By Sa’adi Thawfeeq
The National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka has given the green light to the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Policy which will in future safeguard our athletes of both genders (male and female) from sexual harassment and abuse. The increasing number of cases worldwide of athletes falling prey to sexual harassment and abuse has made it a global issue with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) showing great concern over it.
This month alone two athletes have hit the headlines with a South Korean triathlete taking her own life after enduring years of physical and verbal abuse from coaching staff and having her complaints to sporting authorities allegedly ignored and, a world championship figure skater from Singapore opening up about physical and mental abuse she allegedly suffered while training in China.
There was also the sensational sex abuse scandal surrounding a US gymnast team doctor who was accused of assaulting and harassing more than 300 athletes two years ago.
“Earlier what happened was that everybody kept quiet. The families they didn’t even know that the athletes were getting abused or sexually harassed or whatever because they kept mum about it,” said NOC Sri Lanka Women’s Committee Head Niloo Jayatilake, who helped draft the Sexual Harassment and Abuse Policy.
“But with more and more education coming regarding this subject matter, slowly the athletes are coming forward and talking about it. This is what we also want to develop in Sri Lanka to create a safe environment for our athletes to come and voice whatever incidents that are happening. It is for sure happening in Sri Lanka but it is not coming to the visible eye of the administrators.”
“We have heard of so many instances but the incidents have never been taken to task. It has been given exposure and that’s it. We are putting this platform so that the athletes can safely with the safe environment that we are trying to create for them, come and talk about it in confidentiality,” she said.
“Globally the IOC in other countries has come up with this policy long ago and Sri Lanka for the first time through the NOC has come out with it, which we are very happy because the whole idea is to protect our athletes.”
Niloo was keen to point out that it was after Suresh Subramaniam took over as president of the NOC Sri Lanka that the Women’s Committee was formed and was given the go-ahead to draft a policy to safeguard athletes from sexual harassment and abuse.
Niloo said the policy was in effect now and all the federations coming under the International Olympic Charter would have to adhere to it. Explaining further about the policy Niloo stated, “We started developing the whole legal frame work last year. It took us a year and it was approved by the NOC Sri Lanka in January.
“What we feel is young girls are vulnerable to sexual harassment. We have a dedicated hotline via the NOC website through which you can lodge a complaint. The Complaints Committee will go into the details and their views will be given to the ExCo of NOC who will take a decision on what kind of penalty or punishment should be meted out.”
“It will be done with the federation of that respective athlete. It is not only the NOC who will be doing it but with the federation members,” said Niloo.
The Complaints Committee consists of eminent people like Jayanthi Kuru-Utumpala, Sharanya Sekaram, Preethi Adhihetty, Caryll Tozer, Nedra Wickremasinghe, Dillai Joseph, Diordre Moraes, Sabrina Esufally, Shyamala Gomez and Dr. Nihal de Silva, who are very much versatile in the subject.
“Safe sports in Sri Lanka that’s the concept. That’s what we are developing through the Sexual Harassment and Abuse policy to safeguard our athletes and to build an environment conducive for them so that they don’t have to go through the mental trauma and all that,” said Niloo who put to use her experience as a national golfer of repute and chairperson of the Sri Lanka Golf Union Junior Golf Development for over a decade, in drafting the policy with a dynamic committee comprising of Ajith Thamel, Faizil Hussain, Reshika Udugampola and S. Gobinath.