By Associate Professor Dr Mohamad Nizam Nazarudin
Center For Education Studies and Community Well-Being
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia
KOTA KINABALU: The Malaysian National Cycling Federation (MNCF) recently received a report on the case of a female national cyclist in her 20s who claimed to be a victim of sexual harassment during a mountain bike competition, shocking our nation once more. The athlete, who won a medal in the 2021 Vietnam SEA Games, has reported the incident to the authorities, claiming that his own coach was responsible. According to reports, the MNCF disciplinary committee has already taken further action in the matter by immediately suspending the coach. The MNCF gave the police further investigation authority and suspended the coach concurrently to give the disciplinary committee time to gather facts about the incident.
Although sexual harassment in sports is a common issue, it is rarely reported and some incidents go unchecked. Due to the problematic history of Malaysian sports, there have been a number of instances of sexual harassment involving athletes in this nation that have raised concerns. The concern is whether our athletes are in a safe environment, both in terms of the facilities and training techniques they use and the social interactions that have become a part of their daily lives. According to prior research conducted by researchers at the National Sports Institute, 422 athletes from Malaysia reported experiencing sexual harassment at a rate of 16%. When nearly half of the victims are elite athletes, it is even more concerning. It frequently takes place in the training and dressing room after training hours. Those who are considered to be perpetrators of sexual harassment are teammates or athletes followed by spectators, coaches, and sports officials.
According to the that study’s findings, some athletes claim that sexual harassment has a negative impact on their athletic performance. Other repercussions on people include negative psychological effects, poor health, quitting sports, and even injury or suicide. Both domestically and internationally, there have been severe instances of sexual harassment in sports, including suicide. Moreover, a sports organization’s reputation may suffer and it may lose the support of sponsors, the community, and parents. Even though Malaysia considers serious incidents to be uncommon, if they do occur, it will have a very negative and significant influence on the nation’s sports.
The revelation made by the former national swimmer in 2021 that she had endured years of sexual harassment and assault—including from a national coach when she was a teenager—was equally shocking. At least ten athletes, including male athletes, were sexually attacked by the same person, who masturbated and touched swimmers’ privates’ part while they were in the pool. The problem is that since they are concerned that it might include coaches or officials who use their positions to ruin their careers, these athletes keep it a secret and are scared to disclose it.
The former national athletics coach is accused of abusing two young athletes, while the former national diving instructor is accused of raping a diver. These are only two of the cases that have been brought before the court. But after a protracted trial, the national diving coach was found not guilty on the basis that there was sufficient evidence to disprove the allegations.
Back to this case, even though the coach has been suspended, the investigation into the sexual harassment incident must continue because it is already a case under the Criminal Code. There has been a police report made, sexual harassment is illegal under the Criminal Code (Penal Code), thus it is important to make sure that every complaint is treated equitably. Making ensuring that the accused receives justice in the event of false charges is essential. We anticipate that the MNCF will work closely with the National Sports Council, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and other governmental organizations to conduct an impartial investigation. Other athletes who might have had disagreements with the coach or other people should also be the subject of the investigation including the same sex. It is also hoped that the MNCF will not compromise on the safety and welfare of the athletes and will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment or behavior contained in the Sports Safety code.
Congratulations to the Minister of Youth and Sports for having activated protective officers in the MSN in accordance with the Safe Sports Code and will monitor the investigation of the case, especially at the MSN level to ensure that action is taken quickly. This case should be used as an example of how it is handled according to standard operating procedures (SOP) based on the Safe Sports Code that has just been launched. The rights and welfare of athletes and the sports community in this country to enjoy a safe sports environment should be guaranteed with this Safe Sports Code. Guidelines on a safe sports environment, in addition to emphasizing the role and responsibility of all parties in dealing with any form of harassment and abuse in sports. The code is also said to include a code of conduct to be used to handle complaints about harassment and abuse in the sports industry before being replaced by the Safe Sports Act in the future.
It is hoped that after this, MSN will ensure that a female officer or coach is appointed to ensure that the preparation and training of the cycling team are not interrupted. Counseling and continuous support services need to be provided immediately to ensure that medallist athletes at the Sea Games can continue to prove their true capabilities.