Safeguarding podcast – The Price of Gold with Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

Britain’s highest ranking Paralympian, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, discusses how the focus on medals has affected the culture within sport and the impact this can have on young athletes. Also covered are the disparities between the laws affecting teacher/pupil relationships and coach/athlete relationships, her extensive Duty of Care review and the difference between how male and female athletes are treated on social media.

Lightly edited for clarity transcript below for those that prefer to read or that can’t use podcasts.

Neil Fairbrother

Welcome to another edition of the SafeToNet Foundation safeguarding podcast where we talk about all things to do with safeguarding children in the digital context.

All children are vulnerable, but some are more vulnerable than others, and one such group are those born with a disability. A disability can be a source of inspiration and can spur people on to achieve great things and few have achieved as much as today’s guest Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, welcome to the podcast and allowing me into this magnificent building, the House of Lords. 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

Thank you. Thanks for coming to see me. 

Neil Fairbrother

Just in case there are some people out there who haven’t heard of you, could you give us a resume of your impressive CV and the achievements that you’ve managed.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

So I was a five times Paralympic athlete, I competed at games from Seoul to Athens. I won 11 Golds, four Silvers and one Bronze. 

Neil Fairbrother

That’s fantastic. Well done on all of that. Now your grandfather apparently said to you, “Aim high, even if you hit a cabbage”. 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

He did! We’re not entirely sure where the saying came from, and we’ve never heard anyone else who’s used it. And there are other versions of it around about having an end goal and a dream and seeing what you might achieve. That was something that was quite important for me growing up, about just trying things. You know you don’t know what you’re going to be good at it unless you try it. 

And actually when the media talks about overnight success, that annoys me quite a lot because very few people have overnight success. It’s usually on the back of lots and lots hard work, maybe some lucky breaks. But it’s generally a bit of a slog involved. So, for me, I think it’s just important to have aspirations and to see what you might do.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now, you wrote in a blog post last year that what disabled people need is an accessible society, integration and acceptance of who they are. What did you mean by that? Particularly the accessible society piece.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

The reality is if you’re a disabled person you will face many challenges, whether that’s through the health and social care system or education or public transport, you name it there’s challenges and your impairment will vary that experience. So from a disability rights background we have sort of two models of disability. 

One is the medical model, which very much defines a person by their impairments. And actually, a lot of us think that’s very negative. So, yes I have Spina Bifida, but my challenges come because there are steps, or there’s a door I can’t get in. You know, it’s not the Spina bifida that’s the problem, it’s the inaccessible society. 

So, the social model, which says we need to change buildings and people’s attitudes is where a lot us come from, and it’s about just making sure that people have a positive attitude towards disabled people. That the built environment is accessible, the public transport, the trains are bought, they’re accessible and yeah, you know, the reality is there’s a cost to that but actually, I think society is better when there’s integration. We know businesses are better when there’s more diversity and I think society is better when there’s more diversity as well.

Neil Fairbrother

Okay. Now the human body can achieve many great and amazing things, but it’s not designed to be sat in a chair 24/7 and you have said in the past that it is essential for wheelchair athletes, but probably also for regular wheelchair users as well, to have the right chair, the best fitting chair because it can affect them and for children, one of the results of not having the right chair is they start to miss out school. Can you explain that for us non-wheelchair users so that we get a better understanding of that and the impact that it can have on children.

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

So when I was growing up, I became a wheelchair user when I was about five, so I could walk a little bit and then as I grew, my spine collapsed and it’s actually my vertebra that severed my spinal cord and stopped me walking, I can’t even remember at what point I stopped walking. But it was a long time ago and back then you could get a child’s chair, or an adults’ chair. There were two sizes and that was it. Or there was a kind of a wider version… and that actually made it very difficult to get around, be independent, to push, to just manoeuvre. So, through my time competing in sport, I’ve been hugely fortunate to be able to access really good day chairs, and for me it’s about making sure that disabled children have the best equipment for them.

That doesn’t have to mean the most expensive, but it’s about if they can self-propel, they should have a chair, they can do that, that’s not too heavy. If they need an electric chair, you know, we have some very strange rules on what chairs children can access. So things like an electric chair, they have to prove that they can operate it safely before they can have one, but if they haven’t got one, how can they prove that can operate safely? Slightly crazy things like that. 

