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Sexual Relationships between Athletes and Coaches: Love, Sexual Consent, and Abuse
Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, GIH, Department of Sport and Health Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5575-4737
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Coach-athlete sexual relationships (CASR) and sexual harassment and abuse (SHA) in sport can profoundly impact athletes’ welfare and performance. Yet, it is often ignored due to sensitivity, secrecy, and lack of knowledge. There is no previous research on SHA in sport in Sweden, and legal, consensual, same-sex CASR is under-researched. The overall purpose of this doctoral thesis is to examine CASR in competitive sport in Sweden. More specifically: a) athletes’ experiences of CASR; b) prevalence of SHA in coach-athlete relationships; c) conceptual and theoretical issues to broaden the understanding of CASR and SHA, will be examined.

Survey methodology is employed in Article I to explore the prevalence of SHA, coach-athlete relationship factors, and association between relationship factors and SHA. A random sample of current and former male and female Swedish athletes (n=477) aged 25 participated. Article II outlines critical issues of CASR, and theories and conceptualisations of romantic love, sexual consent, and female athlete sexual agency is further developed in the thesis research summary. Drawing on interviews with five female elite athletes aged 23-30, experiences of CASR are analysed in-depth using discourse analyses in Article III and narrative case study design in Article IV.

Results show that athletes’ experiences of CASR are positively and negatively diverse but potentially problematic because boundary ambiguity, secrecy, and isolation are common. Social and ethical dilemmas may also occur because CASR intersect contrasting discourses regarding elite sport, coach–athlete relationships, and romantic love. Moreover, CASR integrate professional and private contexts in which equality and power deviate. The research illustrates empirically and theoretically how female elite athletes exercise agency and recognise consensual, mutually desired CASR where romantic love is priority. However, sexual consent can be ambivalent rather than a mutually exclusive yes/no dualism. Socially, consent is a process of negotiation informed by contextual factors, sexual agency, and social structure. In addition, 5.5% prevalence of SHA perpetrated by male coaches is reported, distributed throughout the sampled athletes’ gender, age, sport performance levels, and individual/team sports in the sample.

In conclusion, this thesis expands knowledge of athletes’ experiences of love, sexual consent, and abuse in CASR. Previous evidence of SHA in sport is confirmed to include sport in Sweden. Implications for sport and sport sciences are offered. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, GIH , 2017. , 206 p.
Series
Avhandlingsserie för Gymnastik- och idrottshögskolan, 09
Keyword [en]
coach-athlete sexual relationship, sexual harassment and abuse, romantic love, sexual consent, gender and sexuality, power and agency, sport
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Social Sciences/Humanities
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:gih:diva-4890ISBN: 978-91-983151-0-3 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:gih-4890DiVA: diva2:1093081
Public defence
2017-06-16, Aulan, Lidingövägen 1, Stockholm, 13:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2017-05-05 Created: 2017-05-05 Last updated: 2017-05-17Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Sexual harassment and abuse in coach–athlete relationships in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sexual harassment and abuse in coach–athlete relationships in Sweden
2017 (English)In: European Journal for Sport and Society, ISSN 1613-8171, Vol. 2Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Sexual harassment and abuse (SHA) can have a profound negative impact, but research on SHA in sport is scarce and studies of SHA in Swedish sport are absent. This study explores (a) self-reported prevalence of SHA perpetrated by coaches among male and female Swedish athletes, and (b) descriptive statistics for coach–athlete relationship factors and the association between these relationship factors and reported SHA. Current and former Swedish club sport athletes (n = 477) aged 25 participated in the survey. Athletes reported 5.5% prevalence of coach SHA, of which inappropriate, unpleasant, or offensive physical contact were most common. No significant differences of SHA frequency were displayed across gender, sport performance levels, or individual/team sports. A majority of athletes (55–95%) reported trust, closeness, substantial coach influence over sport performance, and instructional physical contact as main coach–athlete relationship factors. A minority (13–39%) reported dependency, substantial coach influence over personal-life, non-instructional physical contact, sexualized comments and jokes, and flirting. Prevalence of coach–athlete friendships, athlete attraction to coaches, and coaches’ instructional physical contact differed significantly between male and female athletes. Closeness and athlete attraction to coaches were negatively related, and coaches’ non-instructional physical contact and flirting were positively related to reported SHA. Multi-causality and ambiguity of coach–athlete relationship factors are discussed.

