parasport, safe sport has been conceptualized primarily as the widely experienced phenomena of maltreatment. The absence of a comprehensive, unified definition of safe sport, limits public policy, practice, and research. Therefore, we purposed to develop an interpretive description of safe parasport. Thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with para-athletes (n = 5) and sport administrators (n = 7) was used to develop the following definition of safe sport. Safe sport fosters belonginess, and allows athletes to realize their full potential in an environment where athletes' unique disabilities (and other intersecting identities) are recognized and appreciated, communication is open and valued, and those around the athlete (e.g., coaches) have the support/skills required to provide collaborative and individualized instruction/support and address inequities as required, and where individuals/systems responsible for promoting inequities are held accountable. Accordingly, a robust, athlete-centered definition of safe parasport includes expectations of both the absence of maltreatment and the inclusion of a quality sport experience.

Acknowledgments: This research project was made possible through support from the Canadian Disability Participation Project.