So one of the campaigns I’m involved in, is about getting the right chair and it’s about making sure that children are as independent as possible. One of the things my Dad did to one of my chairs was just remove the handles so people couldn’t push me because I didn’t need to be pushed. That’s a bit harsh if you do but it just makes your children have the right chair and go to school, get the best education, they can get into work and be independent. But there’s lots and lots of rules around making that happen. So that’s going to be an ongoing piece of work. We’re not going to solve it straight away, but we can certainly make the system better than it currently is.

Neil Fairbrother

Now, in this day and age, if you are unable to get to school for whatever reason, you will almost inevitably end up online. So does this lack of a correct chair lead to more vulnerable children?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

Online activity has definitely been a huge help for disabled people in terms of being able to access information, booking, chatting and meeting people, being on social media, there’s lots of benefits from it. But also, there are lots of challenges. About two million disabled people have no access to the Internet, so you can be excluded because, you know, two million older people don’t have access, so it ends up being haves and have nots. 

But also the challenge that comes with that is that disabled people are probably more likely to experience different sorts of trolling, online abuse. We know from the disability hate crime figures that they’ve doubled against children in the last couple of years. They’ve increased against adults. So the attitude towards disability and disabled people is not the most positive at the moment. And actually I think it’s sort of gone back a few years. So, there’s lots of challenges about how disabled people are treated. 

I tweet my train journeys good and bad, and I’ve got a number of friends who do also, and a person quite aggressively said, “Well you shouldn’t do it, we don’t want to know about your problems”. Well, don’t follow us then. So I think the bad side to social media and the Internet is that it’s easier to hide behind a false name, a false picture, and to say things that people just wouldn’t say, honestly wouldn’t say, in real life.

Neil Fairbrother

Yes. Now, why is it that there are about two million disabled people that don’t have access online?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

I think there’s a few different reasons, some of it’s about cost, some of it’s about the equipment. Even though laptops and phones have become much cheaper, the reality is that some disabled people can’t afford that…. and whether people understand the benefits that come from it, it’s a decent number of people that, I guess for me, aren’t maximizing the potential it has. I also think there’s an element that if you think disabled people are going to get treated harshly online, that you might choose not to be part of that social media, chat rooms, or things like that. So with all the good stuff comes negative things at the same time.

Neil Fairbrother

Indeed, now you have highlighted some recommendations from a report by UNICEF on this topic, and one of them was about ensuring equal access to digital media, by providing technology and infrastructure for disabled children and other vulnerable groups. How could that be done? There’s lots of choice, or apparently there’s lots of choice out there, so is it simply subsidising the cost?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson 

Yeah, I mean there’s lots of choices if you’ve got money and some of the technology is just incredibly expensive. Then the other side of it is with touchscreen phones now and voice recognition for the price of a cheaper phone, you can have access to technology that years ago would have cost tens of thousands or thousands at least. 

So, there’s swings and roudabouts, but it’s about subsidies, it’s potentially looking at whether it’s linked in some ways to the benefit system; that would not be without a huge issues. One thing which is a worry to me is that our libraries are closing and that’s a place where people could access the Internet and public transport isn’t as good as it needs to be all over the UK. So there’s all sorts of barriers that can stop disabled people from accessing it. We know there’s lots of young children that actually might look like they have a very fancy phone, however they got it, but they don’t have data packages. So all those things that might look okay from the outside, are not necessarily be what the reality is.

Neil Fairbrother

You’ve been concerned about the prevalence of bullying both online and offline in sport for quite some time, and you recently completed a year long review led by a previous Minister of Sport, Tracey Crouch, into the duty of care provided for British athletes. What were the results of this review?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

So it was a hugely wide-ranging review. Tracey Crouch was then Sports Minister, and had developed a new sport strategy, it was the first one in 13 years. And out of that came concerns about duty of care… So she asked me to look at that particular piece of work, but I was also asked to look at doping and anti-doping, concussion, trans-athletes, gambling. It was everything in England from grassroots, Olympic, Paralympic and professional sports. And then where lottery funding kicks in at a UK level. So that’s elite Olympic and Paralympic sports. So it’s a huge piece of work.

And she asked me to look at participants. I took that to be anyone who was involved in the system. So not just athletes but coaches, performance directors, medics, because it’s all interlocked, this is all a bit of a jigsaw.

And what came out of it was that we have a culture that I believe is quite challenging. It’s not as positive as it can or should be. And some of the challenges are around our drive for metals, which, don’t get me wrong, I think that’s brilliant. We should have aspirations to win lots of gold medals, but there’s a price that comes with that and we have to decide whether that’s a price worth paying. And because the targets are quite stringent, that filters down to each of the individual governing bodies, to the performance directors, to the boards, to the coaches, to the athletes. And the reality is gold medals are the only ones that count. Silver’s only count if there’s a tie for gold on the overall world medal table, and bronzes only count if there’s a tie for gold and silver.

