Safety in sport is considered an opposite to injury, comparable to how health is contrasted with disease (Timpka et al, 2006). Safety has been defined by the World Health Organisation (World Health Organisation, 1998) 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”. To this end, sports participants must feel safe in addition to actually being safe (World Health Organisation, 1998). Safety issues include a range of physical injury risks, sexual exploitation, sports trafficking, violence, doping, social media bullying, and various forms of discrimination. According to the United Nations Resolution 58/5 (UN General Assembly, 2006) on safety in sports, sports safety concerns for children also include: child labour, early specialisation, over-training and exploitative forms of commercialisation, as well as less visible threats and deprivations, such as premature severance of family bonds and the loss of sporting, social and cultural ties.

There is a movement of research that is concerned with the prevention sports injuries, however a new paradigm advocates that we evolve from focusing on single injury issues in sport to a new paradigm of all-encompassing sports safety (Timpka et al, 2008). A constant intermingling of linked factors creates safety. This includes scientific research, the real-world context, as well as the people ultimately involved in both promoting and benefiting from safety. These people include the club presidents and administrators, coaches, sports trainers, parents, and the ultimate beneficiary of sport safety, the sports participants themselves. In other words, research has shown us what we need to do to promote safety, but we now need to better understand how we can do this at real sports clubs, and how we can adapt best-practice to their needs. Sports clubs are often run by volunteers, have time and monetary constraints, and who experience safety policies as beurocratic red-tape. We need to determine how we can overcome these barriers to reach the goal of achievable sport safety for all.

A key point in the WHO definition of safety is that it has two dimensions: physical safety and an individual’s intrinsic feeling of being safe. Research in the field of implementation and dissemination (Finch, 2011) is making great strides towards allowing athletes to feel safe more holistically. Athletes that feel safe and are safe, suffer from less injuries in all spheres of their wellbeing, and thus perform better.

Sport safety = performance enhancement! Who would not want that!


ReferencesShow all

Finch, CF. 2011. Implementation and dissemination research: the time has come! British Journal of Sports Medicine, 45(10), pp.763–764.

Timpka, PT.. Finch, CF., Goulet, C., Noakes T., Yammine, K. 2008. Meeting the global demand of sports safety. Sports Medicine, 38(10), pp.795–805.

Timpka, PT., Ekstrand, J., Svanström, L. 2006. From sports injury prevention to safety promotion in sports. Sports Medicine, 36(9), pp.733–745.

United Nations General Assembly, 2006. Resolution 58/5: Sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace.

World Health Organisation. 1998. Safety and Safety Promotion: Conceptual and operational aspects, [Beauport, Québec]: Centre collaborateur OMS du Québec pour la promotion de la sécurité et la prévention des traumatismes.

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