With ex-USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s sentencing for his sexual abuse of more than 260 girls bringing the Me Too conversation to sports, the International Olympic Committee is being clear about the processes they have in place to prevent and report sexual misconduct. Four-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser is one of several athletes lending their voices to the cause.
“As an athlete, as a female athlete, I’ve spent much of my life in a sport that’s full of abuse both on and off the ice so to speak,” she told CTV, “More importantly, I think with what’s happening in society today — you see USA Gymnastics, you see the Me Too movement — it’s only appropriate that the IOC step up and be a leader in harassment and in safeguarding athletes.”
Spending her life in a male-dominated sport, Wickenheiser says that she’s known countless athletes who have had to endure all types of abuse and “it’s more common than people might think.”
“You name it, I’ve heard it,” Wickenheiser said, “Even some of the hazing or initiations I was put through when I was a younger player — today you would never be allowed to do that in minor hockey, both male and female.”
In a video for the IOC, Wickenheiser assures incoming and returning Olympic athletes that there is a system in place for them, should they ever feel the need to report an incident or seek support.
“My key message to athletes is to not be afraid, to know there’s a system in place, there’s a process in place so that if something does happen, you just have to call, make the first step and the IOC safeguarding program will take it from there,” she said, “We are there for you, we believe in you and we’ll do the best thing possible to protect every athlete that is in the Olympic Winter Games.”
. @wick_22 “Don’t be afraid there’s a system in place there is a process in place if something does happen just make the call make the first step and the IOC and the safeguarding programme will take it from there…” https://t.co/hUemGFXyPz #Olympics pic.twitter.com/0xnGx4hp4Q
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) February 4, 2018
She also points athletes to Athlete365, a resource for support before, during and after the games. The brand is meant to group all the IOC’s athlete-focused initiatives together to empower them not just in instances of sexual misconduct, but mentally and physically throughout the entire process. The program is meant to be a resource in any situation and above all, protect, preserve and celebrate the Olympic spirit.
Wickenheiser shares that athletes are particularly vulnerable to different types of abuse because their professional lives and careers in the sport are in the hands of so many people. She wants to encourage athletes to know their rights and how to get support from outside their teams when they need it.
“There’s a lot of power you give away as an athlete to people that can control your fate and that’s a scary thing for athletes — especially when something goes wrong,” she said. According to Wickenheiser, there were about 12 cases that came forward to report instances of abuse during the Rio 2016 Games. While it’s unfortunate that athletes have had to use these services, it’s encouraging to know that they are there and that victims feel they can use them to come forward.
Here’s to an incident-free games and a body of athletes who feel supported and safe representing their countries and competing in the sports they love.