So as a country, we’d pick one gold over five silvers or ten silvers, because one gold moves you up the table. I think if you understand that and we’re honest about that, I think that’s less of an issue and there is value in silver and bronze medalists, but it’s understanding what we’re trying to achieve. And I think there are some things around that culture for drive of medals, because coaches’ jobs are based on it, medics’ jobs based on it. The funding for the whole sport is based on how many gold medals you win at Olympics or Paralympics. That drives behaviour and that can result in bullying and intimidation, harassment. I think we just need to stop and look at where our elite sports programs are.

Elite sport is tough and it’s challenging and it’s difficult and you can’t make it all warm and cuddly, but we shouldn’t be breaking athletes either. We shouldn’t be breaking coaches. It’s not a balanced life, but when you get to the end of it, somebody should put you back together. 

Neil Fairbrother

What do you mean by breaking athletes and breaking coaches?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

In terms of some athletes, it’s almost physically breaking them, you know, pushed? So some of the bullying behaviour, it could be overtraining athletes, them training too much. You make different decisions as an athlete when you’re older from when you’re younger. I made a decision in what I knew was my last year of competing to carry on competing through some injury and sickness, because I knew I was pretty much done. I wouldn’t have done that if I was 22.

One sport said to me, partly what they do through the training programs is physically breakdown an athlete and try to put them back together because when they’re on the biggest race of their career at the Olympics or Paralympics, they need to know that the athlete will give absolutely everything that they have to try and win that medal. And so actually in some ways, I was okay with that because there was a real honesty around what being on a program was like, but also the reality is that athletes can be mentally broken by elite sport. If you’re dropped from a program you get three months notice, or you don’t make a team, it’s not about whether what you think your potential is, it’s what someone else thinks your potential is. And there are tough calls because there’s not bottomless pits of money to support athletes. You can’t just keep supporting athletes till they’ve had enough. 

Most athletes’ careers are done in their early thirties, if they’ve not had access to education or if they’ve been encouraged to drop out of education… I pick football because that’s the biggest sport, there’s lots of money there. If I thought my child was going to have a shot at earning £350,000 a week, I might not be bothered about their GCSEs, or about training, or about some of those things. Actually football’s doing a lot to look at how they treat their young players, which is good, so it is unfair that I pick them, but there are some parents who have huge ambition, they want their child to be competing for GB and will make decisions that might not be in that child’s best interest.

Neil Fairbrother

Yes. So some of the bullying that you alluded to in previous discussions was that it takes place in different sports in several different ways. For example, coaches on young athletes, young athletes on other young athletes, parents of young athletes on the coaches of those young athletes. And all this takes place online as well as offline so we’ll see people getting targeted on Twitter for example. If a coach decides to not use a particular young athlete, then that they could have a Twitter war on their hands. So is the cause of all this the pressure behind trying to win a medal and trying to get the funding needed for that particular sport or is there something else going on?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson 

It’s ultimately that, but I don’t think it needs to come out in the way that sometimes it does. So I don’t think having a medal target is bad thing, I think it’s an important thing to have, but the reality of funding cycles is if a sport doesn’t win the medals it said it’s going to do at an Olympics or Paralympics, then the next four years are really tough and you can only deal with the athletes that you’ve got. In each cycle you’re going to get a whole variance of abilities of athletes. It’s a bit like I was thinking in an academic year in school, where teachers have to teach to a certain standard. You might have a really academic year, you might have a completely unacademic year, and so you might not be able to get “x” number of children with “A stars” in one year and the next year it might be much easier. 

So I think my preference would be to have a more balanced funding cycle, which because it’s really difficult to compete in Olympics or Paralympics if the elite sports not funded, so I’d like a more balanced funding and then that gets topped up in different ways. I think we can also be quite creative with our funding, and in terms of number of people employed, what they do, what athletes do… 

One of my recommendations in the Duty of Care report was around athlete induction, which I think should include things like how to pay your National Insurance, how to vote, positions of trust and informed consent. The conversation you might have with a 12 year old might be slightly different with conversation you with a 17 year old, but the sport puts some of that in. And also, the young athletes’ understanding that it’s a pretty tough world out there, and the reality is you probably won’t make it, but you might, but great if you do. 

