Minister Conny Helder calls for an independent integrity centre for safe sport

The relationship between government, sport and society have changed. Sport has become more susceptible to transgressive behaviour, doping and match-fixing, and recent years have witnessed a sharp increase in reports of transgressive behaviour in the sport sector. Long-term Care and Sport Minister Helder: ‘In discussions with the Netherlands Institute for Sports Law (Instituut Sportrechtspraak, ISR), gymnasts, dancers and the sport world, I am consistently hearing the same appeals. Government and sporting organisations need to do more to create a safe sports environment in the years ahead.’ According to Minister Helder, there should be a single integrity centre to address problems of transgressive behaviour, doping and match-fixing in sport. A single, independent centre would make it easier for athletes to report integrity issues, and they could also turn to the centre with questions.

Minister Conny Helder: ‘Discrimination and transgressive behaviour impact enjoyment of sport and pose a threat to it. Doping and match-fixing also undermine the integrity and societal value of sport. As the Minister for Long-term Care and Sport, I am therefore calling for a better approach. This is not something we can set up overnight, but I will do my utmost to take major steps during the current government’s term in office.’ The first step will be the transfer of the Netherlands Safe Sport Centre (Centrum Veilige Sport Nederland, CVSN) to the new and independent safe sport integrity centre. The CVSN currently falls under the NOC*NSF sector umbrella organisation for sport. A single, independent body where athletes can file reports and that investigates reports of transgressive behaviour, doping and match-fixing would prevent athletes from having to repeatedly share their experiences, while also making the disciplinary process more transparent and navigable.

Sports Agreement 2
The Minister is also working with sporting organisations and municipal authorities on an agreement to promote safe sport. The Sports Agreement 2 will lay down four mandatory criteria that sport providers must meet to offer a safe social environment. These are: a more obligatory certificate of conduct for trainers and administrators in the world of sport, the appointment of a confidential contact person, compliance with the code of conduct for sport and completion of an e-learning module for trainers and coaches on recognising and preventing transgressive behaviour. Meeting these criteria is also a condition for eligibility to conclude and receive funding for local sport agreements at the municipal level.

The plans outlined by Minister Conny Helder follow the successful example set in Australia, where Sport Integrity Australia has been working to strengthen integrity and safety in the sector for some years. By emulating this approach, Minister Helder wants the Netherlands to play a pioneering role in Europe. ‘I am planning to hold discussions about sport safety and integrity at the international level. The sports sector is really unique in that it has such a diversity of sporting organisations and large groups of volunteers. Our collaboration through this sports agreement has resulted in something that other countries can learn from.’

Disciplinary law in sport
A further issue is that disciplinary actions in sport have not always had the expected results. ‘I have spoken to former gymnasts about their difficult experiences with disciplinary procedures, and to experts and those with first-hand experience, about their criticisms of disciplinary law in sport and the contributing factors. Based on all of these conversations, I have concluded that disciplinary law is ill-equipped to address systematic misconduct in sport.’ This misconduct primarily constitutes emotionally and mentally abusive behaviours such as prolonged denigration, intimidation and bullying. These are behaviours that have a traumatic impact on athletes and are difficult to prove after the fact. Taking a more human approach to disciplinary law for the sport sector would help. This could be achieved through greater staffing diversity at the Netherlands Institute for Sports Law and by giving athletes more say. Greater independence could be achieved by establishing the ISR and putting an additional critical reader on cases.