Safe Sport Malaysia insists fight to provide safe sports environments must continue

President of Safe Sport Malaysia (SSM), Sarina Sundara Rajah, still hopes that someone will champion the Malaysia Safe Sport Act, as it will provide the authority and scope to address abuse and misconduct in sports beyond the national level.

She said this today, to commemorate International Safe Sport Day.

Former Youth and Sports minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu was to have presented the first draft of the Act last December but lost his seat in Malaysia’s 15th General Election on Nov 19.

Hannah Yeoh, who took over the portfolio, had initially said that she would continue, but decided against tabling the bill in February. She opted to go with a Safe Sport Code, another initiative carried out during Ahmad Faizal’s time in office.

As Acts cannot be tabled and passed overnight, Ahmad Faizal had instructed his officers to also work on a Safe Sport Code that would compel Malaysian sports associations to adhere to, and act as a ‘tribunal’, protecting victims and whistleblowers.

“The Safe Sport Code is necessary but was intended to incorporate the implementation of legal oversight (Safe Sport Act) and independent oversight (Safe Sport Centre),” said Sarina.

“Federal laws prosecuting abuse are a starting point, but there is also a need for sport-specific laws.

“This approach to legislative initiatives has proven to be especially effective for policymakers to plug legal loopholes and sharpen laws in addressing abuse in sports.”

The former national gymnast said there is an urgent need to embrace an independent reporting and adjudication mechanism, which is necessary to ensure that allegations of abuse or misconduct are dealt with impartially and transparently, free from political interference.

Additionally, there are opportunities to work with sports bodies to help them improve their responses to abuse-related concerns. Significant support is needed to facilitate safe reporting and provide those whose rights have been violated to seek remedy, legal aid, or pastoral care.

“The Safe Sport Code establishes guidelines and standards for creating safe and respectful sports environments for athletes, coaches, officials, and other participants,” said Sarina.

“As we consider ways to administer the Safe Sport Code for federally-funded sports organisations, it is necessary to define clear action plans. It involves allocating the proper resources and developing the required skills.

“Additionally, those in sports should take time to familiarise themselves with athlete safety fundamentals and best practices.”

Separately, Sarina said it was imperative to recognise that building a secure sports environment is a shared obligation. Everyone has a role in supporting efforts to create safe and respectful sports environments for athletes, coaches, officials, and other participants.

Sarina paid tribute to the brave survivors and advocates who had tirelessly dedicated themselves to fighting abuse in sports and other areas.

“Their courage is an inspiration. We must continue to work together to ensure that abuse has no place in our society,” she said.

“We must continue normalising discussions around these once-taboo topics, so that athletes can openly share their experiences without fear of criticism. This is crucial in creating a safe and supportive environment.”

Sarina said her advocacy work in Safe Sport centres around athlete safety, empowerment, and welfare.

“Other initiatives include awareness-raising activities that expand our reach, so that more people will learn about making sports safe and accessible to all.

“We pursue this goal by facilitating informed and constructive conversations with each target audience to create a shared understanding of the problem.

“I am inspired and motivated by the knowledge that we can affect meaningful change by speaking up,” she added.