PUTRAJAYA, Feb 7 — Minister of Youth and Sports Hannah Yeoh said she has decided against tabling a Safe Sport Bill but pledged to enshrine its provisions in a Code that could be implemented as soon as March. Yeoh told Malay Mail in an interview at her office here that the decision factored in the often-lengthy legislative process, which she felt could complicate or delay the ministry’s bid to make the sporting ecosystem safer for athletes.
“I’ve just decided that we would go with a code simply because we have existing legislation and I don’t want to confuse our stakeholders, I don’t want to delay having to address safe sports,” the 44-year-old mother of two said.
“Just because to have a legislation there are so many rounds you have to do before it is actually tabled in Parliament and that’s something I don’t think we have time for.”
Safe Sport is a movement initiated by the International Olympic Committee that aims to provide safe environments where athletes can train and compete in a “healthy and supportive” surroundings.
The term was first used in the International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement issued in 2016. On its official website, the committee defined Safe Sport as “an environment which is respectful, equitable, and free from all forms of harassment and abuse”.
Most countries have already adopted the code, including neighbouring Singapore.
Calling it the Unified Code, the Singaporean sporting authorities call it the cornerstone of the Safe Sport Programme which sets out a unified reference for the Island republic’s sporting community “that defines, describes and explains the forms of abuse and harassment which may take place in the sporting environment.”
Categories of misconduct listed under the Unified Code included not just sexual misconduct, but also physical and psychological misconduct and “other inappropriate conduct or misconduct related to process.”
In Malaysia, pressure for legislation to enforce Safe Sport was embodied by Safe Sport Malaysia (SSM), the organisation instrumental in drafting the proposed Safe Sport law.
SSM is led by a former national gymnast, Sarina Sundara Rajah, who collaborated with other groups to prepare the Bill on Safe Sport. She told online sports magazine TwentyTwo 13 last year that she would want the Bill to be tabled soon, saying it’s “long overdue”.
Sarina said such a law would strengthen protection for athletes against sexual harassment and abuse, which she suggested is widespread in local sports.
When asked if the problem is rampant, Yeoh cited the various studies that showed sexual harassment to be prevalent among youths and athletes.
“They had a survey done by the research department within KBS and that is also something that I knew about when I was at the Women (and Community Development) Ministry because we also did a survey and the group that responded the most were university students,” she said.
“And, of course, the IRIS one about sports happening among athletes and then the incident in December, you know that it may happen again so what are you going to do if it happens again.”
But with the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act now in force, Yeoh believes a Safe Sport law could be redundant since the former gives the authorities enough muscle to tackle the problem without needing additional legislation.
“When they first spoke about Safe Sport Act, the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act was not yet tabled in Parliament. Now that we already have the Act do we need to come up with a new law to deal with sexual harassment that happens at the badminton court, for example?
“So, now we have these existing laws, let’s give these laws a chance. We use that first and then we look at weaknesses and maybe improve from there,” she said.
“I feel that we have the Penal Code, then we have the Employment Act; so, imagine a coach that is accused of sexual harassment, we’d also have the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act so there are so many and I don’t want it to be confusing,” the minister added.
Complaints about sexual harassment and abuses in local sports have been longstanding, some of them even coming from the country’s top women athletes.
Just last month, a clip of a male coach slapping a female netball player was leaked and sparked a backlash despite an attempt by the athlete’s father to play down the controversy.
Yeoh’s ministry responded with an official probe and eventually suspended the coach’s licence, but proponents of Safe Sport said the incident highlighted the urgent need for a law to curb these abuses.
Yeoh suggested that the decision to embody Safe Sport as a Code is still being studied, which means it could still be tabled as a Bill should the Task Force overseeing the matter decide otherwise.