Keyword
Sexual harassment and abuse, coach–athlete relationship, sport, prevalence
National Category
Educational Sciences
Research subject
Social Sciences/Humanities
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:gih:diva-4875 (URN)10.1080/16138171.2017.1318106 (DOI)
Available from: 2017-04-22 Created: 2017-04-22 Last updated: 2017-05-08Bibliographically approved
2. Coach-Athlete Sexual Relationships: if no means no does yes mean yes?
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Coach-Athlete Sexual Relationships: if no means no does yes mean yes?
2013 (English)In: Sport, Education and Society, ISSN 1357-3322, E-ISSN 1470-1243, Vol. 18, no 5, 678-693 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Coach-athlete romantic relationships and consensual sexual relations are commonly accepted among coaches and athletes, although a growing number of sport organisations discourage or prohibit such relationships. In research, coach-athlete sexual relationships are lumped together with sexual abuse, suggested to harm athletes’ well-being, performance, athletic career and team dynamics, and to inherently constitute an abuse of power, trust and ethics. In addition, mistrust of coaches’ motives, related to physical touch and fear of sexual misconduct, has resulted in a growing anxiety among coaches. This paper highlights and critically discusses research conceptualisations, contextual understandings and critical issues surrounding coach-athlete sexual relationships, on which there is no comprehensive research outside the sexual abuse context. Studies of authority-subordinate romantic relationships in other social settings have reported that such relationships facilitate both positive and negative characteristics and outcomes. To prevent and reduce harm and to promote well-being, functionality and safe practice in coach-athlete sexual and non-sexual relationships, I suggest that comprehensive research outside the sexual abuse context is required. In addition to the previous research focus on harmful and abusive relationships, coach-athlete sexual relationships that are experienced as consenting and mutually fulfilling by the involved parties need further examination.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, 2013
Keyword
Sexual relationship; Romantic relationship; Sexual abuse; Coach-athlete relationship.
National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Social Sciences/Humanities
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:gih:diva-2693 (URN)10.1080/13573322.2013.777662 (DOI)
Available from: 2013-04-04 Created: 2013-02-18 Last updated: 2017-05-05Bibliographically approved
3. ‘This might be him; the guy I’m gonna marry’: Love and sexual relationships between female elite-athletes and male coaches
Open this publication in new window or tab >>‘This might be him; the guy I’m gonna marry’: Love and sexual relationships between female elite-athletes and male coaches
2016 (English)In: International Review for the Sociology of Sport, ISSN 1012-6902, E-ISSN 1461-7218Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Infatuation, love and sexual relationships exist virtually anywhere. Coach–athlete sexualrelationships (CASR), however, are overlooked and under-researched. Within sport sociology, CASR have been framed predominantly by a sexual abuse discourse. Informed by Foucault’s discourse analysis, this study explores how discourses regarding performance enhancement in elite-sport and coaching, and romantic love, frame female elite-athletes’ experiences with CASR. Interviews with four female elite-athletes aged 26–30 were conducted. The results indicate that CASR are potentially problematic because they intersect and challenge discourses comprising elite-sports, coach–athlete relationships, female sexual agency, and love. Moreover, discourses of power differ between the professional and private contexts. While the athletes expect their coaches to exert dominance and control in the elite-sport context, love relationships are about equally and mutually giving away power and control. Although CASR can facilitate motivation and performance, framing CASR as inherently unequal and abusive can contribute to stigmatisation, secrecy and athlete disempowerment.

Keyword
coach–athlete relationship, elite-sport, romantic love, sexual agency, sexual abuse
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Social Sciences/Humanities
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:gih:diva-4303 (URN)10.1177/1012690215626593 (DOI)
Available from: 2016-01-19 Created: 2016-01-19 Last updated: 2017-05-08Bibliographically approved
4. ‘Am I sexually abused?’: Consent in a coach-athlete lesbian relationship
Open this publication in new window or tab >>‘Am I sexually abused?’: Consent in a coach-athlete lesbian relationship
2016 (English)In: Sport, Education and Society, ISSN 1357-3322, E-ISSN 1470-1243Article in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Elite-athlete Karin was 17 years old when the considerably older team coach Selma became her girlfriend. Responding to calls to prevent harm and sexual abuse in sport, this study represents Karin’s story, investigates how she makes sense of her coach-athlete sexual relationship, and analyses what can be learnt about consent. Although sexual consent is often the defining criterion of sexual abuse, consent is rarely explicitly defined or its social implications examined. Moreover, there are no studies on coach-athlete lesbian or gay relationships despite sexual minority vulnerability. The interview with Karin was analysed using narrative case study methods; represented as a short story and discussed in reference to sexual consent theory. The analysis outlines contextual factors conditioning the negotiation of consent and problematizes heteronormative, gendered perpetrator and victim stereotypes. Secrecy, alienation, and isolation is recognised, extending into additional vulnerability inflicted on socially problematic and atypical coach-athlete relationships. In conclusion, social implications of consent are more complex than yes/no to sex or inherent incapability to consent. Consent is multi-layered, alternately absent and present; an ongoing process that includes compromises, contradictions, and (re)negotiations influenced by structure and agency. Further research examining a diversity of sexual experiences among majorities and minorities is proposed.

National Category
Sociology
Research subject
Social Sciences/Humanities
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:gih:diva-4462 (URN)10.1080/13573322.2016.1202819 (DOI)
Available from: 2016-06-16 Created: 2016-06-16 Last updated: 2017-05-05Bibliographically approved

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