But for me, the formal education, whether that’s “A levels”, university, B-tech, I don’t necessarily care what that is, but actually an athlete having something to fall back on because the reality is, most athletes who aspire to compete for GB are probably done at 20 or 21 when they don’t make the Junior Team or they don’t make the Senior Team. We always think about an elite athlete retiring with some medals, we don’t think about everyone that’s disappeared along the way. I think what we should be doing should be about lots of people doing sports, having fun and then we have programs where the medals come out of that, but we need more people doing it in the first place.

Neil Fairbrother

The Daily Telegraph reported some interesting numbers related to this recently, which said that a third of British elite sports woman said they had suffered sexual harassment, 49% had been the victim of bullying, 54% of sports women said they’d suffered gender discrimination and almost three quarters felt judged on how they look as opposed to how they performed. These numbers seem to be quite alarming, they seem to be rather large. Is this any different though from anyone else or is this a special case?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson 

I think if you’re involved in sport they’re probably not that alarming. And actually if anyone’s worked in elite sport for a long time and they say it’s alarming, I just think that’s quite interesting. That’s probably a whole other conversation because the reality is I spoke to lots and lots of athletes, men, women, coaches, lots of people in my review and the reality is most people who came to me, as opposed to the ones that I sought out, were only going to come to me if they hadn’t had an issue, not to say it was great. So the figures aren’t surprising to me in that way because I think there’s lots of different levels to it. There’s something which can be very overt. I think that the level I’m concerned about is the sort of throw away comment, “Oh you look great in that lycra kit” or you know, things which are just uncomfortable, not pleasant, inappropriate.

And actually if you’re a young woman in sport, if actually you’re a young athlete, if you’re an athlete in sport even, it’s hard to challenge some of those things because your roots through to elite are controlled by quite a small number of people and sports employ people who have got that magic touch, who can spot talent, who can nurture it, who can get it to perform once every four years. And those are quite interesting and special people because they help deliver medals. But it’s how we train, and this is part of it, why when I talked about participants, I thought it was important that it’s not just the athletes, it’s everyone. It’s making sure that everyone in the system knows what’s appropriate or not. And I think there were some times, some people who’ve been involved in sport long time, think it’s okay to say “You’re a pretty little thing aren’t you?” without understanding how that’s taken by the individual. 

So, some of the women I spoke to said that they’d had inappropriate comments about, “Do you want to make the team?”,  I can help you make the team.” I’m going to what? What do you mean? It was like, “Oh, Whoa, whoa, no, no, I was just going to give you an extra coaching session.

So some of this stuff is really hard to prove and it might be the coach genuinely, or whoever it is, this person in that position of power genuinely wanted to help but maybe said it the wrong way. But if the person feels it’s wrong, that it means there’s something that’s not balanced and it’s hard to raise that. It’s hard to say, “Well, you know, I’ve heard this inappropriate comment and they might not have meant…” And you know, so that’s the stuff that’s difficult: banter.

I had recommendations around banter. We just need to stop it because we just don’t live in an age where that is acceptable within a team environment. People might’ve thought it was years ago, but these days, athletes have to watch out, members of staff, everyone has to watch out with each other and call it out when they say it. 

Neil Fairbrother

In the online context it’s very difficult to call it out if you see it because you probably won’t see it. How does this kind of behaviour manifest itself in the online context, in the digital content? 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

Well one the sort of percentages from the Daily Telegraph article was about women feeling they were judged on how they’re perceived and what they look like. And then that filters into athletes needing to get sponsors and to get media coverage they need to have larger followers on social media and that can encourage athletes to maybe not tweet the most sensible thing or tweet pictures. 

This was quite a while ago, probably 20 years ago, but a lot of young women were encouraged to have very sexy photos taken, that the images that were used of them in newspapers were much more sexually overt than images of men in sport. And even in some of the written press, it’s still written about how you look. So the pressure on young women to do things in a certain way, I think it’s really difficult and you’re told having more followers is good and “content” and things and actually, unless young people understand the impact of this… 

So I did work years ago with young female athletes saying if you choose to do topless photos, okay, make an informed decision, understand what’s going to come with that. Because I think if you just say to someone “Don’t do this or else”… I think it’s like drug taking in sport. If you just say “Don’t do it” it doesn’t change. You need to teach people about what’s around it and what happens. I think it’s really difficult on young athletes now because when they go into a major games, they’re told to switch to their social media off because if they don’t perform well, they got a torrent of abuse.

