Every person in sport, in every role, has the right to participate in an environment that is fun, safe and healthy, and to be treated with respect, dignity and fairness.
Bullying denies participants these rights and can result in feelings of disgrace, embarrassment, shame or intimidation. Bullying can also affect an individual's athletic performance, level of enjoyment, work or school life, academic achievement and physical and mental health.
Research has shown that one in six Australian students are bullied every week, and are three times more likely to develop depressive illnesses.
Bullying can occur both on and off the sports pitch and can involve athletes, parents, coaches, spectators or umpires. It is prohibited by most sporting organisations under their Code of Conduct and can result in penalties and punishments being applied. Some forms of bullying constitute assault, harassment or discrimination under federal and state legislation and are therefore illegal.
Bullying is deliberately hurting a specific person either physically, verbally, psychologically or socially. It involves a power imbalance where one person has power or strength (e.g. physical, mental, social or financial) over another. It can be carried out by one person or several people who are either actively or passively involved. In a sports context bullying can take many forms, for example:
Bullying can be a 'one-off' incident, but usually involves repeated actions or incidences. It can occur everywhere: at home, school, work, playgrounds, while participating in sport, when using public transport or walking to or from home. An individual may bully their victim face to face or use technology such as a mobile phone or computer.
Bullies may use one or several types of bullying to hurt their victim.
Physical - pushing, shoving, punching, hitting, kicking, taking away a person's belongings (this may also constitute assault).
Verbal - name calling, banter, threatening, teasing, intimidating, yelling abuse, using put-downs.
Psychological - ganging up, preventing a person from going somewhere, taking a person's possessions, sending hostile or nasty emails or text messages.
Socially - excluding, alienating, ignoring, spreading rumours.
Bullying behaviour is damaging to all involved: the bully, victim, family members, those that witness the behaviour and the sporting organisation involved. Athletes, parents, coaches, administrators and sporting organisations all have an ethical (and possibly a legal) responsibility to take action to prevent bullying occurring in sport and manage it, should it occur.
People that bully may:
Any person can be bullied. Sometimes people who are popular, smarter, attractive or possess obvious sporting ability are victims of bullying. People can also be subject to bullying if they:
A person, especially a child, may not always ask for support when being bullied. They may feel afraid, ashamed or embarrassed and that the person they tell will think they are weak. Victims of bullying may think that they deserve to be bullied or are 'dobbing' by telling someone what is happening to them.
The following are signs that a person may be being bullied:
Bullying is more likely to occur in environments that are highly competitive and promote a 'win at all cost' mentality. By emphasising other aspects of sport such as enjoyment, team work, sportsmanship and skill development, especially at the junior level, sporting organisations may be able to prevent bullying behaviours.
Sporting organisations should promote their organisation as one that will not allow or tolerate bullying and develop Codes of Conduct and a policy that addresses bullying behaviours, such as a Member Protection Policy. A Member Protection Policy addresses a range of inappropriate behaviours including discrimination, harassment and abuse and provides a complaints process for dealing with incidents. The policy can also provide a complaints handling process so sports can deal with incidents of bullying in a practical manner that is consistent with other inappropriate behaviour.
The Play by the Rules February 2014 magazine contains an excellent article on bullying with further strategies for prevention.
Bullying that involves physical assault is against the law. Bullying that involves, harassment or discrimination can be against the law under certain circumstances (e.g., racial and sexual harassment). Because bullying can contribute to psychological injury it may be covered under occupational health and safety legislation.