“Omerta” in Organised Sport: Bullying and Harassment as a Threat to Social Sustainability at the Individual Level

What can the sports fight and the Sicilian mafia, made famous by Francis Ford Coppola’s film “The Godfather”, have in common? The question is not entirely rhetorical, as the research conducted in the context of sport in Lithuania shows hidden unclean processes occurring in various sports branches. The desire for victories is too strong for athletes to give up behind-the-scenes fighting methods, and the traditions are so ingrained that even sports coaches succumb to them while conniving at promising players or encouraging them to break the rules of clean fight.

Interviews with coaches of team, individual, and duel sports highlighted the “symptoms” of an illness that often affects both athletes and coaches. This illness is described as bullying, the features of which are hidden under the words considered innocent: “banter”, “mischief”, “tough player”, “combativity”, “torpedo”, or “psychologically weak”, “snitch”, etc. Whereas concealment of bullying is treated as a sign of good form.

The expression that has turned into a slogan “the strongest wins” also moves beyond the arena of the competition – to the training environment and athletes’ changing rooms. Following it, coaches educate “psychologically strong” athletes, but it does not take long for the favourites to turn against the insiders – those who do not withstand unfair competition are forced to leave the team or drop out of sport. The survivors continue the tradition of the “masculinity school” while training youth. Research has also demonstrated that a share of coaches either does not notice dangerous signs or lacks knowledge to solve the problem and therefore keeps aloof. The results of this study are available in more detail at: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/11/9/2474.

The project is co-financed by the European Social Fund (project No. 09.3.3-LMT-K-712-01-0190) under a grant agreement with the Research Council of Lithuania (LMTLT).

Vveinhardt, J., Fominiene, V. B., Andriukaitiene, R. (2019). “Omerta” in Organized Sport: Bullying and Harassment as Determinants of Threats of Social Sustainability at the Individual Level. Sustainability. Special Issue CSR and Business Ethics for Sustainable Development, 11(9), 2474; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11092474.