Or if you just look at women, how women are treated on social media it’s really, I still think quite shocking what men are able to get away with putting on social major and women aren’t. Or the amount of sexual trolling or comments on looks that women get on social media. You know, “You’re an ugly cow” and far worse than that. Women get that far more than men do. I do worry about that. As much as I love social media, I worry about the impact of it.

Neil Fairbrother

So if you are 12 or 13, in fact, 13 is the minimum age you’re supposed to be on most social media sites. If you are 13, clearly that is an impressionable age anyway, you’re got all the issues about puberty and maturing, you’ve got the issues to do with your sport and all those pressures. And then on top of that you get a barrage of abuse online because of something you may not have done, as you said performing well on one particular day. That can’t be in the best interest of the child. 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

No, absolutely not. So the answer probably is for legislation for some of the companies to think about what they take down. Where things are very threatening sometimes it can take a long time to take some of that stuff down. I think probably 10 years ago I wouldn’t have been advocating for legislation around them, but the world was really different in terms of social media. So I’m much more in the legislation camp these days.

I think it’s how we teach all young people to understand the impact of what they put out there, and there’s issues around the right to be forgotten. It always amazed me, young people, if they’re applying for their first job at a university, that they’re shocked that the employer might actually check what was on their social media pages. I’m not saying it should all be really dull and boring, but it’s understanding…

I think because it feels quite… it’s like the keyboard warriors, you feel disconnected.

So some of the worst abuse I’ve had on social media… there was a Premier League football team that were playing in a low level FA Cup match. And somebody, one of the team, had tweeted a picture and the dressing room was just covered in bottles and towels and it was just a mess. And I thought I was being quite funny, so I tweeted, “If I was one of their Mums, I’d make them get off the bus and tidy it up”, because actually do you know, that’s what the All Blacks do, and lots of people do it. And a torrent of abuse, I mean a torrent, the things that I was called, and the worst came from one chap who was tweeting from his work account. And the picture on his work account was him and his two daughters. And he was calling me really bad stuff.

I kind of engaged and eventually we got to a point where I said, “How would you feel if that language was used to your daughters?” He said “I’d be horrified!” “Well, how’d you think it makes me feel?” And he genuinely, what seemed to come out of it, he genuinely didn’t realise the impact he was having. He just thought “Well I can have a go at her.” It’s interesting, I do have bits of sympathy, but it’s how we educate people that this is real stuff and it’s there for a long time. And there were actually people who stopped using his business because they’d seen what he’d said to me. Maybe that was a bigger impact on him. I don’t know.

Neil Fairbrother

For a sports person, the mental battle is often harder than the physical battle. To imagine that they’re winning, to get a mental focus into being. That is in itself a tough battle. But should the mental battle be harder than the physical battle and all of abuse doesn’t help that mental battle?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson 

No, that’s kind of what makes you a complete athlete, I guess if you’re seen to be psychologically strong as well as physically strong. The reality is physical activity is a really important part of people’s good mental health. Being active we know helps people connect with others and socialise, so physical activity is really good for you and I would recommend it to everyone, but there is a point somewhere in the system where the sports side of it is not always great for your mental health. 

So it isn’t [bad] for everybody, because I know lots of athletes who came through the system and were fine. But this is where I think, actually treating people like individuals… So one of the things that was said to me in my review was when the sport asks the loyalty, they mean compliance. And that was from quite a young athlete that said that.

Neil Fairbrother

What do you mean by that? What’s the difference? 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

So the loyalty, what the sport was saying was you need to be loyal to the team. You need to turn up when you’re asked, you need to train properly. To the athlete it was, they felt, they had to do everything they were told or else. If you don’t do what you’re told, you’ll be off the program. The language that’s used is important, but it’s the meaning that’s behind that, that’s really important. I think most athletes on programs have access to psychologists and I think there’s a debate whether they should be in the sport or out of the sport. There’s lots of things that we can do around that.

But I think it’s also having as balanced a life as you can while you’re competing in an elite program. My life wasn’t balanced. I had a cutoff date for being pregnant and if I wasn’t pregnant by this date, we weren’t having children. So that’s not balanced, but it’s understanding that this is a kind of a bubble that you live in. And when you leave the bubble and you’re no longer on the team…  it’s a bit like you take the pebble out and the water doesn’t change level… that’s what happens when you leave a team, there’s others there [to take your place]. 

A lot of athletes identify themselves as being that sports person. That’s how they are known. People can come up and say “You’re that footballer” or “You’re that runner” or “You’re that swimmer”, and their whole identity is wrapped up in that sport.

