Media articles, such as one in the Washington Post titled ‘World Cup security a wild card for Brazil’s police force’ (1), have highlighted a specific sport safety concern – that of player and spectator safety at a major sporting event. This is usually well-managed with stakeholders working together to ensure safety, but occasionally incidents such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings have occurred.
There is a growing trend to host mega sporting events in developing countries, in an attempt to stimulate growth and leave a lasting legacy. The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa is one such an example, with the same social characteristics and political dynamics and challenges as in Brazil in 2014 (2). Despite safety concerns, the 2010 World Cup was a success, with few major incidents. This was in contrast to concerns in the international arena about safety and the ‘just-in-time delivery’ of infrastructure (2), again as is the case in Brazil.
Safety has been defined by the World Health Organisation (3 p1) as the “state in which hazards and conditions leading to physical, psychological, or material harm are controlled in order to preserve the health and wellbeing of individuals and the community”. Perceived risk is complex, and athletes must feel safe in addition to actually being safe (4). Risk amplification, which is the magnification of threats such as by the media, must be controlled through risk management practices (5). Safety stakeholders should carefully control the amount and type of information regarding risks that is shared with spectators and teams (5). The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil has already been tainted with apprehension about the welfare of both fans and teams. While there is a possibility of security breaches at the event, and of personal danger in Brazil, to what extent might these undercurrents of fear affect athlete performance?
Perceived risk is the uncertainty, negative consequences, and exposure to the possibility of a loss or injury that an individual identifies with when participating in an activity (6). This risk can contribute to worry and anxiety, and in response athletes may knowingly or unknowingly adapt their behavior and choices in an attempt to manage this perceived risk (6). Awareness of this perception of fear in athletes, and understanding its nature and sources (7), is thus vital in managing the risk perception within a team. If this is acknowledged, it can be addressed with fact and action before athletic performance can be negatively affected. It is thus vital for the team manager, coach, psychologist, captain, and team members to work together in recognizing and allaying safety fears in a constructive manner. This can be achieved through the identification of perceived risk and the comprehension of perceived control (7) by all safety stakeholders.
It should always be remembered that athletes must feel safe, in addition to actually being safe (4) as this is the key to maximizing performance under conditions that are potentially personal safety adverse.
Cornelissen, S. 2011. Mega event securitisation in a third world setting: glocal processes and ramifications during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Urban Studies. 48: 3221
World Health Organization. Safety and safety promotion: conceptual and operational aspects. Centre collaborateur OMS du Québec pour la promotion de la sécurité et la prévention des traumatismes. Beauport, Québec. 1998: 1-58.
National Public Health Partnership. The National Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion Plan 2004-2014. Canberra. 2005:40
Toohey, K., Taylor, T. 2008. Mega Events, Fear, and Risk: Terrorism at the Olympic Games. Journal of Sport Management. 22(4).
George, R., Swart, K. 2012. International tourists' perceptions of crime–risk and their future travel intentions during the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa. Journal of Sport & Tourism. 17(3), 201-223.
Lee, J. E., Lemyre, L., Krewski, D. 2010. A multi‐method, multi‐hazard approach to explore the uniqueness of terrorism risk perceptions and worry. Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 40(1), 241-272.
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About Sheree Bekker
Sheree Bekker is a PhD scholar researching sport injury prevention and safety promotion at the Australian Centre for Research Into Injury in Sport and its Prevention