#METOO CAMPAIGN HASN’T HAD AN EFFECT ON SPORTS YET – A SERIOUS CASE OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AT THE EUROPEAN UNIVERSITIES’ GAMES

Finnish female athletes have been the target of constant and serious sexual violence at the EUSA games currently held in Coimbra, Portugal. The organization behind the games, the European University Sports Association (EUSA), have with their actions given a silent acceptance to the crimes.

 

Serious cases of sexual harassment, sexual assault and attempted rape have occurred at the EUSA Games. Male athletes, as well as an older male coach from a single country have been the perpetrators, while the main victims have been Finnish female athletes. Both physical and verbal abuse have taken place, and this ultimately culminated into attempted rape of one Finnish athlete. These events have been witnessed by athletes from various countries, some of whom have also been a target of abuse.

In cooperation with the Finnish female athletes in question, The Finnish Student Sports Association (Opiskelijoiden Liikuntaliitto, OLL) has decided to make the case public, since the officials of the games together with EUSA have completely failed in handling the case, as well as in protecting the Finnish young women. Moreover, OLL finds that EUSA and the games’ officials have attempted to completely brush the incident under the carpet. OLL has been present in Portugal during the whole situation, defending the Finnish women and demanding sanctions for the perpetrators, which unfortunately have not been given.

The events started immediately on July 13th when the athletes arrived at their accommodation premises and carried on with almost no interruption until OLL decided to move the Finnish athletes into a hotel to ensure their safety. Officials of the games failed in protecting the Finnish female athletes: neither the on-site security guards from Securitas nor the employees or volunteers of the games did anything to interfere with the harassment, not even when it escalated into full-blown physical assault. The Finnish woman, who was the target of the assault, called for help in English from the guards, to no avail.

Officially, the EUSA games have a zero-tolerance policy concerning sexual harassment. In addition, EUSA has administered a project to combat sexual harassment in sports. Nevertheless, the EUSA officials and directors handling this situation have professed some incredibly conservative and stereotypical viewpoints on sexual harassment, with an offhand attitude towards the whole case.

Officials and directors of EUSA have told OLL that the case is a “word against word” situation, and thus the perpetrators have received no penalties, nor have they been removed from the games. In addition, the statements given by several witnesses and by athletes that interrupted the attempted rape have not been accepted as evidence. The officials handling the situation have demanded OLL to present physical evidence, such as bruises or DNA. Moreover, the victims have been strongly blamed for example for alcohol use or behavior deemed “too calm or normal” for a victim of assault. OLL has attempted to answer these claims in discussion and emphasized for instance the special characteristics of violence against women, but the message has fallen on deaf ears.

On 22th July 2018, the committee handling the situation decided to announce the potential sanctions to the perpetrators after the games have finished.  However, OLL is not very hopeful that these sanctions (fines and competition bans) will ever take place.

Both OLL and the young Finnish athletes are shocked about the treatment they’ve received and that all the fine words about “zero tolerance” against sexual harassment have never been put into action. During the competition, the perpetrators were left without any sanctions and actually carried on with sexual harassment after the first meeting where this situation was discussed – since the message delivered to them was only to “straighten up” their behavior. There was no follow-up whatsoever, and the perpetrators could carry on with their actions.

OLL states that EUSA is now sending a message to all student athletes that if you get harassed, you should stay quiet about it and that the perpetrators will get away with no penalties. This can be described as silent acceptance of the events. Moreover, OLL would like to note that all the previously mentioned offences, including sexual harassment, are considered crimes in Portugal as well as in Finland.

OLL is completely appalled by this situation and wants to remind that in a post-#metoo world, the way that sexual harassment and even attempted rape have been handled by EUSA officials is not acceptable.

“Both EUSA and the whole international sports community have to show their values in action, and not just in speeches. These games are supposed to be a joyous event for all participants regardless of gender or any other matter. If the safety of Finnish athletes cannot be guaranteed, OLL has to consider further action”, President of OLL Soile Koski-Aho states.

OLL demands EUSA to take these incidents seriously and to significantly improve their practices and methods in handling cases of sexual harassment, as well as their attitudes.

“President of EUSA, Adam Roczek, even told us, that they cannot believe all possible stories that are told. This kind of statement sounds unbelievable at this day and age, especially since the incidents had several witnesses. Demanding physical evidence in a situation like this is completely ridiculous and out of date. The directors of EUSA truly must check their views especially on victim-blaming”, OLL’s Secretary General Elina Havu insists.

 

FACTS: EUSA, the EUSA Games and Finnish Student Sports Federation

European University Sports Association (EUSA) is the parent organization of European university sports. OLL is a member of EUSA. EUSA Games is a biennial sports event, where approximately 5000 student athletes compete for European championships. This year, Finland has sent a delegation of 67 athletes and a 9-person background group to the games. OLL operates accreditation for the games and is present to support and help Finnish athletes. Representing OLL in Portugal and supporting the athletes are President Soile Koski-Aho, Secretary General Elina Havu and Education and Events Coordinator Markku Rantahalvari.

The Finnish Student Sports Federation OLL, founded 1924, is a national advocacy and service organization working on behalf of Finnish student sports. OLL is the common representative for all Finnish students at higher education institutions. OLL aspires to promote well-being, community spirit, academic competence and health through sports. OLL’s mission is to strengthen the possibilities and atmosphere surrounding sports in higher education.

 

For further information, please contact

 

Mrs. Elina Havu, Secretary General & Gender Equality Specialist

+358 44 780 0210, elina.havu@oll.fi

 

Mr. Markku Rantahalvari, Education and Events Coordinator

+358 44 780 0217, markku.rantahalvari@oll.fi