More than 2,000 Finnish competitive athletes say: Sports offer a lot of good things – addressing inappropriate treatment should be developed

The Finnish Center for Integrity in Sports (FINCIS) has published two significant studies on the state of Finnish sports. FINCIS surveyed the experiences of athletes in competitive sports as well as sports community employees’ experiences or observations concerning inappropriate treatment. The experiences of Finnish competitive athletes are mainly positive, but irresponsible and inappropriate behaviour also occurs. Elimination of such behaviour requires long-term work and commitment from the entire sports community.

According to the study on athletes’ experiences in Finnish competitive sports, athletes had a lot of positive sports experiences, as expected. Nearly 90 % of the respondents said that they enjoy going to practice. However, most of the respondents also said that they had experienced inappropriate behaviour, discrimination or harassment. The most common forms of this were ridicule and unfair criticism. Physical violence was rarely experienced.

“Only about 30% of the athletes who responded to the survey had not experienced irresponsible or inappropriate treatment. This means that we need awareness raising, active intervention and clear guidelines from the entire sports community. Now we need to pay attention to the entire sports system and its operations instead of focusing on individuals. Being a by-stander is no longer an option,” says Sports Psychologist Satu Kaski, who was in charge of the research.

According to the study, minorities are not any more likely to experience inappropriate treatment, but they are less likely to have positive experiences in sports. Correspondingly, the significance of belonging to a group was highlighted, since a responsibly operating group can prevent inappropriate actions.

“The legal protection and social security of professional athletes are lagging behind those of many other professions, and it is therefore essential to strive toward nurturing a rewarding and safe work environment for athletes. This is the reason why the elimination of inappropriate behaviour within the sports community must be the uncompromising goal of everyone operating in the sports sector,” says volleyball player Ronja Heikkiniemi.

The respondents of the survey want sports communities to develop their models of early intervention in and investigation of negative experiences. In addition, they want investments in operating models that strengthen equality, since positive and negative experiences strongly affect the well-being of athletes.

“A lot of studies have been made and information collected from us athletes. It seems that organisations have identified the need for change and are determined to change things, while some are being forced to do so. Now is the time to move from willingness towards concreate actions. There must be clear reporting channels and operating models known by all the sports stakeholders which start from the federation level all the way to the club level,” says wheelchair racer Esa-Pekka Mattila.

The study “Athletes’ Experiences in Finnish Competitive Sports” was carried out in co-operation with about 50 sports organisations and received more than 2,000 responses from competitive athletes. Federations sent the questionnaire to their own competitive athletes. This study was a continuation of the study “Harassment in Finnish Competitive Sports” published two years ago.

Inappropriate treatment in the work environment

FINCIS explored the experiences and observations concerning inappropriate treatment of sports community employees during the last year. The study was commissioned by the Finnish Olympic Committee. Inappropriate treatment experiences in sports communities were mostly related to workplace bullying, such as unwarranted criticism of a person’s skills, belittling and denigration. More than 20% of the respondents said that they had experienced bullying. The bully was typically reported to be a co-worker, immediate supervisor or another employee in a managerial position. Other forms of inappropriate treatment occurred significantly less frequently.

Women had experienced inappropriate treatment considerably more than men. The respondents reported, for example, verbal sexual harassment and gender-based harassment in the form of offensive and insulting expressions. Although the study shows that sexual harassment is most often experienced by women, nearly 50 % of the observations of sexual harassment came from men.

According to the sports community employees, most of the harassment cases were not processed since they were not reported to anyone. The respondents said this was caused by thinking that nothing would change anyway, by trying to ignore the incident and fear of being stigmatised. On the other hand, some emphasised the small-scale or temporary nature of the treatment. 

“In general, there are differences of opinion about the content of inappropriate treatment. Words can be funny to some and offensive to others. The sports community employees hoped for more open dialogue and definition of shared boundaries. In addition, employers are expected to respond quickly and transparently to problems,” says FINCIS’ Research Manager Marko Kananen.

Participants in this study included the personnel of the Olympic Committee as well as Olympic Committee members and key stakeholders, such as regional sports organisations, the Finnish Institute of High Performance Sport KIHU, sports institutes and sports academies.

Study on the positive and negative experiences of athletes in Finnish competitive sports (in Finnish, key study results in English)
Study on inappropriate treatment in sports communities (in Finnish, key results in English)

Further information:
Susanna Sokka 
FINCIS – Communication Manager
tel.: +358 40 740 7477