Coach-athlete sexual relationships (CASR) tend to be sensitive, complex and problematic as they intersect professional and private spheres. Moreover, they are surrounded by ambiguous boundaries and taboos, and profoundly relates to the welfare, safety, sport performance, power, ethics, trust, sexual desire and love of coaches and athletes (Bringer et al., 2002; Johansson, 2013). In this paper we aim to highlight and critically discuss legal CASR by adopting a coach perspective.
Overall, CASR is a neglected issue, constituting an ethical and emotional minefield that is rarely addressed openly (Johansson, 2013). In contrast, athlete and child protection have intensified as a response to resent high-profile cases of sexual abuse in sport (Brackenridge & Rhind, 2014; DSJ, 2012, IOC, 2007). In some sport organisations this implies prohibiting CASR for athlete protection purposes (cf. Brake & Burton Nelson, 2012; Safe4athletes, 2013). The current body of research focuses on the sexual abuse of athletes (e.g., DSJ, 2012; Toftegaard-Nielsen, 2001; Toftegaard-Støckel, 2010) and is often driven by theories of structural power and gender order (e.g., Brake, 2012; Kirby et al., 2000; Tomlinson & Yorganci, 1997). As a consequence, male coaches tends to be cast as potential perpetrators of SA in relation to subordinate female (or child) athlete victims (cf. Hartill, 2009; Johansson, 2013). Recent literature gives examples on how moral panic and fear of sexual abuse resulting in suspicion towards coaches can hamper coach motivation and coach-athlete interaction (e.g., Piper et al., 2012; Taylor et al., 2014). Drawing on literature into teacher-student and superior-employee sexual relationships (e.g., Sikes, 2006; Williams, 1999), we problematise dichotomous right/wrong edicts and discuss additional ways to understand CASR, gendered sexual agency, sexual consent, and coaches' power.
Our discussion raises implications for further research and questions on how to prevent harmful, abusive and dysfunctional CASR without casting (male) coaches as perpetrators of sexual abuse. Our suggestions are: 1) Initiate comprehensive research exploring positive and negative characteristics and effects of legal CASR to expand the knowledge of CASR beyond the sexual abuse context. 2) Facilitate transparency, a climate of open discussion and coach education about CASR and related ethical dilemmas. 3) Develop, examine and carefully implement scientifically and ethically sound policy and codes of practice to prevent and manage harmful CASR and sexual abuse.
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10th ICCE Global Coach Conference – Coach and Athlete Empowerment: A Winning Combination. Vierumäki, Finland. 23-25 August 2015