Sporting clubs have been urged to ban sexual relations between athletes and those in positions of power such as coaches.
Victoria University sports ethicist Dr Michael Burke said today that despite widespread evidence that sexual relationships between athletes and coaches were often harmful, sporting clubs frequently turned a blind eye.
"It's time that sporting clubs recognised the dynamics of these relationships and established codes of conduct bringing them under scrutiny," Dr Burke said.
"Recent Norwegian research has revealed that flirting, telling dirty jokes, giving athletes massages and hugs and even showering with athletes of the same sex are all considered acceptable behaviour by some coaches.
"Sporting organisations must recognise that the power differential in athlete-coach relationships means that an athlete's ability to give voluntary consent is compromised.
"Regardless of claims made by current athletes about their ability to provide consent, research from educational and therapeutic settings suggests that their choices were coerced and the athletes will eventually have to deal with feelings of breached trust, anger and rejection.
"Sporting organisations can help prevent these problems by introducing codes of behaviour that ban relationships between coaches and their current or former athletes, and implementing stringent punitive measures to encourage compliance with their codes of behaviour."
Dr Burke suggested that sporting clubs should also develop education and mentoring programs for coaches that take them through these issues.
"Sex between players and coaches is surprisingly common," he said. "A 1996 Canadian study found that 14 per cent of elite athletes had engaged in apparently consensual sexual intercourse with a person in a position of power in their sport. Partners included coaches, administrators, doctors, physiotherapists and managers."
Some sports organisations, including the United States Olympic Committee, have produced a clear policy banning sexual contact between coaches and athletes or former athletes.
The standard member protection policy framework produced by the Australian Sports Commission and used by several sporting organisations in Australia, advises that intimate relationships between coaches and athletes should be avoided. However, there does not appear to be a single Australian sporting organisation that bans such relationships.
Dr Burke is available for interview: 03 9919 4238
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