And for me it’s massively important that that is not your whole identity. I was a Venn diagram and I might be known for being an athlete, but actually there were lots of other parts of my life and I think that’s important we do that with our athletes so that when they retire or are dropped or decide whatever happens when they exit the program, that they don’t just still think of themselves as that one thing. 

The reality is I’ve been retired 12 years and pretty much anyone who stops me in the street will say to me, “You’re that you’ll athlete aren’t you?” You just go in the end “Yeah, I am”. But that’s okay if you’ve got balance. One athlete said to me in retirement, that they found peace, and it took them a while to find it. And I think that’s quite important. You need to know that’s part of it, it was fab, but that was a different part of your life.

Neil Fairbrother

You have called for an independent overseer for athletes to help manage their concerns of any untoward behaviour, bullying or anything that shouldn’t be happening between a more senior coach, for example, and a young athlete. How would you see that working?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson 

The idea with the Ombudsman was to partly ensure, and we’re not close to getting it yet, we sort of get close and then we drift away, but it was to ensure that each of the governing bodies really tighten up their policies and procedures, their internal policies and procedures, that every member of staff, every athlete, every parent knew how to raise an issue. 

And you also have to be careful that it’s not somebody just being malicious, not accusing someone of bulling them if they haven’t. So it’s making sure that there’s a proper investigation process and there’s a path that they could go through. And even within a governing body, it would be reporting to an independent organisation, an independent part of the sport. So the Ombudsman really was to deal with the most serious cases where an athlete, a coach, member of staff felt that it hadn’t been resolved.

I didn’t see it as a large organisation, it was there to provide extra oversight for the system. A number of governing bodies have really improved their internal processes. I wouldn’t say they’re all easy to find on their websites. I wouldn’t say the emergency contact numbers are always easy to find, and then if it’s something that serious, you call the police. 

But coming back to the induction process, I think that should all be laid out and an athlete and the coaching team understanding the responsibility to each other, because a coaching team has a responsibility to the athletes as much as the athlete has a responsibility to coach. So if that’s taught and understood and the process for complaint and the staff who work with the athletes understand where some of those lines are, then then I kind of felt that that was a real step forward.

I said many governing bodies have really improved the process, but it still becomes hard when your route through is limited to raise those issues. I had an athlete (when I say athlete I mean anybody from any sport. I don’t mean just from athletics) say what they went through was the price they paid for being on the GB team. And what they went through should never be the price for being on the GB team.

Neil Fairbrother

We are running out of time, what are your plans for the future? 

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson

So first of all you know what? Sport is amazing! I know it sounds like I’m being quite grumpy about it all. There are lots and lots of things about physical activity, sport participation, that is fab. And we just need to tighten up on some of the policies, procedures and treatment of everyone who passes through the system. One of the things I’m working on at the moment is positions of trust. That’s around 16 or 17 year olds in sexual relationships. I find it really strange that sport is not included in that. If it’s illegal for a teacher to have a sexual relationship with a 16 or 17 year old that they teach, I kind of think that should cover sport as well.

Sport in some ways likes to think of itself as different, some of the governing bodies will say we’ve got the policies in place, that doesn’t happen. Well if there’s nothing to hide from, you’re not going to fear the legislation. So there’s some quite interesting discussions that I’m having at the moment. 

I think more of an issue is probably athletes who are in their twenties with people in positions of power in their forties, late forties, fifties, maybe sixties, so it’s not that young age. I think it’s just really hard because if you’re in sport, you only meet people in sport and there’s not always lots of people to meet. If there’s somebody in a relationship with a twenty-something year old and a fifty-something year old, that person shouldn’t sit in the selection meeting.

It’s stuff like that. It’s not rocket science. You know what, you declare an interest and you step out. And who might say it’s not a true love match? All sorts of things happen. But it’s open. It’s declared. People are aware, and it’s not given preferential treatment. 

My personal preference will be position of trust legislation covers everything on an elite pathway. I’m going to give it a go at getting it through. Again, if you’ve got nothing to fear, the legislation doesn’t matter.

Neil Fairbrother

And this will cover online behaviour as well?

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson 

I think it needs to look at that. I think a number of governing bodies are looking online behaviour, I’d say quite a few have had issues with Squad athletes thinking things are a bit of a joke and it had gone too far. And I think some of the governing bodies are really struggling how to educate and to teach and they don’t even sometimes know it’s happening. 

So for me, the online stuff has to be looked at because it’s not going to get better. People will just find different ways to be involved in a negative way. So, yeah. You know, I think it’s bullying, harassment, actually for everyone, there needs to be better legislation around it. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *