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Professor leads way in preventing abuse of athletes

Brunel’s Professor Celia Brackenridge has spent her career raising awareness of child protection and revolutionising the way the International Olympic Committee and UNICEF approach athlete welfare in sport.

Awarded an OBE in 2012, Prof Brackenridge recently sat as Child Protection Expert on the Dame Janet Smith Review into abuse by Jimmy Savile at the BBC.

Child protection in sport has been a particular focus of her work. She has described sport as ‘the last bastion of child abuse’ and estimates that as many as one in five young athletes may have experienced sexual victimisation by adults overseeing their careers.

Prof Brackenridge’s ultimate success is in bringing together the world’s leading sport organisation - the International Olympic Committee - and the world’s largest child protection agency - UNICEF - to use her research findings to develop ways of preventing abuse in sport. All the countries taking part in the Olympics are now required to have policies designed to protect athletes and prevent harassment.

There is still much to be done, but safeguarding in sport has changed dramatically over the last two decades thanks to the research. For example, the Football Association has rolled out its Respect behaviour management programme throughout the UK and has seen a 15% decrease in serious cases of assault:

With funding from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Prof Brackenridge launched the Brunel International Research Network for Athlete Welfare (BIRNAW). With more than 50 researchers worldwide, the network aims to broaden research beyond sexual exploitation and look at emotional abuse, relationship breakdown, disordered eating, self-harming, overtraining and other child exercise concerns.